DEAR MISS MANNERS: Is it possible to discourage or redirect adult relatives away from the practice of making Christmas lists?
I have tried and failed -- so far. At the tender age of 53, I am embarrassed to write out a "Dear Santa" letter, especially since my husband and I are lucky enough to be able to buy everything we need and much of what we want.
My relatives (siblings, their spouses, my mother) are in similarly good financial condition. However, they exert a great deal of pressure to produce these Christmas lists, which suggests to me that they can't be bothered coming up with something to wrap up and put under the tree.
It's depressing -- are we really such strangers to each other? I would be happy to forgo gifts altogether, but that option was not popular with my family. It seems so silly and kind of sad to buy things for people they could easily buy for themselves. It's not really the end of the world to take a chance on someone even if the present later ends up being re-gifted or sent to charity, is it?
GENTLE READER: Like you, Miss Manners has tried and --so far -- pretty much failed to discourage people from trashing the ancient custom of exchanging presents and substituting the exchange of shopping lists.
What (she keeps asking) is the point? The choice of presents is supposed to produce that warm feeling of knowing that someone else has noticed you and considered how to please you. When that element of thoughtfulness is eliminated, what is left?
Of course she knows that the real answer is getting stuff one wants and having other people pay for it. But as a rough reciprocity is required, no one should come out ahead.
Some people solve this by making charitable donations in one another's names, instead, but that, too, is something people should make their own choices about and do themselves, not to mention for which they should get the tax credit.
Until we succeed in making people understand the value and meaning of giving presents, Miss Manners suggests that you nudge them toward a minimal amount of thoughtfulness by listing "A book, DVD or CD that you think I might enjoy."