But increasingly a new system appears to be emerging and it's slowly driving me to distraction.
"Could you just pick up something for the children," said my mum some years ago. "I'll put the money in your account but I don't know what they like these days and you do."
Fair enough Mum, I thought to myself, and very soon I found myself wrapping these presents too, and just giving her the tags to write. "I hope someone looks after me when I'm a little old lady like you," I joked, and she smiled and reminded me that when I'd had six children (like her) and I'm in my eighties (like her), I too will have earned such perks of the job.
But increasingly my sisters have started doing the same. "I'm snowed under at work and I just don't see myself getting much time for Christmas shopping this year," trilled my sister Maggie another Christmas. "If you could just buy something for your three, I'll put the money in your account of course, but you know what they like."
Remind me, where had I heard this before?
Then last Christmas I finally ended up buying my Mum's presents for my children, plus presents from my five sisters. The maths isn't that hard – three children multiplied by six relatives – that's a staggering, not to mention obscene, 18 presents.
Luckily, in bemoaning my fate in the playground this morning my friend Jinny told me to stop whinging and instead gave me some great advice. Reader, in true Parentdish fashion, and with huge thanks to Jinny, I list her suggestions below – they may just help you from pulling your hair out too.
1. Prepare, prepare, prepare. Sit down and work out how much, on average, you will have to spend on your children. If six relatives give £10 per child, tell your children they have a £60 budget from their family and ask them for their ideas. The suggestion that they save some, have some spent for them, and even make a donation to charity, will go down well, or like a lead balloon.
2. Over a family meal bring the conversation around to the topic of Christmas presents – is there something your child would really love, or an event they are desperate to attend? Sometimes it's far better to enjoy one fabulous trip, such as to a show with a pizza to follow, then to have six smaller presents which they can't find by February.
In the past we have designed whizzy little certificates on the computer, announcing they are off to see a show in between Christmas and New Year, or even later in the new year. It gives them something to look forward to and avoids a mound of unwanted presents.
3. Ask them to start writing their wish list to Father Christmas early. Tell them they can put a certain number down, but tell them you don't think they should post it for a month. This will give them time to think, keep them busy, and, when you have a sneaky look, will give you a heads-up on what they are really hoping for.
4. If there seems no way around buying lots of presents, start shopping now. It's far better to buy two or three presents a week, in a calm and unhurried fashion, in the run up to Christmas, rather than running out like a lunatic two weeks before 25 December and going into melt-down when you realise Argos is out of everything you had planned on purchasing.
5. And for a really radical approach – discuss with family members the idea of everyone having one decent present in a Secret Santa deal, and every family also making a donation to charity – preferably one which has a personal meaning for your family. Like we say, radical, but surely a good idea?
Do you end up buying your children's presents from relatives?
Or do you have x times the dreaded book voucher?
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