To Give or Not to Give


Years ago, my family used to exchange Christmas presents: everyone gave everyone else something. Then one year, we decided to pick names, except no one wanted to draw names from a hat. Or maybe I just didn’t. There’s one person in my family who is very hard to shop for (you know who you are if you’re reading this!), so I wanted someone else’s—anyone else’s—name.

The truth is a lot of us were hard to shop for, not because we were picky, but we were all adults and had jobs, so if we really wanted something, we saved for it and got it ourselves. Ye ol’ gift card became the gift of choice. It was easy! I loved it! Shopping for gifts wasn’t taking so much time, and then my sister complained one year, “All we’re doing is exchanging money.” She was right.

So then we moved to just doing stocking stuffers for each other, and I think we set a limit of $10, but some people adhered to that and some people didn’t, and my husband never knew what to get my family members, so I ended up shopping for both of our gifts to everyone else.

And then I became The Grinch. I decided one year that my husband and I wanted out of the gift/stocking stuffer exchange. “But then you won’t have anything to open,” one of my family members said to me. “Don’t you want to open something on Christmas morning?”

No, in fact, I did not.

My family members continued to exchange gifts among themselves, and my husband and I sat with my family through the unwrapping of gifts. Did it bother us? Not a bit. Sure, we didn’t get any presents, but we also hadn’t had to try and figure out what to get everyone else. I found I was more relaxed through December. I loved it.

Gifts, apparently, are not my love language.

My husband and I long ago stopped giving each other gifts on special occasions. Not that we don’t do many other things for each other—or, often, buy something for the other. It just doesn’t happen on birthdays, anniversaries, or Christmas. And we both like it that way. There’s no pressure to find the exact right thing to tell the other you care. He does plenty for me all year round—fixes things around the house, watches a silly show just because I want to, does all the driving on long road trips, walks with me every morning, makes me coffee on Saturdays and Sundays, cheers me on in my writing career. I’m good with that. I’m more than good.

I love seeing my family on holidays—we don’t live in the same place, so it’s a big gift just to see them, to talk in person, to give each other hugs.

My family eventually stopped the whole stocking stuffer exchange. We focus on what we will cook, what we will do, how many days together we’ll have.

Shuly Xóchitl Cawood is a writer living in Johnson City. She is the author of four books and teaches online writing workshops. You can find out more about her at


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