Ask the readers: The Christmas lottery has already been breached

Dearest readers,

Long term readers may remember how SIL, upon being diagnosed with twins (children #3 and #4) this summer, suggested that instead of everybody giving gifts to everybody as that is DH’s family’s love language, that instead we draw names from a bag and only give to the person whose name we had drawn.

It is not yet Thanksgiving and we have all four of us already received Christmas gifts from MIL.  (Also from SIL, but only for DC2, whose name she drew.  The kids’ gifts are sitting in boxes in my closet waiting for after Thanksgiving to be put in gift bags.  Except Children of Virtue and Vengeance because DC1 has it on hold from the library and there’s a long line after hir so…)  I *think* it’s less money than she usually spends (~$30/person instead of $80-$100+… not that I keep track), but also… it’s not yet Thanksgiving.  We often think she’s done with holiday purchases and end up being wrong.  This may just be the “off our wishlists” portion.  Or it may be all.  (Except DC1 will probably get something for hir birthday.)

DH also just bought a (bread baking) book for his brother’s wife but was like, this is not a Christmas gift, do not retaliate (brother was all, no worries, this is not a big deal, but I’m sure his wife is happy to have expectations made explicit), and also wants to buy his brother a cheap video game that they can play together with the other relative they’re friends with.

And should we renew the Braille subscription for DH’s brother’s blind daughter?

Should we also ignore the name drawing thing and send gifts back to MIL and FIL?  Just have the kids send (homemade crafty) gifts to MIL?  Send something smaller than usual? Stick rigidly to the name drawing thing?  Not worry about it because the in-laws have savings and nice pensions and I still make a lot of money so whatever we do is fine?

What would you do?  Any stories of what happens when these kinds of rules break down?

24 Responses to “Ask the readers: The Christmas lottery has already been breached”

  1. omdg Says:

    Is it bad that when I read the word “lottery” my first thought was going to be about which random person you know is going to die of COVID because of holiday gatherings? I really need a diversion.

  2. Steph Says:

    I don’t have many suggestions that will help for this year. My family excluded the grandparents from these gift exchanges for basically this reason, although their gift was always a check for everybody so that’s a little different than your situation. Usually then whoever felt like it would get the grandparents gifts in return, on top of any other exchanges. Once my cousins reached their teen years, we’ve done things like secret santa among only the cousins or white elephant for everybody (obviously the latter isn’t possible this year).

    Maybe don’t worry about the grandparents’ stuff and just let grandparents be grandparents. If they’re financially stable, maybe just suggest that she give something extra to her assigned giftee this time around, and next year leave them out of the lottery.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      Leaving them out of the lottery would seem to make sense. We’re not going to be there for the lottery given covid, so I’m not sure how to bring it up. Though I guess that’s DH’s problem, not mine.

      I know this isn’t a real problem… but sometimes it’s nice to focus on #firstworldproblems instead of on *gestures broadly*.

  3. revanche @ a gai shan life Says:

    I would have been surprised if the grandparents had complied with the new rule. If I were in your shoes, I’d assume the rule is for your generation on down and grandparents will do as they please. I am curious if they had explicitly agreed to be part of the name drawing *instead* or if they assumed it didn’t apply to them? But whatever the reason I’d be in favor of sticking to the agreement.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      You’re right that this should not have been a surprise, though I did think they would get the kids stuff and not the adults. (And actually, I don’t know whose names they pulled, all I know is they didn’t pull DC2 because SIL did. BIL didn’t know either.)

      They are in the random drawing (we asked BIL just to be sure). From what we can tell, SIL asked MIL if we could do this and MIL asked DH and BIL and they were both like, whatever is easiest for you guys we don’t care.

      Currently our thought is for DH and the kids to make a lightbox with a tree and packages and 8 little Christmas stockings, each with a grandkid’s name on it. Homemade doesn’t really count, right? (Unless it’s one of the professional-looking things that DH’s sister sometimes gives, like color in t-shirts for the kids, since she has a t-shirt maker thing.)

