Author Topic: Surprise! We give gifts now!  (Read 2635 times)

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zora19

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Surprise! We give gifts now!
« on: December 27, 2013, 11:52:34 PM »
Hello all,

Shame-faced, infrequent poster here seeking some advice about how to do some Christmas damage control. I've seen threads about similar situations, so I'd love to hear how anyone else has handled something like this.

BG: When DH and I got married about 12 years ago, it was important to me to respect his family's traditions. I will note that there are religious differences in the family, and can elaborate if helpful. When he was a kid, his maternal relatives would get together for Christmas, but by the time he was in college they only got together every few Christmases. My MIL explained that they really only buy gifts for the children and that the adult gift-giving is low-key, or often that the adults simply exchange cards. She also explained that Thanksgiving is actually the Big Holiday for their family, because it's the day that everyone is able to make it due to various annual scheduling issues.

DH and I have only been able to make it to the Christmas celebration with his maternal relatives in person a few times (usually we do Thanksgiving with his family and Christmas break with mine), but we always sent cards, and for years would send gifts and/or giftcards to his two very young cousins. When we attended, I found that the gift-giving aspect of the gathering was very laid-back (to the point that many of the grown-ups slept through the present-opening). When about seven years had gone by with no acknowledgement of the cards or gifts that we were sending, and seeing just how much was purchased for the cousins by their own parents, DH eventually suggested that we move to just sending cards to everyone. We did that a few years ago around the time the cousins were older teenagers, and I believe other relatives have done the same. The transition felt very natural, and the holidays have continued to be both very lovely and increasingly low-key as everyone has gotten older.

This year, during Thanksgiving with DH's extended family there was a discussion of whether we could all get together sometime during the Christmas break, since this is the first time in years that we've all been in relatively the same area and in the same country. DH told everyone that, although we wanted to come, we might not be able to make it since we had already spent Thanksgiving with them and wanted to make sure we got to spend time with both of our families. We have a young daughter, and my family and his maternal family don't live in the same city, so running around and long drives are difficult. I'm not sure whether he was as clear about all that as he could have been, as I didn't witness the conversation.

So we didn't end up making it to see his family, in part because they were only all together in one place for two days. Today, his parents stopped by to see us on their drive back home, and we were shocked when they unloaded a trunk that was literally full of presents. Presents for our daughter, presents for us, presents from all of DH's extended maternal family members. We got them exactly nothing. Just sent our usual cards, as we've been doing for 12 years.

Obviously, I feel terrible that we didn't get them gifts, and also peeved that they changed the gift-giving expectations so dramatically with no communication or warning. At the same time, I'm worried that the discussion about getting everyone together may have had the flavor of "let's do this thing big this year!" and that DH didn't pick up on it.

So if you've read this novella, my question is this: What, if anything, should we do at this point? For various reasons, I'm not inclined to run off and spend hundreds of dollars on afterthought gifts. We've called family to thank them, and they all seemed thrilled that we liked everything and not at all upset about anything. However, to do nothing just feels . . . icky? embarrassing? I'm not sure.

Anyway, right now I'm thinking that I'll gather family pictures from the year and make everyone a nice calendar. I did that a few years ago and everyone seemed to like it. But other than that, I'm not sure if I should do anything else.

Thanks!


doodlemor

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Re: Surprise! We give gifts now!
« Reply #1 on: December 28, 2013, 12:04:06 AM »
I think that the idea of a family calendar is just perfect!  Put everyone's birthday on it too, and people will never throw them away. 

These people gave you gifts without even knowing if they would see you, because they love you and you are family.  Don't worry about obligatory reciprocation at this late date.  Just check ahead next year, so that you know what is going to happen.

kudeebee

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Re: Surprise! We give gifts now!
« Reply #2 on: December 28, 2013, 03:07:57 AM »
I wouldn't worry about buying gifts or even making the calendars.  The maternal family changed the gift giving rules and didn't tell you.  Accept the gifts, send your thanks and let it go. 

Now you know that dh has to ask and find out the "rules" for next year as they may change again.

cicero

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Re: Surprise! We give gifts now!
« Reply #3 on: December 28, 2013, 03:37:18 AM »
I wouldn't worry about buying gifts or even making the calendars.  The maternal family changed the gift giving rules and didn't tell you.  Accept the gifts, send your thanks and let it go. 

Now you know that dh has to ask and find out the "rules" for next year as they may change again.
I agree.

