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Quote of the Day
Tuesday, December 20, 2005
It was Julie, with the Bracelet
In my family and in my husband's the adults exchange names for Christmas, each person buying a gift for the person whose name they chose. The gift exchange always has a spending limit. In my extended family Christmas (grandma, aunts, uncles, cousins) the limit is $30.00 this year. I drew my brother's name (easy!), T drew my aunt's name (had to be creative!) and my sister Julie drew my Mom's name. I like having the spending limit because it forces you to really think about what you're getting, trying to maximize your recipient's joy on a relatively small bundle of cash. For example, I got my brother a geeky, sciency thing that he wanted that was $25.00 and then spent hours trying to find something fun for him to use the remaining $5.00. It's all about getting the most bang for your buck.

Yesterday Julie called me so we could chat about Christmas plans and gifts. Since both of us love buying gifts for Mom, I was excited to hear what she found. (My Mom is the easiest person to buy for because she is like a child at Christmas -- she just loves presents, loves surprises, and gets over-excited about absolutely anything she receives.) "I think I really hit the nail on the head this year with Mom's gift!" Julie exclaimed proudly. "I found Mom the coolest bracelet!"

My Mom loves bracelets. "That's awesome!" I said, and I asked Julie to describe it to me.

"Well," she began, "one of my clients brought in a Tiffany's catalog, and so I ordered the bracelet from there."

"You were able to find a bracelet in Tiffany's for $30.00?" I asked, incredulous and impressed. My sister is very well-connected, so it wouldn't have surprised me at all if she was able to arrange some deal with one of her friends.

Julie laughed a little. "Well, no. I went a little over the limit."

"That's OK -- sometimes you have to go over by $5.00 or so just to make the gift work," I said.

"It was a little more than $5.00," Julie confessed.

"How much more?"

"Like... $120 more."

ONE HUNDRED AND TWENTY DOLLARS MORE? That's insane. I was really mad after I heard this, and Julie and I got in a huge fight over it. I asked her to explain to me what the point of having a spending limit was if you could just go over it at will. I told her that it's pretty easy to find a "perfect" gift if you have no spending limits, and that the real challenge is to find a gift that fits within the limit. If you want to give an expensive gift, I continued (loudly), you should wait to give it on another day that doesn't have a spending limit practiced by everyone else: a birthday, Mother's Day, Valentine's Day... heck, Tuesday!

Julie protested and started to cry (very typical -- she cries at everything), saying that it was a good gift and that Mom would love it. Well, duh! OF COURSE she'll love it -- it's a bracelet from Tiffany's, for goodness' sake! But the fact remains that no matter how great the gift is, it's still an inappropriate gift for giving in a $30.00 exchange. I was worked up about it all night long, so worked up that I couldn't talk to Julie when she called back after hanging up on me. T talked to her instead in his calm way, reasoning that having a good relationship with family is more important than enforcing a spending limit rule.

I suppose I'm too much of a rule follower at times. I like making rules and I like abiding by them. I'm a bit of a control freak sometimes, and this shows through very clearly at Christmas. I like to budget out how much I'm going to spend, plan out what I'm going to buy, figure out ways to get people what they want on a budget. Spending limits are great for me, then, because I can plan very accurately. I love that, despite the fact that I don't even like to shop. It drives me NUTS when people don't abide by the spending limits. We started exchanging names in my family and in T's family about a decade ago because Christmas was getting out of control and too commercialized -- we decided that it was best to keep all of the holiday craziness in check. For a few years, it worked really well. Now, however, it's going to crap and people are returning to their old ways -- first Julie's bracelet and then my Dad's extravagant gift to my Mom this year. (Apparently this is Mom's lucky year.)

This is always the problem I've had with Christmas -- people get too carried away about the gifts, about spending, spending, spending. If I had it my way, I wouldn't exchange gifts at all. I like Christmas for a few significant reasons: I get to see my family and T's family, I get to go to Advent and Christmas Masses, I like listening to the traditional hymns (love "O Come, O Come Emmanuel" -- good taste, Lecturess!), I like the frosty weather, I like the traditional decorations, I like baking cookies and giving them away, and I like eating my Mother-in-Law's out-of-this-world beef tenderloin and my Grandma's homemade lefse. Having all of this gift craziness sucks some of the joy out of it for me, I guess. It stresses me out more than it should and detracts from the real meaning of the season for me. And now I'm mad at my sister for something stupid and gift-related, and I can't help but think that everything would be better if we just eliminated gifts altogether.

So, I should probably call my sister and attempt to smooth things over with her. I adore my sister. We're very different, but I love her to pieces and she is, indeed, the most generous person I know. I just have to figure out a way to tell her that I still think that what she did was inappropriate but that I can't wait to see her on Saturday.
Posted with care by Prof. Me @ 12/20/2005 09:24:00 AM  
4 Words of Wisdom:
  • At 11:26 AM, Blogger phd me said…

    Oooo, that's tough. In an argument, I'd have to side with you, for all the reasons you gave. It isn't about being a control freak; it's about everyone staying within the parameters and having fun with them!

    People do get so carried away with gifts, acting like something they buy can create the perfect Christmas. Gifts have to have meaning, not a pricey sales tag - like when my mom gave me one of my grandmother's brooches or my niece made me a Christmas tree ornament. Those little things mean more than anything something could buy, no matter the price.

    But your mom is definitely having a good Christmas!

  • At 11:53 AM, Blogger Amy said…

    I must say I completely agree with you. Even putting aside that I too like to have rules and some control, I believe that it was still inappropriate. If not for the fact that rules are rules, she must realize that when your mother opens her gift, what will the others think? The family members who did not receive such an extravagent gift will most likely feel under appreciated or completely left out. How would she feel if the person who drew your name did what she did? And you received this $150 gift, while hers was only $30? It might make her think that the giver of your present likes you more than the giver of her present.

    So it's more than following the rules, it's respecting the others.

  • At 12:13 PM, Blogger ABDmom said…

    I also agree with the other commenters, particularly Amy's point about respecting the others. How will that sort of extravagent gift make everyone else in the room feel about they gift they gave? The gift they received? It's really not cool.

    My family doesn't exchange names--we have to buy for each and every parent, sibling, niece and nephew. It sucks. It reinforces me nieces/nephews very materialistic qualities and everyone ends up spending way too much money.

    I feel bad in particular because, unlike my siblings, I can't afford to spend $30 a piece on my 7 nieces/nephews. I spend $10 on them and really can't afford that--but they give me the look of death as it is for their "little" present, and I hate to think what it would be like with no present.

    Sorry to turn this comment into vent! I guess I'm just trying to show that all of us identify with this frustration, in one way or another.

    BTW, say to your sister exactly what you wrote here--I think what you did was inappropriate, but I am very excited to see you.

  • At 9:53 PM, Blogger chemgoddess said…

    Just writing to add another comment of support in favor of your argument.

    We draw names and also set spending limits for gifts in my family. None of us would go over the limit because we know it would make the other gifters feel crappy. It just puts a sour taste in everyone's mouths. Plus, the receiver may even feel a little guilty.

    Your relationship with your sister is more important than all of this but I think you are right.

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