Nobody quite believes it, but we really have cut back on Christmas spending. Peter LOVES to give the perfect gift, and on our first Christmas together (24 years ago) I was stunned by the number of gifts and the measures to which he'd gone to find just the right things. I began to match the numbers of gifts, though never the amount of diligent searching for hard-to-find items. We devoted enormous amounts of time specially wrapping our gifts, sometimes elaborately disguising the packages and always writing hints on the gift tags.
Twelve or 15 years ago, we began to buy holiday gifts for needy families. I organized an annual project at work to provide gifts for 36 families headed by single mothers working to get out of homelessness and into stable homes. (They participate in a program run by the local YWCA; the moms spend two years learning job, homemaking, parenting, and life skills.)
Each year Peter, Abby, and I would select one or more families and go to Target with wish lists provided by the moms. We'd select items for each family member until we'd reached our budget (translation: exceeded our intended budget by at least 20 percent) and felt we'd gotten a nice balance of gifts. If the mom only listed clothes for the kids, we got each one a small toy as well. If we got her household gifts, we added bath and body lotion. And maybe some candy for the family. It made us feel SO GOOD to select things that we knew were needed...cookware, for example, that would help someone feed her family, hopefully for a long time to come.
The satisfaction of doing that project soon made us reflect on our own gift-giving. We still love it, but with more simplicity and less excess than before.
It might have been tempting to overdo with the grandkids, but we don't. (No, really, we don't.) At their young ages, they are easily overwhelmed with too much stuff, including too many packages to open. And their parents wisely don't want them to equate Christmas with Tons Of Huge Presents. (Besides, we introduce new books and playthings periodically through the year, just to keep daycare fresh, so it's not like we deprive ourselves of the fun of giving them things.)
We've bought a few things for their Christmas, and we'll buy a few more, and we'll wrap them up and have great fun. But just at this moment the thing I'm looking forward to, the thing that gives me a little tickle of excitement, is shopping for the family I've adopted for this year, a mom and her daughters who otherwise wouldn't have gifts. I'll be getting the mom some pots & pans and a radio and some socks, and each of the girls some clothes and a doll. And I will enjoy it so much that it feels more self-indulgent than charitable. But that's often true of things we do for others.
P.S. I edited this post slightly after posting.