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28 Ideas for Exchanging Christmas Gifts

Sure, you could just hand over a gift, but why not present your presents in a more creative way?

By Vanessa DiMaggio and Sarah Humphreys
Wrapped holiday gifts Bob Hiemstra

Make Gift-Giving Simpler

  • Go in on a gift with (and for) your family. In lieu of presents, try renting a ski cabin for the weekend after Christmas or going on a beach escape together.
  • Eliminate the guesswork. “I ask gift recipients to send me a wish list that I buy from. It saves time, effort, and returns, yet still preserves an element of surprise,” says Real Simple reader Robin McClellan of Lehigh Acres, Florida.
  • Buy recurring gifts. You’ll know what to give, and the recipient will look forward to getting, say, an annual shipment of Florida citrus fruits or Vermont cheeses, a series of theater tickets, a museum membership, or even a nice desk calendar.

Make Gift-Giving Less Costly

  • With family. Tell them up front you’re going to cut back. “Don’t make it a money issue with your kids, but talk about it in the context of what the holiday really means: ‘This is the time to be with family, not for getting new skis,’ ” says Sue Fox, author of Etiquette for Dummies ($22, “Children are resilient,” adds Meg Cox, who wrote The Book of New Family Traditions ($13, “If you make the change gradually they’ll accept it.” Let your extended family know as early as possible that you’d like to give and receive less. (Though some, like grandparents, may be loath to do the same.)
  • With friends and colleagues. Tell them early, and be direct. Say, “I’m paring down this year—why don’t we just exchange cards or go out to lunch?” You may find that they’re actually relieved.
  • With the unexpected gift-giver. “By all means, say ‘Thank you.’ But other than being super-appreciative, you do not have to reciprocate,” says Peggy Post, coauthor of The Gift of Good Manners ($19,
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