Sometimes, wanting to hold on to tradition makes you an asshole.
Every year at Christmas, my family exchanges gifts. Everyone buys a present for everyone else, meaning that each person is responsible for 10 to 12 presents, not including in-laws or friends. This year, money is very tight for my partner and me. We bought a house, we have a young toddler in full-time day care, and we live in a very expensive city. We also have to travel internationally for the holiday and hire a dog-sitter while we’re away. We can’t buy 24 gifts without taking on additional debt. We are the only family members with children and a mortgage, and we’re the only ones traveling from another country.
I explained our situation to my family and asked whether we could come up with some way of limiting the number of presents each person is responsible for buying. Privately, a few people have said that it would be a relief not to have to buy so many gifts. However, my sister “Kristen” hates the idea of interfering with tradition. It seems that no one is willing to make a public statement for fear of upsetting her. In fairness to them, it’s pretty awful when she gets upset (think adult temper tantrum), and her relationship with my parents is often strained.
I have now asked twice about the present situation, and I’m not getting any traction aside from possibly-insincere declarations that we don’t have to buy presents. My partner strongly feels that it would be rude of us to sit and receive presents without giving anything in return, and I agree. She has also expressed her reluctance to attend my family’s Christmas in future years if they can’t be understanding about our finances. What do you think I should do? I shudder at the thought of adding to our debt, but I also don’t want to be seen as the family Scrooge. Help!