  4. Alice Says:

    I would do whatever you were planning on doing without the gifts showing up. And do a thank-you note. Acknowledge, be polite, but don’t encourage. And maybe don’t wrap the gifts or save them for the holiday– just consider them as not-Christmas and treat them as such.

    They’re basically saying that they won’t stick to something they agreed to which is for the greater good, which is a crummy move on their part. But if you send them gifts in return, you’re saying that they had veto power all along–that if they choose not to do things, it’s ok and you’ll go along with it. And I don’t think that’s something you really want to do.

    I would still do the Braille subscription, but mainly because I don’t think that’s a holiday gift. It’s a functionality in life gift, which seems different to me.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      Thank you phone call has already been made! Kids will send thank you notes after Christmas. They did specifically say, Merry Christmas on them.

      I’m not sure it’s particularly crummy since the only person who had strong feelings about moving to this was SIL. Everyone else can handle the expense and is really only doing it because SIL wants to. So long as SIL doesn’t feel obligated to send presents to extra people, it should be fine? (Our little family unit of four drew 4/6 members of SIL’s family and we never know what to get for her husband, so unless we feel a strong need to send something to her oldest, we won’t send her family anything she feels obligated about.)

      • middle_class Says:

        I think it would be better to adhere to the lottery. Speaking from experience, it is hard to not reciprocate or feel embarrassed if you are the only person who cannot afford the expense and also has no time and bad gifting skill!

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        We are definitely not failing to adhere in the case of DH’s sister, but DH’s parents have already broken the lottery!

      • Alice Says:

        Hm. I’m not sure I agree that it’s a no-harm, no-foul violation as long as the SIL doesn’t feel obligated. I think if you want to send gifts to the parents in law, you owe it to your SIL to tell her that you’ve decided to drop out of the pact. To do gift-giving as if you’d never agreed to it, just not involving her, strikes me as a violation of her trust in you.

        We have a similar arrangement to what you’re describing in my family. We haven’t had a breech, but when I think about my younger sister, I think she’d feel incredibly badly if she found out that others were breaking the agreement behind her back. She’d feel badly because financially she’s not in as strong of a position and she has a legitimate need for the agreement. She’d also feel badly because she’d be finding out that we lied to her and didn’t stick with something she thought we were on the same page about.

        I’d also say that if you still want to send the grandparents gifts without telling your SIL that you’ve decided to drop the agreement, there’s no rule that says gifts can only happen at Christmas. Send them anniversary gifts or Valentine’s day gifts. Or Grandparent’s Day ones, whenever that is. Move the gifts to a holiday/celebration that’s less complicated than Christmas.

        (Maybe I’m reading more into this than I should… but we have a few people with complicated reactions to Christmas in both sides of our extended families.)

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        I don’t think SIL will mind if the kids send MIL a craft. I don’t think she’ll know if we send anything else? And we never talked to SIL about the drawing, it was all through MIL. So… I’m not really sure that there’s trust in us to have? Not a pact with hard and fast rules, in any case, or MIL wouldn’t have broken them already.

  5. mnitabach Says:

    We deal with this stuff by ignoring “rules” set by individuals lacking authority to set them for us, protecting the feelings of those whose feelings we prioritize, doing whatever we want, and ignoring any shrieking or squealing that ensues. What we definitely don’t do is grant the unilateral rule-setter the power to induce us into complex calculations & machinations. We also lie freely to ppl abt what stuff we give them actually costs, or claim we somehow got “special discounts”, so their frugality, etc, doesn’t interfere with their enjoyment. 😹😹😹

  6. First Gen American Says:

    I think if agreeing to the rules gives the rule-maker the relief they need in terms of time or money, then they should get it. I don’t agree that following the rules to the letter is absolutely necessary if it’s not impacting the rule maker. Grandparents have their own rules and more time to do what they want to do and they should be allowed to do so.