And it may just be that they wanted to gift your child, as you have done for them in the past, and got caught up with the whole gift giving extravaganza.

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White Lotus

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Re: Surprise! We give gifts now!
« Reply #4 on: December 29, 2013, 07:42:52 PM »
Send fruit on the next gift-giving occasion.  At least, that is what I would do.  Lunar new year?  Valentine's Day?  If you want.  You don't have to, but you do want to clear up expectations before next Solstice season.  The calendars -- make them long ones, sent on the next gift-giving occasion -- are a lovely idea.  By long, I mean, make them last well into 2015.

heartmug

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Re: Surprise! We give gifts now!
« Reply #5 on: December 30, 2013, 01:09:23 PM »
I wouldn't worry about buying gifts or even making the calendars.  The maternal family changed the gift giving rules and didn't tell you.  Accept the gifts, send your thanks and let it go. 

Now you know that dh has to ask and find out the "rules" for next year as they may change again.
I agree.

And it may just be that they wanted to gift your child, as you have done for them in the past, and got caught up with the whole gift giving extravaganza.

That is what I would think had happened.  A gift for your child, kind of them, so your child doesn't feel left out.  Then they saw something they thought you might like, so got it for you.  In our family, we give gifts to the kids up until they are 18 if we see them or not.  So some years the gift is shipped (usually it is a gift card that year) and some years not.
The trouble is not that the world is full of fools, it's just that lightening isn't distributed right.  - Mark Twain

bah12

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Re: Surprise! We give gifts now!
« Reply #6 on: December 30, 2013, 02:00:45 PM »
I think it would be weird for every member of a family to suddenly start exchanging gifts and not tell you...so, either this is a one off thing or maybe your DH didn't get the message for some reason.

That being said, the only thing you owe them is a sincere thank you. Presumably, they give you gifts becasue they want to, not because they expect something in return.  I think next year just clarify what the tradition is...exchange gifs or not...and go from there.

Lynn2000

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Re: Surprise! We give gifts now!
« Reply #7 on: December 31, 2013, 10:35:35 AM »
POD to bah12 and others. I know it can feel unbalanced when people give you a lot of unexpected gifts and you have nothing prepared to give them in turn. But, from the etiquette point of view, all you owe them is sincere thanks, which you said you already gave by calling.

They are the ones who "decided" to change the rules without telling you--I put "decided" in quotes because sometimes no one really decides these things as a group, sometimes it's just a few people who independently have the same idea and don't communicate it to everyone else. For example, my dad's family is terrible with communication. Every year at family Christmas (side example--family Christmas with them SHOULD be tomorrow, but no one has heard anything about it, either for or against, so we're assuming it's not happening--but I wouldn't be surprised if it DID happen, but my parents and I weren't there, because no one told us about it ::) ) they claim there will be no gifts. Then we get there and the young children always have tons of gifts to open, the teenagers of that generation get a couple things, and one or two families bring (small) gifts for EVERYONE. It really irritates my mom, who feels uncomfortable accepting gifts in that situation. I just shrug and tell the giver thank you, or write a TY note later, and I feel like my duty is done. If the giver is offended by this, they are free to just stop giving me gifts, and we will both remain happy.

On a more warm-hearted note, try to focus on the love that went into the presents, and not on the exchange aspect. They got you guys gifts even though they KNEW you weren't going to be there! That says something positive right there, I think.

If you WANT to make calendars, go ahead, but I wouldn't do it ONLY out of a sense of obligation. Could you talk to your in-laws and ask if it was known there would be a full-on gift exchange, which you and DH missed the memo about? Maybe wait until February or something. Or, could you tell if the gifts REALLY came from every other family, or just some? In other words, could there have been other branches who, like you, missed the "memo"? Imagine how awkward it would have been to actually BE at the gift exchange in that case.  :-\ Then, next fall, I think you will have to explicitly say, "Are we exchanging presents this year, and among who?" because clearly you can't rely on what has happened in the past.
~Lynn2000

NyaChan

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Re: Surprise! We give gifts now!
« Reply #8 on: December 31, 2013, 10:48:24 AM »
Didn't you ask MIL why there was a change or what people said when they gave the gifts?

TootsNYC

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Re: Surprise! We give gifts now!
« Reply #9 on: December 31, 2013, 11:13:57 AM »
I think the calendar is nice--you can peg it to the New Year.