DEAR ABBY: It may seem early for holiday squabbles, but they have already begun in our family. My brother, "Arlen," and his wife, "Lurline," are hosting the Christmas get-together. I took my brother aside after church last week and told him that due to the weakened economy, our business is struggling and we are barely keeping our heads above water. I said we couldn't participate in the family's annual gift exchange and he seemed to understand.
A couple of days later, my mother called and raised Cain. She said since Arlen and Lurline are hosting the party, we must go along with the gift exchange. Mom said the expense they were going to for the party -- although it is to be a potluck -- obligated us to exchange gifts with everyone. She added that my four sisters and their husbands were participating, and it would look "funny" if we didn't.
Abby, it angers me that we're being pressured to exchange gifts when our budget is already stretched to the max. Why can't Mother understand our predicament? This is turning into a sour holiday season, and I don't know if we should go in debt for gifts or not. We live in a community less than 30 minutes away from the family, so skipping the party isn't an option. What's the answer? -- DEE DEE IN COLORADO
DEAR DEE DEE: Your mother may have meant well, but she should have stayed out of it. Under no circumstances should anyone with a business that's struggling to stay above water go into debt for Christmas gifts in order to keep up appearances.
The true meaning of Christmas is the love you share for each other, not the presents. You can write a short letter to each of your siblings explaining the circumstances, telling them that you love them, but a gift is not possible this year.
However, keep in mind that there are alternatives to expensive gifts -- home-baked goodies, coupons for raking leaves or shoveling show, even an IOU for hosting a family dinner at your house sometime next year when your finances have improved.
The most important "gift" is the fact that you're all healthy and able to celebrate the holiday together. Many families aren't that fortunate.