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Home & Garden > A Special Christmas Anxiety

A Special Christmas Anxiety

I haven't heard other people talk about a problem that several of my family go through at Christmas. It's a phobia about gift-giving. One sister announces each year that she doesn't want us to get her anything at all, because she didn't buy presents — and it definitely seems to be an anxiety thing. But then she suffers guilt about it afterwards. She’s not ungenerous, it’s something else.

When we were growing up, my youngest sister also used to have a terrible aversion to Christmas because of the usual present-buying frenzy and not being able to deal with the decisions. She would throw a fit, go hide from everyone and angrily refuse to take part in Christmas stuff.

One sister goes way overboard when buying things. That's just as difficult.

I think most of us in my family want to make people happy but we obsess about feeling judged — even when we’re talking about just dealing with family members. Our relationships have always been delicate, tenuous, and unexpressed due to our upbringing. We knew we cared for one another, but didn't know how to send that message. And sending that message seemed imperative.

To this day I still ache about a stuffed dog I sewed when I was about ten, for my little brother’s birthday. I had no money to get him anything but he expected something from me… and I felt like I'd short-changed him. His birthday came right after my sister’s, and I did not want him to feel unloved compared to her. And of course this brings me to tears even now, because he's dead and if there was anything he needed more from us it was love and attention.

I'm thinking I might have a talk with the one sister and see if I can get her to adopt a modest gift-giving habit of a practical, one-fits-all kind of thing. One year she did this: She got everyone toothbrushes and toothpaste, and we liked it. It would help her deal with Christmas, I think.

Right now I too am agonizing somewhat. Thank heavens there was a name-drawing among one family group, and I managed that -- I bought a Wyze watch that has a blood-oxygen oximeter in it and a few things that mirror the iWatch. Gifts for others are going to be late, because I can't finish projects within time limits I set myself (when it's for gifts, anyway). I'm making aprons from vintage tablecloths, and handmade pillows for my siblings.

In the meantime, I started coming up with ideas for the one sister that she might be able to handle. Practical things:

1 A set of various glues and cements one doesn’t need often, but when you can’t find them around the house it is maddening — Shoe Goo, rubber cement, crazy glue, Elmer’s, wood glue, Gorilla glue, or a glue stick. I wouldn’t go into other cements since they’re not always safe. (If the people wear athletic shoes a lot, you could add some strong clips that are needed when you repair a shoe.)

2 A metal measuring tape, and a sewing measuring tape.

3 A small tarp and/or a basic work apron.

4 A couple of tubes or jars of really, really good hand cream (Neutrogena, Eucerin, Nivea, etc.) and possibly some cotton/spandex gloves, and if they have a dog, add a jar of Musher’s Secret.

5 A winter cold kit: Without getting too pharmaceutical, some kind of cough syrup, perhaps an antihistamine or cold remedy, vitamin C & zinc lozenges, other throat lozenges, Kleenex, vaseline, hydrogen peroxide or mouthwash.

6 A set of very strong clips that can be used for reclosing chip bags, or for clamping things for repairs/crafts.

7 A portable, battery-powered, rechargeable lamp or lantern — or fan.

8 Several quality cooking oils — ex: olive, sesame, peanut, grapeseed, coconut, avocado, walnut.

9 A few spices we don’t always buy ourselves or don’t buy fresh often enough — ex. thyme, rosemary, sage, oregano, bay leaves, nutmeg, sweet paprika, black pepper, minced onion, sesame seeds, coriander, etc., etc., — OR a set of extracts for baking & cooking — vanilla, mint, pineapple, lemon, orange, etc.

10 A nice houseplant, herbs in pots, a seed kit to grow herbs, or a few bulbs and a pot ready to grow spring flowers. For houseplants, Snake plants are great since they absorb indoor pollutants, need only low light, and don’t have to be watered that often.

11 A couple of really good pairs of scissors, or delicate garden shears, or a few other hand tools for gardening. A watering can and plant food.

12 Tape of various kinds for office and repair — duct tape, packing tape, double-sided tape, scotch tape. Find out which brands are the duds among packing tape, because that kind is always frustrating.

13 Goo Gone, ink stain remover, and other mild useful cleaning liquids.

14 Moleskine notepads, or other notebooks. I especially like the ones with graph paper in them.

15 A weird food item, like cricket flour, cricket brownie mix, canned or dried meat like reindeer, mealworm flour, sorghum flour, or any of the more unusual seeds or flours from Bob’s Red Mill. Also consider tomato jerky, other kinds of jerkies. Or some roasted vegetables in jars that can be added to recipes or used by themselves.

16 Scented candles, Glade scent things, or soaps. The best-smelling candles I have ever seen are Paddywax Apothecary candles — Tobacco & Patchouli, or Vetiver & Cardamom. Some great scented ones end up at Barnes & Noble at the holidays.

17 And my favorite FlyLady.net housecleaning tools, especially the cleaning cloths.

posted on Dec 22, 2021 10:22 AM ()


This still tickles me because I bought a fairy costume with wingsand a wand for Chandler and she looked up her old naked doll that I keep her for her and
went around dressing it up in an old scarf and put the wings on it. She said the fairy dress did not fit it, (it was hers). She cast spells on all of us
and the wand got quite a workout. she ended up taking the doll home with her. something about it's naked state bothered her.
comment by elderjane on Dec 25, 2021 4:40 AM ()
These all sound like wonderful gift ideas. To me, gifts should aspire to be something I wouldn't buy for myself, but am happy to have.

My in-laws seem to have a similar issue with Christmas gifts, and I never figured out why. The whole family gets together at Christmas, so what better time to exchange small gifts. But no. One year my mother-in-law informed me in so many words that her children could not be expected to have to figure out what to buy for gifts.

But Wait! They buy birthday gifts! So here they are doing the gift thing throughout the year, trying to figure out how to get it to the recipient. I don't see the difference - her children are taking the time to think of what to buy for each person's birthday, but they can't transfer the timing to when the family is together. Me: I can't be bothered to keep track of the dates of their birthdays, so having the Christmas date certain was convenient.

It reminds me of the plot of the Prince of Tides - there must be some big watershed family trauma that has ingrained Christmas-gift-phobia into their psyches.

Back when she first said that, I had been enjoying coming up with inexpensive, thought-out gifts and made wrapping paper by hand-stamping bells, trees etc. onto brown paper using poster paint. Not being able to do that crushed my soul a little bit. And there was a Thanksgiving dinner where cousins of my husband's brother-in-law had obviously been informed that 'this ##### thinks the family should exchange Christmas gifts' and the hostility was palpable.
comment by traveltales on Dec 23, 2021 2:14 AM ()
The trauma around gifts sure is a popular one. I guess it’s going to have as many variations as there are people. I told my friend Mike my list for my sister, and he mentioned little sharp scissors for detailed things, so now I know what to send to him; I’ll include a pair of those pelican-handled tiny sewing scissors, manicure scissors, and maybe something sold for men’s facial grooming.

I like the ways people use brown paper wrapping. I’m trying to cover a cardboard box using Mod Podge and some papers I’ve saved from the insides of security envelopes. We’ll just see if I can do it neatly.
reply by drmaus on Dec 23, 2021 1:12 PM ()
I sorted mine out in 2 shops COLES gift cards 8@$20 then lollie shop 4 Xmas bags and assorted sweets for great-grandchildren--they have enough toys to fill a store
comment by kevinshere on Dec 22, 2021 7:17 PM ()
Now those sound perfect. Kids don't need millions of toys, just something to open up and if it's brightly colored or sugary, all the better.
reply by drmaus on Dec 23, 2021 1:13 PM ()

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