A New Way of “Doing” Christmas

Over the years, our extended family’s Christmas gift exchanges became more a burden than a blessing. And, increasingly, a farce as none of us really needed any more possessions in our lives. The annual superfluous sweaters and gift card exchanges even prompted some of the cynics in the family to propose that we just exchange bank routing numbers and perform mutually agreed upon wire transfers.

Last fall, some of us had reached a critical breaking point and were ready to spontaneoulsy combust at the thought of another same ol’ , same ol’ Christmas. It didn’t take much to convince the rest of the bunch to try a new thing. So, we broke with tradition and instituted a new way of “doing” Christmas. It brought us joy and peace and provided laughter and relaxation- at a time usually frought with anxiety and incessant activity. We were mightily pleased with its outcome. (And it had nought to do with John Grisham’s humorous book, “Skipping Christmas”.)

At the Thanksgiving feast we determined not to exchange names for gift buying, but still to bring a gift for exchange with someone in the family- anyone. The additional twist, however, was that the gifts brought for each other were not to be bought for each other. Each person was to wrap and bring something that they already had in their home, the funnier the better. In essence, turning Christmas from just plain white to white elephant. And, we decided, the money not spent on a relative we would give to our favorite charities.

The result was incredible. As we went around the circle on Christmas day, explaining which charity we chose and why, we learned a great deal about one another. All were delighted to be giving a gift to someone else on the planet who truly needed what was given. Clean water for a village in Africa, a sustainable fish pond for a community in Asia and chickens for a family in South America were some of the gifts given last year. Others kept their charitable gift in the U.S. , supporting local food pantries, homeless shelters and other basic needs charities in order to help out their fellow Americans. It was extremely refreshing.

And then came the hysterics: The white elephant gift exchange. People cried with laughter rather than because they didn’t get what they wanted. (Even the kids.) There was no boredom with the redundancy of gift card exchanges between the teenagers. (Yeah, OK, they were still bored, but the rest of us weren’t.) There were no disappointments because there were no expectations. And some of us easily-pleased people were actually thrilled with our white elephant gift.

The joy and happiness we experienced together wasn’t just for that one day, either. This new system of doing Christmas translated into much less stress- on both sides of the day. There were no grim thoughts of standing in store return/exchange lines afterward. And, instead of creating panic during the 4 weeks or so between Thanksgiving and Christmas, the new idea created fun. No one was scurrying to find a parking spot in order to purchase unneeded gifts for the extended family, and then worrying if the gifts would fit, be the right color, or be liked. No one was giving up in desperation and resorting to choosing a gift card. On the contrary. My family members were creatively weighing their options: should they bring the 1980’s Kenny G cd, the “cat litter rabbit” doorstop, or the Hawaiian shirt decorated with surfer dudes, palm trees and panelled station wagons?

The new system is here to stay in my extended family; we liked it that much. All 20 of us felt great about the good we did last year with some of our Christmas dollars.

Written by Katherine Perreth

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1 Response to “A New Way of “Doing” Christmas”


  1. 1 Rita S December 2, 2008 at 12:56 am

    3 cheers for White Elephant exchanges!!
    Our family began doing this about 5 yrs ago. Seems every year one particular item resurfaces. The White Elephant exchange has become such a hit, that what began as fun for the adults quickly became a game that the kids wanted in on too. White Elephant has become the highlight of our Christmas get together.


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Act Local: Share gifts of time and resources with those in our community. At the Impact Tree in the Atrium, find opportunities available for individuals, families and life groups. All the information you need will be on the cards by the Tree. Take a card – put an ornament on the tree.

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