    When our kids were small, SIL made some running rules about who to buy for (kids only, no 2nd or 3rd cousins) and it was the best gift ever. I had the money but not the time to manage, wrap, distribute that many gifts. It was getting out of control and the stress level went way down once that was enacted. She also tends to spend more on my kids than I do on theirs as we have different running rules in our heads about that. However, I have a secret 529 in their names as well so I resist the temptation for one upping each other.

    I say, Let people spend what they want on who they want. The only gifts I ever resented were the ones from people I disliked and they aren’t people in my life anymore.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      Given that we drew 4 members of SIL’s family, I don’t think we really can breach the rules for the rule maker. Sadly the only one of her kids we don’t have is the one we would enjoy shopping for (same age as our DC2), but we will resist.

      So should we reciprocate with the grandparents? We usually get FIL a gift card to cabelas and MIL something off her wishlist and the kids make things related to her likes and hobbies (ex. Packers crafts).

      • First Gen American Says:

        We still buy for the grandparents. My mom hates anything expensive and states we are wasting money, so we try to keep her gifts small or perishable and big purchases only happen when something breaks. My MIL gets a big gift.

        I guess the other gift giving thing I try to adhere to is if I am supporting a cause, I try to make it be a cause the receiver is interested in, not the giver. You wouldn’t want a donation made in your name to the Republican Party for example.

  7. becca Says:

    I think in your shoes I’d just have the kids reciprocate with crafty stuff, since that’s the norm for them.
    Although DH baking them something shippable might work.

    But the best solution is probably to call up SIL and touch base on the whole lottery breach thing with gentle humor of “SO MUCH LOVE, UGH”. If *she* feels the lottery has been thrown out, is frustrated, and preparing to buy everyone gifts like always even though it’s a sacrifice, then you are in position to fix that by reassuring her of your plans to adhere.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      Sadly, MIL has diabetes and basically lives on glucerna and salads. :( FIL doesn’t have much of a sweet tooth.

      I don’t think SIL is affected by a lottery breach from our standpoint, so long as we don’t send her husband or oldest anything? She’s already sent our DC2 hir gift, so I think she’s done with shopping? She and DH already discussed what she and the two babies want, so I think she’s not expecting anything else. (The other kid has a wishlist.) The two babies are home now so there’s not much time to touch base other than the occasional flustered text.

  8. abinghammathgmailcom Says:

    I’d send gifts to the MIL & FIL. For a family who thinks of gifts as showing love, gifting the grand parents would be important. In our family the adult siblings have drawn names for each other, but as the mother of them, i give gifts to everyone and they give gifts to me. Gift giving is my love language and so i like gifts too.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      That’s a good point. Maybe next year they should be excluded from the drawing… but then SIL would probably feel she had to give to them. So I don’t know what the solution is. Currently it seems like this is causing them to spend more, not less, since the people they drew get extra. (We think they drew DC1. Also FIL is buying both kids new bows.). But maybe they adjusted their giving budget accordingly.

  9. nicoleandmaggie Says:

    Updates: FIL announced that the bows he’s getting the kids don’t count as Christmas presents and DC2’s won’t be ready until January. But MIL will still be buying them the full allotment of Christmas presents so tell them they shouldn’t worry. DH did not take this as an opportunity to get clarity on the lottery situation. And he said he would tell the kids even though he has no intention of saying anything and our kids aren’t very materialistic at all. (Their two boy cousins though have been known to complain about the number of presents in Dursley fashion, causing MIL to take everyone to Walmart to pick out more gifts(!))

    The second thing is that the Braille press this year has gotten a grant to renew existing Braille subscriptions for free. BIL doesn’t need to know this is only for the first 125 renewals. So I think we’ll talk to him to see if the daughter still wants it and do as CPP suggests.


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