Why I Have Never Bought My Nieces a Christmas Present

playing at the park
Some people think I’m the worst uncle in the world (fortunately, there are others that disagree). My nieces are six and eight this year and I have never purchased a Christmas present for them. A lot of people think I’m cheap and stingy when they first hear this. I have even been told that I must not really love them.

I once had a friend who told me that if I wanted to give her flowers, I better damn well buy them for her while she was still alive so could enjoy them. She wondered why people bought flowers for those who had died, as they would never have the chance to enjoy them. She said that if I felt compelled to bring flowers to her once she died, I would have failed to understand that gifts shouldn’t be given to make yourself feel better, but should be given for the recipient to enjoy. Those words have stuck with me, and I get the feeling that a lot of people give presents on designated days not for the person, but to assuage their own guilt or out of obligation.

There is this really weird association in our society that presents given on specific days somehow express how you truly feel toward someone. This is especially true when it comes to giving presents on those big special occasions such as Christmas and birthdays (It’s also true that I have never given either of my nieces a birthday present). I think that due to the conversation I had about when to give flowers, I have never been a big present giver in the form of stuff that you buy at the mall on days designated as the time you’re supposed to give them. When I do give gifts, they tend to be spontaneously given, not dictated by a consumer-driven date.

I decided when my youngest niece had her first birthday that I was opting out of the traditional present-giving obligations. I decided that presents, especially on those designated days, have very little to do with how you truly feel about that person. I would instead try to show what I felt not through a physical present, but through my interactions with them.

So on Christmas day, my nieces didn’t get a Christmas present from me. Instead, we walked to the park and they got a 45 minute game of tag among the slides, bars and climbing apparatuses until we were all exhausted. They got to climb onto a concrete wave and pretend that they were body surfing with their uncle. They got a half-hour of watching their uncle try to replicate the flips that they easily did on the bars, laughing at his lame attempts, then celebrating with him when he finally pulled it off. They got to play a game of shadow tag on the way home from the park, running from car to car and then huddling next to it to make their shadow disappear so their uncle couldn’t stomp on their shadow. They got to spend an hour playing the board game Apples to Apples (junior edition), and laugh hysterically at all the crazy cards their uncle placed down, while he argued that the word he placed down was the best. They got to spend an hour having a “snowball fight” with all the tissue paper that was left over from the Christmas gifts others had given.

No, my nieces didn’t get a physical present from me this Christmas, but I hope that they ultimately ended up receiving a gift that they feel is worth much, much more…

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9 Responses to Why I Have Never Bought My Nieces a Christmas Present

  1. Liz says:

    Years from now, they probably won’t be able to remember what anyone got them for Christmas this year (or other years), but I bet they will remember all the fun things they got to do with you!

  2. Melanie says:

    Thank you so much! My sentiments exactly! Kudos on the best Christmas/presents/giving article that I’ve read all year!
    By the way, did you continue or abandon the minimum wage challenge this year? I haven’t seen a post from you about that in many months.

  3. jim says:

    Oh, the hell you didn’t get them a present. Memories and life experiences – WAY better than anything that comes in a package. Nicely done!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  4. jeffrey says:

    I did continue it through the year, but I stopped writing about it. Unfortunately, it started to get repetitive (I was basically doing the same things which was great for keeping costs down, but I could see that it was getting boring for readers). I think I have a better challenge for this year that won’t fall into that trap…

  5. Melanie says:

    Oh, I see. Thanks for replying! Looking forward to whatever other ideas you present for next year. I enjoy reading your posts.

  6. Minny says:

    Everyone does these things in their own way and usually I would not make an adverse comment but you have chosen to share this with us and so accept comments that go either way.

    There is no doubt that you love your nieces, the face says it all and I’m sure that they just love the time you spend with them. Here it comes, however, although I am old I remember as a child the thrill of opening the presents on my birthday. In so many ways it did not matter about the value but if someone had thought about me and chosen something special it was such a thrill. Maybe we didn’t have so much back then and so presents were more special, I don’t know. I do know that the old copy of ‘What Katy Did’ that I was given was treasured for many years, there were also other gifts I remember.

  7. Sarah says:

    You sound like a wonderful uncle! And I’ll bet their parents are greatful that you haven’t added to the Christmas excess that turns into neglected toys around December 27.

  8. David says:


    My wife is slightly craft-savvy and I have a self-proclaimed knack for wood working so we decided that this Christmas would be a homemade one. Yup, all Christmas gifts were handcrafted, either solely by us, like sugar scrubs and a wine cork board, to semi-made gifts, like candles and personalized mugs. My wife and I have been dubbed ‘the best gift givers’ because of the personal touch we normally have on gifts so the bar was set extra high this year. After two weeks of having our house look like Santa’s workshop we realized that we were in far deeper than we thought but we kept each other motivated and we had the best Christmas yet. I never imagined the happiness our gifts would bring, we were thanked with bear hugs and tears of joy. Making your gifts, or at least trying to put your own spin on things, makes you appreciate the holidays so much more. Even though we aren’t going to pull this stunt again any time soon we can’t wait to have kids and work with them to make gifts for friends and family, something from the heart. Oh and in case you’re curious here are some of the things we made:

    *personalized mugs with Cali on one side and Florida on the other and a heart in each state with a dotted line connecting them (we are moving from Florida to Cali this year and my wife gave these to her sister and two close friends)
    *a wine cork board (we got the corks from a local bar)
    *sugar scrubs
    *sleep salve
    *jams and jellies (strawberry and orange)
    *color by number canvases (for the little ones)
    *scented soaps (also for little ones and we placed a small card showing the effect each scent would have on the child’s mood)
    *camera strap (made from an old belt, metal strap hangers, and paint)
    *about 20 other personalized gifts that are difficult to describe

    I say keep up the activities, those are the things family will remember, not the toys and electronics but the time spent together.

  9. Gailete says:

    How wonderful. Years ago when I had little ones and so did the others in the families we gave gifts to what nieces and nephews were there, then as the family grew we couldn’t afford it even with me making many of the gifts. Bless you David for the joy you had in making gifts. My MIL hated that I made gifts and the year we had more money and less time for crafting she made sure in her catty way they she knew we had finally spent some money this year.

    Anyhow, I haven’t bought a Christmas or birthday gift for nieces or nephews in years, but then I haven’t seen them in years either (for many reasons). I think it is a lousy thing for others to judge us by who we do or don’t give gifts to. What is that to them? Not everyone has the money to shell out on 25 nieces and nephews, plus the great-nieces and nephews plus the spouses of them! And to know them well enough to know what they would like, what size they are, what colors they decorate with, etc.

    I’d far rather be the aunt that made the wedding dress or a special quilt than the one that gave out Barbie dolls every year.

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