Since I come from a family that was--to put it mildly--lackadaisical about gifts and gift-giving occasions, it is hard for me to understand the pressure many people feel. There's a famous book called Unplug the Christmas Machine that deals with these issues. Evidently the book alone does not suffice: there is also a workbook to use in support groups. One of my friends used to clutch a heavily annotated and dog-eared copy of this tome to her bosom year-round. No wonder: between her and her husband, the siblings numbered 10. Her husband's family of seven children each produced--on average--five a piece.
So here is the first of my modest proposals: little traditions are more important than gifts, large or small. I'm not talking about your family traditions necessarily. I'm talking about traditions you invent. If this seems like a paradox, let me defend myself by pointing to a famous academic book called precisely The Invention of Tradition.
One tradition we invented--by accident--was the little poem attached to the gift. Even though we are English teachers who love poetry, WRITING poetry is not one of our strong--or even weak--suits. Here is an example. One year, we gave Frugal Son a can of sardines and Miss Em Swedish Fish. (I know these gifts seem ludicrous, but they were much appreciated! No, this was not all they got!)
Noticing the fish theme, we wrapped them together with this poem: "Here are two gifts that come from the sea/One's sweet, one's not: what can they be?"
Well, of course, the little poem was recited with great excitement to friends and family. And thus began a "tradition" (now we HAVE to do it) whereby we must attach a poem to every gift.
Do you have any little traditions that are valued as much as fancy gifts?