Interesting topic! (I think my comments may be more general, rather than addressing Chrissie’s questions, but perhaps they will be helpful anyway… or hopefully, thoughtprovoking?)
There seem to be two main issues: how we deal with differences between family "cultures" (which could extend to any number of areas: gift giving, time-spending, vacation styles, parental respect/obligations, discipline for children or basically anything having to do with raising children, etc.) and more specifically, how we deal with gift-giving, especially during the "loaded" (and perhaps emotional) holiday season. (I say "loaded" because there seem to be so many expectations or requirements during this peak gift-giving season.)
First, I think when any two people decide to marry or enter into a commited relationship, they must realize they are also making the decision to create a new "family unit." This new family unit can (and perhaps should) now be able to establish a new family culture, no matter how different from either party of the couple’s original family cultures. Of course, they can decide to combine elements of either, both, or neither!
The couple should then be free to establish a united front to both sides of their families. For example, Husband and Wife decide that though his family are extravagent gift-givers and hers are very modest, they (the new family unit) will be middle-of-the-road gift-givers to BOTH sides.
Husband and Wife must decide what’s best and healthiest for their OWN family unit, regardless of others’ opinions or traditions. Of course, I realize this may be overly simplistic and perhaps far more difficult in practice. But ultimately, it is more important that Husband and Wife are united (whatever the issue may be) and have the opportunity to establish their own culture and traditions (especially if they have or intend to have their own children).
This brings me to my second thought about the way we give gifts, especially during the "peak gift-giving season" aka the Holidays. It seems that we have begun to forget the meaning of a "gift" and "generosity" and instead think in terms of "trade" and "fairness."
For example, my gift to you will only be acceptable to you if your gift to me is equally acceptable to me. In other words, somehow, we must each decide that the gifts are somehow of equal value (whether monetarily, sentimentally, or otherwise), or a fair trade.
In my extended family there were a variety of different gift-giving family cultures. Whenever my brother and I got gifts from our low-income grandparents and from our wealthier ones, we never compared or disdained one over the other. We knew that the gift’s monetary values were different because of the giver’s abilty to spend, not their ability to love.
Likewise, one of my aunts and her family (who lived very far from us and who we were never able to spend Christmas with–though we would have LOVED to!) consistly would send our family a box with little gifts for my parents, my brother, and me. My family, on the other hand, rarely, if ever mailed them gifts (we were not well off, at all). But there were never feelings of resentment on either side (though in hindsight, I do wish my brother and I had at least drawn pretty pictures and mailed them or something…)
The point is that gift-giving should be that–a gift (with no expectation of anything in return)–not a contest for who can come up with the best, most expensive, most creative, most sentimental, most romantic, most anything gift… The gift should not be an obligation, but rather a reflection of the relationship between the giver and the giftee…
Perhaps that’s an overly idealistic view of gift-giving in these modern materialistic times, but I would love to see more of it!
What do you think? Am I unrealistic? Would your family accept this type of gift-giving (i.e. whatever you can afford and wish to spend, regardless of what you may, or may not, receive in return)?