Miss Manners: Holiday budget feels the strain of gifts to extended family

December 11, 2011

DEAR MISS MANNERS: Christmas is fast approaching, and mine is a family with several marriages, divorces and remarriages. All this blending occurred when my siblings and I were in the single-digit ages; we are now all in our late 20s and early 30s.

Our respective parents and their spouses (and ex-spouses) have all remained friendly — at first, for the sake of us children, and now, I truly believe, because they’re friends. To make matters more inclusive, one of the now-single parents dates people, one at a time, with various levels of seriousness, though the date is usually invited to family gatherings.

If we’re having a large gathering with all the siblings, their spouses, the parents, their spouses, the ex-spouses, the in-laws and the one child, are we really all expected to present gifts to each attendee?

I watch my budget quite closely and find that this either limits my abilities for my actual family members or adds a lot of financial stress during an otherwise happy time of year. I’d love it if we did a secret Santa sort of arrangement, and I’ve mentioned it, but the idea seems to be unpopular with my family and its extensions. My stepparent insists that I prepare gifts for the whole lot. I don’t want to disappoint anyone, and I certainly don’t want to be rude.

What really is expected of me in this situation? Can I give gifts to my immediate family without feeling as if I’m slighting my extended family’s parents I don’t share, or their in-laws? How about that date the parent brought? (I’ve usually never met this person, or I don’t know the person well at all. The parent is a stepparent who now lives far away.)

GENTLE READER: That you and all the others can even figure out who all these relatives are and used to be, not to mention that you want to celebrate together, is an amazing feat. It gives Miss Manners the confidence that you will be able to figure out different categories of presents.

Setting general limits would be easiest, and you seem to have proposed only the silliest way, known as secret Santa. Might people be more agreeable to giving presents only to children, or to setting a price limit?

Perhaps not, and anyway, it might not be good to remove one of the pleasantries from such an already improbable event. Rather than argue against resistance, you should be devoting your energy to thinking up token presents for distant connections. It is fine to give serious presents only to your close connections, but under the custom this group has established, there should be a little something for everyone.

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More holiday advice: Miss Manners and others on surviving the season

2011 Holiday Guide: Gift ideas for everyone on your list

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Minimal checking is required, so that you don’t give cookies to someone on a diet, or a plant to someone who is allergic. Your stepparent who insists on presents for all would be a good person to do the research.

DEAR MISS MANNERS: How long after a wedding is it okay to give a present? I have been told I have up to a year to get a gift after a wedding, or is the hot guy at work really just messing with me?

GENTLE READER: Whether the hot guy at work is messing with you, Miss Manners cannot say. However, it is true that a wedding present may be sent within a year of the wedding, while no such leeway is allowed the recipients, who must send thanks immediately.

Visit Miss Manners at her Web site, www.missmanners.com, where you can send her your questions.

@ 2011, by Judith Martin

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