Every year, we have Christmas morning in our own homes, then our family gathers for the big family Christmas in the afternoon. We have dinner, presents and games and it's a lot of fun. We got together again this year, but it seemed that Christmas had lost some luster. We had dinner and dinner was nice. We had good fun and played games. When it came time to gather around for presents, it felt like the wheels fell off. People had other things to do - eat appetizers, talk, and wander around. Kids were playing computer games and listening to iPods. They could only be bothered if they had a gift to open.
Since there are so many people in our family, we have a 'gift exchange' where names are drawn from a hat and each adult has one person to buy for and one person that will buy for them. The kids have the same system. Since there are many cousins, this is a good way to still exchange gifts but avoid going broke. It also affords you the opportunity to put some thought into it, since you have one to buy instead of 21. As the years have passed, the interest in this seems to have degenerated. People get gift cards, or in some cases, they buy their own gift and label is as being from the other person.
As for the kids' exchange, they bragged that they didn't even know what was in the gifts that they were giving to their cousins - their parents must have bought something, but they certainly didn't know anything about it. It was a point of pride to be so disinterested.
For me, I love to see people open gifts. I love to see the person that gave the gift get to see that they gave the right gift. When I buy gifts, I try to pay attention to the recipient and to find something that they truly want. I try to get them something they wouldn't get for themselves, because if it's a drill, they could just buy it themselves. I like getting them something special - something they will view as a treat to have and something that will make them feel like I was paying attention to them.
I am saddened to see my family's loss of interest in the act of giving. Christmas gifts have become a checklist of names that the goal is to clear. Come Christmas day, there isn't any interest left in seeing what people got because the expectations are so low. The only remaining expectation is 'what will I get'. It's too bad, because giving is better than getting.