Angela (Hi Ange) commented yesterday about taking the "stuff" out of giving. She suggested time is a good thing to give and got me thinking about other ways to taking the stuf-ing out of the holiday.
A few times in my life I've been in the name drawing sort of events.
All the cousins on the Wagner side used to draw one name each and get a gift just for that person. I think the price limit was 5$. It worked while we were all young or youngish.
After too many of the cousins got married and/or knocked up, there were too many people and too many of us were no longer acquainted. So, we quit gifting all together.
But as kids, this was a good way to go. We each got something, usually something silly, and a good time was had by all. It tended to limit gifts for those who were "easy to buy for" and make sure that those who are tougher to buy for got something as well.
The drawing was usually on thanksgiving day after we were all bloated from eating. I don't know if the Michigan cousins were involved. I hope so but I was a kid and I don't remember.
In recent years my group of friends from undergrad days at Iowa State U had a drawing event for two christmases with the requirement that the gift be "craptacular." That was pretty well interpreted as hand crafted or crafty in some way. We drew names among the 11 or so friends, though I think couples counted as one entity to simplify matters. It was great fun. I remember making a calendar the first year (well...Jonny assembled it) and being blown out of the water when Ange made the daily calendar...oh well. The next year I decoupaged a serving tray for the friends in Louisiana who hadn't seen many of us in years. I covered it with photos of us from back in the day and more recently and for extra craptacularity...I used glittery decoupage goo. This also had the effect of putting us all in soft-focus which was good for the more recent photos.
However, those other more talented friend took the "crap" right out of "craptacular". The first year I got a pillow from Laurie with Iowa themed applique's, and a matching cool/warm eye mask with piggies over each eye! That wasn't crappy. It's spectacular.
The next year Bree made me a lovely mosaic out of tiny tiles. It still hangs in my kitchen in Plummer. It's gorgeous.
So that was a fun way to limit the number of gifts and the amount spent, but it was also too difficult to maintain. We don't all have the time and ambition to make gifts each year.
I try to make some of my gifts (hope the Aunts and Uncles need more jam...) and most of those have been big hits, but I don't always have the inspiration or the time to do it. So it's a melange.
I agree with another part of Angela's comment...consumables are good. I love candles (even butt-smelling ones) and burn them pretty much continuously through the winter. The light cheers me up. In fact right now I'm burning 2 candles rather than having a light on. Also, we all look better in candle light.
A couple of my aunts often give me spice mixes and whatnot. I love those. I made some seriously good chili just the other day when I repurposed some fajita spice from last christmas into the blackbean chili pot. I should do that again...soon.
And one aunt used to always get me bloomingdales underwear. That was fun. It's sort of a "consumable" since undies only last so long. Last christmas she came up with some excellent socks (just wore them today) among other things.
I used to love getting towels and things, and while I still love those, I now have enough towels to supply a football team for a week. When I took on the second household people tried to give me things and my first words were: NO SHEETS AND TOWELS!
(But if anyone talks to Gram...I'm down to my last two sets of embroidered dish towels because I use them everyday and am wearing them out.)
I think the best set of towels I have were also pre-used. They are purple and teal and in perfect shape. They are still the "good" towels that I get out for company.
I'm not against non-consumables! I got a lovely duvet cover last christmas. I've gotten pendleton blankets now and then, and the kitchenaid mixer of course.
But, not everything has to last forever. We're all getting older and don't need as much stuff because we have more stuff.
Even though we don't "need" as much stuff, I think the act of exchanging gifts of some sort is important but I won't go into the dull anthropological theories behind that.