Overcoming the stresses of holiday gift giving

A few weeks ago, I was on the phone with my mom, racking her brain for Christmas ideas.

I am not the fantastically organized shopper who purchases gifts throughout the year and finishes in early September. I am not the dedicated (aggressive) soul who stands in Black Friday lines and fist-fights strangers for the best deals. But, I am also not the woman at the mall on Christmas Eve frantically picking up colored socks or vanilla-scented candles or loose tea from India because, dear God, I have to give Aunt Susie something.

I’m somewhere in the middle.

This year as I plan, I’ve realized that the older you get, the greater your gift-giving responsibility becomes.

You’re no longer the 14-year-old who signs the Christmas card (that your parents picked out), attaches it to a “from the family” gift (that your parents wrapped) and hands it off to Grandma.

You’re not the 18-year-old sticker-shocked by the price of textbooks, who heads home for the holidays just to enjoy someone else’s cooking.


You’re not even the 22-year-old in her first job, struggling to pay the heating bill and graciously accepting a Christmas tree purchased by Mom and Dad.

You might have grandparents or aunts and uncles or brother-in-laws and sister-in-laws or nieces and nephews or significant others and maybe even kids of your own.

I’d like to see that as the blessing of a huge family. But sometimes, Christmas overwhelms me — even in my smaller family.

So I called home to the solver of all problems — Mom — seeking gift ideas for family members and my grandparents.

“Well I’ve gotten Grandma that Gevalia coffee before,” my mom suggested. “And I know Pap likes Barry’s Tea.”

I wavered.

“Yeah, but I don’t want to just take one of your gifts,” I said. “I want to get them something good.”

Open mouth, insert foot.

I tried to backtrack.

My mom was too busy pretending to be offended that I didn’t consider her gifts “good.”

At least, I hope she was pretending.

Sorry, Mom.

Over time, I’ve found that the best gifts are ones you find when you’re not looking at all: for example, the book on craft beer I found at an October library book sale that I plan to combine with a six-pack of local brews for a family gift exchange.

Or the year I made my younger brother a fleece blanket from Steelers fabric, and everyone loved it so much that in the next two years, I gave one to my pappy, my dad and for my family exchange.

It’s easy to get caught up in the hype of how many presents you ought to purchase and how much you are expected to spend. It’s easy to forget that the holidays are intended as time to celebrate what matters to us, whether it be family, friends or faith.

I enjoy the gift-giving during the holidays. But I enjoy our annual holiday brunch with my dad’s family or watching terrible, cheesy Christmas movies with my grandma and eating her homemade cookies just as much — perhaps even more.

I’m sure that between now and Christmas, I’ll brainstorm a few great ideas to set under the tree. If not, everyone’s getting a Steelers blanket.


Sarah Chain is a multiplatform journalist and the books editor at the York Daily Record/Sunday News.

Sarah Chain

I'm an avid reader and book lover living and working in downtown York. Follow me on Twitter at @sarahEchain.

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