The highlight of the weekend consists of opening gifts, each taking turns, oldest to youngest, one by one. With my sister’s four children and spouses, twelve grandchildren, and various in-laws, this takes several hours. My husband and I earn our livings from making and selling handcrafted wood items and we often make what we consider nice gifts for everyone involved.
The thing is, we only get one or two token gifts (a Christmas ornament or scented soap) and are left to watch others open their gifts for the rest of the afternoon – which leaves us sad and wondering: Do they not like us? Are they secretly upset at receiving “handmade” gifts? Are they inviting us out of obligation? We have not complained, but honestly, at the risk of sounding greedy, the giving of gifts is a measure of what others think about you, and I find sitting through everyone’s thoughtful gifts for everyone EXCEPT us disheartening.
One year we gently encouraged them to open gifts without us (yes, including the ones we brought) as we were tired from our long drive and would join them for dinner, only to find them eagerly waiting for us so we could watch them open gifts. Last year we had the excuse of not attending due to having a sick dog, who has since died.
It is also an expensive trip for us.
Should we make another excuse this year? Should I risk becoming the estranged sister by mentioning my feelings?
— The Redheaded Step-Child (not really but I feel like one).
Absolutely do not mention your feelings of not liking the gifts you receive from your sister’s family. That is beyond tacky. And that’s your grievance, right? That you do not get enough thoughtful gifts from your sister’s large family whom you give handmade gifts to? You find gifts, above all else, to be a measure of what people think of you — not that you are included in the holiday festivities or hosted (and, I’m assuming, fed, maybe housed, entertained) for several days, but the gifts. And, obviously, if you are thinking about this already, just days after Labor Day, when you aren’t expected to give an answer about your plans for more than two months, this is clearly something weighing on your mind. That you count your sick dog as an “excuse” for skipping the trip last year and you are fretting about the expense of the trip this year suggests that you’d be happier not going. You don’t have to go!
The thing is, it’s quite possible that you HAVE been invited out of a sense of obligation. Or maybe your sister’s kids and grandkids and various in-laws don’t really know you well enough to select thoughtful non-token like gifts for you. Maybe with twelve children in the family, not to mention the, what, 10+ additional adults at the event, people are tapped out on shopping and gift-giving and it’s all they can do to purchase some nice soap for the aunt who lives on the other side of the state whom they don’t see a whole lot and for whom they just don’t know what else might fit a like or need.
Honestly, I think you’re taking this whole gift thing way too seriously. You’re not going to get better/more thoughtful gifts than you have been getting, period. It’s not a reflection on whether people like you so much as it is a reflection maybe on your extended family not knowing your tastes well enough to know what you’d like or need or people prioritizing gifts for the twelve kids or their own siblings and parents. You can’t bring up your hurt feelings about your token gifts without sounding like an tactless ingrate. If it’s so boring sitting through hours and hours of opening gifts — and that does sound pretty boring, arrive the day after Christmas. Tell your sister that you love seeing her and her family but have decided to enjoy a quiet Christmas Day at home and ask if it would be ok to join later in the weekend for a day or two. If you’d prefer just skipping the whole shebang — especially since you call the boring, hours-long gift exchange “the highlight” of the weekend, that’s ok, too. I really don’t think you need an excuse — a simple “We decided to have a quiet holiday at home this year” will suffice. If your sister presses, you can say you want to avoid holiday traffic and travel expenses going into the new year but look forward to meeting up with her at another time. Regardless, in lieu of making everyone individual wood crafts, a kind gesture might be sending a food item for everyone to enjoy on Christmas Day (like one of those tins of gourmet popcorn to snack on during the gift exchange), so they know you were thinking of them—-while you enjoy anything other than watching twelve kids, four sets of parents, a set of grandparents, and various in-laws open gifts for hours on end.
If you have a relationship/dating question I can help answer, you can send me your letters at wendy(AT)dearwendy.com.