How to tie a perfect bow.

We’ve talked about sibling gifts and Santa gifts and how many gifts is too many (see links below). Today, let’s shift the conversation a bit. Let’s talk about gift-giving with our extended family now that we’re all grown up. Do you rotate siblings? Draw names for cousins? Donate to charity in someone’s name? Do the grandparents organize it?
Do they participate? What works well for your family?

This is how my family handles it. I’m one of 8 siblings, and we have a rotation that we’ve been doing for over a decade. In fact, I think we might be pretty close to 2 decades now!

It began when most of us were married and starting our own families. With so many of us, it was getting overwhelming. Should we choose something for each of our siblings? And each of their spouses? And each of their kids? Just do one big family gift?

We decided to start a family rotation to keep things more manageable. The first year we gave to the sibling (and their family) who was just older than us, with the oldest sibling giving to the youngest sibling. Then the next year, we gave to the sibling two ahead of us in age. Then three ahead of us in age. Then on and on in a great big circle.

In our rotation, there aren’t really any rules beyond who you are assigned to. There are no budget suggestions. You can give one big family gift or you can pick out something for each individual in that family — we’ve done both depending on who we are giving to and what sort of ideas we come up with. Gifts can and do vary widely. One year, my sister Sara’s family made us a set of Nativity Story costumes we could use each year on Christmas Eve. Another year, my sister Jordan’s family gifted us tickets to Cirque du Soleil. Another year, my brother Josh’s family gifted us a collection of music instruments — like egg shakers and a cowbell — to supplement our jam sessions.

We all have different traditions about where we spend Christmas, so this gift giving almost never happens in person, and is usually shipped instead (or given over email/text depending on the gift). Oh, and my mother doesn’t participate in the rotation.

What I’ve loved about this rotation is that I get to think specifically about one particular family and really come up with a thoughtful or special gift just for them. As my own kids get older, they help in the decisions and I think it increases the bond they have with their cousins. I also love that it’s pretty low pressure. This tradition has never stressed me out, and everyone has very low-key expectations about the whole thing. It’s mostly just a gesture — Merry Christmas! We love you and are thinking about you!

It’s worked quite well over the years, and I don’t remember any drama or hiccups around this tradition at all. Interestingly, we may be reaching a new crossroads. Some of my siblings have grown up children now. The tradition still works if those grown ups kids (my nieces and nephews) are spending Christmas at their parent’s house, but if/when they start their own families, it probably won’t work as well. It will be interesting to see if we retire it at some point.

What about you? How do you handle gifting with the grown-ups in your family? Do you gift individually? Do you pick names? Do you have a rotation that works for you? And how far do you extend the family gift-giving? Aunts & Uncles? Cousins too?

Here are some earlier gift-giving discussions you might have missed:

How many gifts do you get your kids for Christmas?

Tips for figuring out a gift-giving tradition.

How many gifts should Santa bring?

How to avoid too many Christmas gifts.

Budget-friendly gifts for kids.