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the family gift swap

Both JR and I come from large families (there are six children in my family and five in his) so buying Christmas gifts for each and every sibling (and their spouses, and their children) has never quite worked for us.

The past few years in JR's family we have had a theme for our gifts, which has worked out really well. Two years ago we all gave each other board games (some of our family favorites are Ticket to Ride, Carcassonne and Settlers of Cattan). Last year we were inspired by the Favorite Things party I had just attended, where each person brings their "favorite" thing. Each family was to gather some of their favorite things and send it to their assigned family. You can see our gift from JR's older sister in the photo above. Each little package included some favorite thing from each person in their family (minty M&M's are a favorite of Dad's, mom loves scented candles, etc.) The kids had a great time unwrapping each one and learning about their cousin's and aunt's and uncle's favorites.

For our Favorite Thing, we shared our ritual of Tea Time, something JR and I were trying to do every few nights. We had gotten into a bad habit of putting the kids to bed and then retreating to our computers, to finish up emails and catch up on work. Some nights we would watch a show, but we both felt like we weren't really spending time together in the evenings (even if we were both in the same room). Tea Time was our solution.

The note read: After the children are tucked in bed and fast asleep, we take turns boiling the water on the stove and getting out the tea bags. We fill our mugs with hot water and let the tea steep, then stir in a little sugar. Tea takes some time to cool, so we sit and talk at the table while we sip our tea and discuss the business of our family. Sometimes we take the time to play a game. After a busy day, it's just nice to sit down together and talk for a minute. We hope you'll think so too.

We included two nice shaped mugs from Pottery Barn (perfect for sipping tea) and a pack of our favorite tea (our new favorite is Tazo's Wild Sweet Orange Tea.. it is delicious!) and our favorite card game (Coloretto).

How do you handle gift swaps in your family? Do siblings buy for each other? What about cousins? Because we now have about 18 children between us, we have the cousins do a swap too. We've tried different things, like the year we had everyone make cards for each other (not as big a thrill for the kids as we had hoped!). But the past few years we have done a book swap, each child picking out a book they think their assigned cousin would enjoy. So far, so good.

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Reader Comments (20)

This is such a lovely idea. I come from a big family too and this year each sibling was assigned another sibling/couple and bought gifts for them and then we all opened them together (we had our family Christmas last weekend as we're all in different places on the actual day. But I really like the idea of themed gifts as it makes it much more personalised and family-orientated.

Gift swaps are such a great idea, and I love the idea of the favorite things for Christmas. Will have to keep that in mind as our extended family grows.

12.20.2011 | Unregistered CommenterTara

My Husband's large family usually is a disaster with everyone (else) trying to out spend/out gift the other. I didn't miss that when everyone grew up and away, frankly.

In my large family (8 kids, spouses and 18 grandkids) the Cousins all draw names and are limited to $15. The Adults (and I use that lightly), if they choose, participate in a White Elephant gift exchange with a $15 limit. We've had to limit the number of "steals" to 3 --- unless we want to carry on long into Christmas Day. Fifteen bucks isn't too much to spend to participate, and it causes one to be clever and crafty. It's the highlight of the Season, family and extended family alike!

12.20.2011 | Unregistered CommenterLiz Anderson

Love the "favorite things" gift idea! Makes me want to plant the seed in my own extended family!

12.20.2011 | Unregistered CommenterSarah

this is such a fun idea! i love this. it is a really cool way to learn about the secret lives of your family. so sweet. we all draw names and then you find out who drew yours on christmas. we are lucky to have most of our family in town. have a merry christmas!

12.21.2011 | Unregistered Commenterlesley graham

love the theme idea!

With my family, we rotate. So, the first year, I buy for my next sibling in line. The next year I buy for the one just younger than that.

We buy for the whole family. Some years that means I've gotten a small present for each person in the family. Some years it means I've gotten one gift for everyone to share (like a board game or something).

One thing I love about this is that you know way in advance who you will have. So, if you find something perfect for a specific family, you can go ahead and snag it - even if (yes, I've done this) it is more than a year in advance. :)

One real challenge is that we are spread out all over North America (SD, WI, UT, AZ, TX, and Canada). Shipping is expensive and it's too bad we never get to see people open their gifts. I sure would love to see a cute way to do something with my family even though we are so spread out. Honestly, I wouldn't mind dispensing with the gifts entirely, but I do wish we could come up with something that still brings our family together.

12.21.2011 | Unregistered Commentermegan

I like the "Favorite Thing" idea as well. I come from a giant family, too many cousins, nieces, nephews, etc. to count. It seems we've tried just about every way possible to keep the stress and expense of gift giving to a minimum. Many years ago, we discussed the financial burden of all the gift giving...especially since most of us have everything we need. Honestly, we tried limiting the gift amount but there are a limited number of items you can purchase for under $15, it doesn't buy what it used to.

I now make donations in people's names to their favorite charities. Everyone wins. You're very creative, and if you like the idea I'm sure you could adapt it so it would work for your family. Perhaps each family could research a good cause to donate to and you could vote, or take turns selecting the charity? At any rate, Christmas is a great time to give to those less fortunate or have needs that must be met.

12.25.2011 | Unregistered CommenterSheryl

That wrapping paper is to die for! I’m a sucker for that color.

12.27.2011 | Unregistered CommenterTaylor

I really like the Favorite Things idea! I'm hoping to bring that into our Christmas season next year. What we do with my siblings is a Clue Gift Swap. Each person brings a $50 gift card and a "clue". For ex, you might bring a cd and a gift card for itunes. Or "Brazil Nuts" and a gift card for Amazon. People get pretty clever --- one brought a HUGE balloon as their clue for Macy's, as in the Macy's parade. We draw numbers out of a hat and pick your gift card based on the clue. Everyone leaves with something they actually want (a giftcard) but it gets pretty funny along the way! :)

12.28.2011 | Unregistered CommenterMary

This is a very stressful subject for me! Our family is big and spread out and we have no system, it is just a total free-for-all. Which is fun if you are little and not responsible but hard to plan for as a participating adult. I'm thinking about being the strong-arm joy kill for this coming year and instituting a cousin-present-swap with a $15 limit.

Love your tea time idea too.

01.4.2012 | Unregistered CommenterLynne

I love the idea of giving out your favorite things. Thanks for sharing!

01.7.2012 | Unregistered CommenterMommy G

So sweet! We do a gift swap in my family too. This year it was a homemade ornament swap. Even my 8 year old made one (a candy cane reindeer for her grandpa). Thanks for the good idea -- I may borrow your "favorites" for next year.

01.11.2012 | Unregistered CommenterMrs. Green

Aww I love this! I love tea and this is such a sweet gift idea. Also, do you know if Coloretto is like Ligretto?? Ligretto is my FAVORITE card game, but it's from Europe. So maybe Coloretto is the "english" version (there aren't words on the cards, just numbers...)? Kind of like Nertz?

02.28.2012 | Unregistered CommenterHeidi P.

Because my partners family is so large we usually do a 'secret santa' everyones names are placed in a hat and everybody gets to choose a name, then they have to buy a present for that particular person, there is usually a capped amount say $30 for each gift.... we find that a great way for everyone to get something

06.25.2012 | Unregistered CommenterDimiti

Excellent ! Such a nice collection of gifts. As per my knowledge these are the best gifts for any occasions. I also choose personalized gifts for gifting my dear ones.

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