The Childless Christmas Gift Dilemma

The first Christmas commercials showed up on TV before we finished with Halloween. The stores were already putting out the decorations and cheesy gifts in mid-October. You can’t get away from it. Even if you’re not Christian and don’t celebrate Christmas, it’s hard to escape the whole Santa Claus business.

So much of what is offered is for children. After all, who gets the most and the best Christmas presents? Kids. When there are kids around, almost everything under the tree is for them. It has always been that way. When my brother and I were little, our parents, grandparents, godparents, and aunts brought in armloads of gifts for us. We’d crawl around under the tree, prodding and shaking the packages, trying to figure out what was inside, dreaming of the possibilities. On Christmas morning, it felt like we were unwrapping presents for hours. It wasn’t until my teens that I realized Mom and Dad received comparatively few gifts. They would nod and admire our bounty while itching to get on with preparations for the company coming soon.

I have spent plenty of time at other people’s houses watching the kids rip paper off packages while I sipped my tea or slowly unwrapped my one present, fancy soaps, chocolates, or another coffee mug. It was worse when those kids were my stepchildren, surrounded by so many parents and grandparents, step and bio, they couldn’t even keep track. My husband’s ex always knew exactly what they wanted and needed because she was the real grandmother, the one who was around all the time. I was this weird Grandma Sue person who knew nothing about children.

We can say Christmas is not about the gifts, but in some ways it is. All the advertising showing perfect families with two happy parents and at least two beautiful children doesn’t mirror our own reality. If only advertisers would try to understand that. Sure, we might have stepchildren, nieces and nephews, or our friends’ children to buy presents for, but we have to exercise some restraint because they have their own parents who want to give the biggest and best things.

Christmas gifts present a dilemma for many of us without children. If you’re like me, you don’t hang around kids that much and don’t even know what they want or need. I haven’t been to Toys R Us in at least 25 years. What are the popular gifts this year? What do you get for a two-year-old? What does a 12-year-old want? Are you obligated to buy presents for kids you barely know? Do your friends and siblings expect you to shower their children with gifts when you can’t afford them or when even walking through the toy store at the mall makes you feel bad?

I’m afraid I sound sorry for myself. I don’t get a lot of Christmas presents these days, and I open them alone. The joys of being a widow far from family. I have been buying gifts for certain young people for years and never gotten anything in return. But that’s not what this post is about.

I want to know what it’s like for you. Does Christmas fill you with dread because of all the gifts you have to buy or the gifts you don’t get to buy because you don’t have kids? Do you enjoy buying or making things for the children in your life? Or are you relieved because not having children means you don’t have to spend the money or deal with the crowds? What’s your game plan for Christmas presents this year? Do you have suggestions for surviving the Santa Claus side of Christmas? Please share in the comments.


3 thoughts on “The Childless Christmas Gift Dilemma

  1. I enjoy buying things for the children I know well. But for the ones I don’t know well, the ones who live overseas, it is agony! Not so much because I don’t have children, but because I don’t want to waste my money and time, and mental health on something that they won’t enjoy or appreciate or worse, will mock.

    When I’ve had nieces who are little, I’ve always bought clothes. They love them, they’re usually different from what their parents would buy them, I don’t have to worry if they’re serviceable or easily washable (ha!), and their mothers have always appreciated it. (With one niece, I was the “cool jacket” aunt, until she got to about age 9 or 10.) I also get science experiments or books for different kids, rather than toys. There was a science/nature shop that I would always just say to the staff, “boy aged 8” or “girl, aged 7” and they’d come up with good suggestions. I stay well away from anything “popular” because the odds are that they either have it, or they’re going to get it from someone else, and I’m bound to get it wrong.

    I also try to get it all done well in advance (or even throughout the year, with an eye out for sales) so I don’t have to endure the hype (and triggers) I might find in toy stores.

    Like you, I get very few gifts. One of my sisters and I have agreed that we will only exchange gifts if we are together on Christmas Day, and that extends too to her daughters and their children. Same goes with another sister-in-law. I also have a cut-off at age 18 for nieces and nephews.

    Christmas for me now is my tree and the food and the pohutukawa blooms on the trees outside, not the presents. I’m okay with that, but I’m always a little sad at the silence in the house when the in-laws go home. I admit that I’m always a bit relieved when Christmas is over, but I know I’m not alone in that, and it is a hard time for many people – whether we have children or not. My mother, for example, always hated Christmas, the stress, the pressure, etc.


  2. I don’t mind Christmas shopping, and I only shop for three kids these days — the two little girls, ages 3 & 6, whom I refer to as “the Little Princesses” on my blog (my parents’ neighbours’ granddaughters), and stepMIL’s grandson, who is 9. I usually buy clothes for the girls (something sparkly or with unicorns is usually a big hit, lol) and the boy is usually happy to get an iTunes gift card. We also give cash to our two adult nephews, although I am not sure how long we will continue to do that. Perhaps if & when some great-nieces & nephews come around, we’ll switch to giving presents to them instead. 😉 As you’ve observed, we usually give a lot more than we wind up getting. It’s not so much Christmas, because there is sort of an element of reciprocity there… it’s all the other stuff — the baptisms, kids’ first and other birthday parties, first communions & confirmations, and later weddings & bridal & baby showers…


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