Making Christmas Less Nuts: managing the gifts

Welcome back to the second post in the December series: Making Christmas Less Nuts! My last one was quite lengthy. Thanks for sticking around.

It floats in the air, unspoken.

Neighbors, teachers, bus drivers, coworkers, family, extended family, Christmas parties, bosses, employees, friends, people at church…

What do I get for them?!

Of course, I need to give them something!

They will get something for me and then I will feel awkward so I have to preempt that nonsense.

But how much do I spend?? I don’t want to be arrogant or cheap. I just want to show them I care!

Yep. Gifts. What in the world do you do about them?!

Here’s what I’ve done – and the results.


Teachers and Bus Drivers should get a full-on spa day and massage, but since that isn’t in the budget, I’ve found Christmas treats do the trick.

I used to make a bunch of peppermint bark, saltine toffee and those little pretzel/hershey kiss candies and create little gift bundles for each teacher, parapro, school secretary (because she’s the one who really runs the school!), principal, and bus driver that works with our kids.

When we switched school districts, I took advantage of the fact that no one expected me to continue this so I went pre-made. Last year, I got a big box of dark chocolate covered dried Michigan cherries (which you can still find at Meijer, in case you’re wondering) and made little cellophane goody bags with a note of thanks for all they do for our family – and the kids signed it.

For the homeroom teachers, I order personalized notepads from Shutterfly mid-November when they are running their “half-off the whole website with free shipping” deal and the gifts come to $7.50 each. The kids each help me pick the design their specific teacher would love the most. They think about favorite college sports teams, hobbies, special animals, classroom decorations, etc. The kids are on the look-out for these things at the beginning of the year so come November, they are ready!

As I write this, the notepads and this year’s special candy – thanks to Costco’s pre-black Friday deal – are ready and waiting to have notes attached.

Just a bit of planning to avoid racing around – and less than $10 a gift. Win-Win!


In our old neighborhood, I made a plate of treats (much like the stuff I made for the school) and brought our family picture over to each.

Last year, sadly, I didn’t do much of anything for our neighbors, but my plan this year is different. The key is to keep it simple yet personal – a few treats with our family card and a big Merry Christmas.

I will let you know how it goes!


This is another tricky situation. In our church, every member has a slot in the church mailbox center, but I’ve noticed that large “give-to-impress” type of gifts aren’t done. There are usually just Christmas Cards or family photos given.

This creates an odd thing for us. We send out Thanksgiving cards. I’m not sure yet how I will do this. For this year, at least, we will just wish everyone Merry Christmas and maybe, next year, I will print some extras just for December.

Extended Family

*Every year, the moms of the grandkids in our branch of the family send me pictures (vacations, first day of school, Halloween…etc.) for the annual “Grandma” calendar. This is another of those things that requires a bit of planning to pull off. Every year, I vow to start this in November – yet December has me pulling it off somehow. I do have a bit of a formula so making it each year is simply picking a new design and making the layout work with the pictures.

I love watching her face as she flips through the months seeing the faces of the family she loves so much!

*Also each year, the adults bring a gift to play the “pick a gift” game – each person picks a gift and has two opportunities to take someone else’s. The amount per gift varies. Sometimes the guys/girls bring gifts for their gender, sometimes we go gender neutral. All of the adults have their own interests and lists, but this time isn’t for getting whatever is highest on that list – it’s just a fun way to give gifts.

*This year, we are trying a new idea with the cousins. The moms decided the kids should pick names and then spend $5 on their person. We’ll see how this goes! I’m hoping this will be a new part of the kids memory of Christmas.

*Pillowcases. What started as a simple unique homemade gift has now morphed into 9 individual fabrics to match the taste of each niece or nephew. I love doing it – and I make a fantastic flannel pillowcase – if I do say so myself!

Joann Fabrics always has great deals on their flannel around Black Friday so the pillowcases end up costing only a few dollars apiece. My hope is that someday when each kid is grown up, these pillowcases have become a physical reminder that I pray for them and they are so very loved.


This Christmas, we will have an almost 14 year old, an almost 12 year old and an almost 10 year old. For the first time, they’ve become very intent on buying each person a gift.  They know handmade things are just as valuable, but they now have the freedom of a bit of green that comes in the form of their chore charts. The gift limit was set on how much that person earned for their chores (as the younger doesn’t earn quite as much as the older two).

Each child has a certain list of jobs they have to do by bedtime each night without being reminded for the chore chart to turn into a “gift certificate” they can use for whatever they choose.

The almost 12 year old paid close attention to conversations and made notes of favorite things until he had the item for each of his siblings just right – all while working extra hard to make sure he got all of his chores done. Then he found that item and combined deals to get the price just where he wanted it. He was so proud Cyber Monday when his deals included free shipping and was less than he anticipated.

I almost discouraged them from giving gifts to each other. I wanted them to just make little things or find small items for each other’s stockings as they’d done in the past. But this is what they saw us do and they were excited to emulate, so real life, here we come! It seems, growth usually happens when I least expect it.

Gifts are a lot of fun but can be a difficult part of Christmas. But they don’t have to be physical things. Depending on the person, sometimes the best gifts are just time spent together or acts of service done in love.

As I said in the post about traditions, the “why” and “how” are very important.

  • Are you giving gifts because you don’t want to be the cheapskate who forgot?
  • Do you want to always give the best and the most?
  • Are you okay being you and giving gifts that reflect your skills and abilities?
  • Will you be okay if you just give someone a card and a hug and thank them for their friendship?

There are many people who want to give and can’t or can give and won’t. The point isn’t what others are doing but your heart.

Do you love without expectation?

Do you give joyfully even if that person can’t give back?

A bit of creativity and even some hot glue can show someone you truly cared enough to think about what matters to them. This is what God did for us (minus the glue gun) and every time someone opens a token of yours, it should be the same – giving joyfully (within balance and without debt) but with a lot of love.

Merry Christmas gift-making and giving!


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