Sometimes the hardest part of gift-giving is not choosing the gifts but navigating the giving. We're inviting readers to share their dilemmas (Do I get something for the teacher's aide? Is giving cash a cop-out?), and we'll tell you what we think. If you'd like to chime in, post a comment at the end of this story or send in your own holiday gift question to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Q: My brother has three grown children, two of them married with children of their own. I give individual gifts at the holidays (and birthdays) and they give me one gift from the family. Sometimes they will call on my birthday. This year one called, and I did not hear anything from the others. Suggestions?
A: Take comfort in knowing this problem is widely shared. When siblings have children, especially if they live elsewhere, it's understandable, probably inevitable, that gift-giving becomes more complicated.
Talk honestly with your brother to resolve the predicament and relieve your feelings of resentment. Tell him you feel the gift exchange has become unwieldy and you'd like to scale back. If you can do this without casting blame, it could lead to a deeper conversation about closeness, generosity and gratitude, with potential to improve relations all around.
Or you could be less confrontational but ultimately less satisfied. Think of a single gift for your brother's extended family, maybe a badminton set or a well-outfitted picnic basket. Then you will have defined a more even exchange for Christmas. Alas, birthdays remain a separate challenge.
Q: I'm 25, out of college just a few years and can't afford to give the gifts I'd like to give everyone on my list. I'm not the least bit crafty; when I try to make ornaments or frames or anything, it ends up looking terrible. I am a good baker, but not thrilled about adding to the zillions of sweet temptations around Christmas. What can I give that won't be another useless knickknack, make them gain five pounds or look like it was done by a 2-year-old?
A: You're right: One more platter of cookies or another box of fudge is not necessarily welcome between now and New Year's. But you've got a year-round talent. How about offering friends and family a chance to claim your baking skills later in the year? Maybe you know a young mom who would appreciate a batch of cupcakes for her toddler's birthday. Or a friend who stresses when it's her turn to bake something for her book group. Or a busy couple who throw plenty of dinner parties but always fall back on store-bought desserts. Slip an IOU into their holiday cards, promising goodies baked to order. Can I be on your gift list, please?