We all know about the stereotypical Christmas morning - a big glittering tree with presents pouring out from underneath. That is what I could not wait to see every Christmas morning when I was a kid. But as I have gotten older I have enjoyed the act of giving, and the time with family more than the presents. For some people, though, it just does not feel like Christmas without some kind of gift exchange. Which brings me to the topic of alternative gift giving ideas.
You are probably more than familiar with this concept. A bunch of names go in a hat then everyone who wants to participate picks a name and then gets a gift (usually of a specified dollar amount) for that person. I worked in an office that did this for Christmas (although it was called "Secret Salmon" to make it non-denominational). A way to make the typical secret santa exchange a bit more fun is to really keep it a secret - don't let the recipient know who the gift giver was. Keeping the santas secret can help alleviate some of the stress that might come from giving a gift to someone you don't know very well.
In the white elephant gift exchanges I have been to, I have been asked to bring a white elephant present that cost no more than a certain dollar amount. When the exchange begins one person opens a random gift. Then the next person gets to go, and that person can, depending on the rules in use, either "steal" the gift that is already open, or open a new gift. If a gift is "stolen" then the person who was stolen from gets to open a new gift. Some people put limits on the number of times any particular item can be stolen. In my experience it is best to pick names from a hat, or something like that, to determine the order of opening the gifts. But I have seen this kind of game go a little awry - feelings can get hurt.
Favorite Things Exchange
I have never been to a party like this, but I have heard of them, and I think it sounds like fun. Its kind of like a white elephant exchange in that a lot of money does not have to be spent, and that you are not buying a gift for any specific person. The way this type of exchange works is that you ask each guest to bring multiples of their favorite thing - usually a dollar cap is used. So you might be asked to bring five of your favorite thing under $5. Then everyone else at the party will bring five of their favorite things under $5. And then you get to kind of shop around and leave the party with 5 fun new things (think chapstick, magazines, makeup, candy, food, even wine!). You could also set a lower dollar cap and ask your guests to bring one of their favorite things for every guest (for example if you have 10 people coming to a party, you might ask your guests to bring 10 of their favorite things under $2 or $3, then everyone gets to try 10 new things). Anyway, I bet you can tell that I think this is a fun twist on traditional gift giving. The focus is more social and less on the cost of the things.
Something You Want, Need, Wear, Read
This is another type of gifting that I have seen circulating the internet. For family members, to limit the gluttony of gifting, you can decide to give people four things:
Something they want,
Something they need,
Something to wear, and
Something to read.
I think this is a really nice way to cut down on spending and re-focus on spending time with family and enjoying the Christmas season.