Aunt Sally’s Holiday Guide to Nieces and Nephews: Gifts for Large Families

Three years before I became I mom, I became an aunt.

My first Christmas as an aunt, in 2002, I had one adorable nephew who was but a few weeks old.

Christmas 2003 found me an aunt five times over — I now had two nieces and three nephews to celebrate.

Christmas 2004 found me an aunt seven times over — that year, we were up to three nieces and four nephews.

Then I became a mom, and within two years my daughter had a total of ten cousins. Then eleven. Now she has a little brother, and twelve cousins, with one cousin on the way.

That’s a lot of small fry. It’s a lot of birthdays, and it’s a lot of Christmas presents.

Over the next few weeks, I’ll be writing a series of posts called Aunt Sally’s Holiday Guide to Nieces and Nephews. I hope it helps you get some creative, budge-friendly ideas kids and their parents will love, making you the cool aunt all year long.

MY FAVORITE SOLUTION: A GIFT EXCHANGE

A few years ago, when one of my brother-in-laws (who is not a dad, but an uncle 10x over) suggested that we do a gift exchange for the kids instead of a gift-from-every-family-for-every-child we all sighed with great relief. He and his fiance hosted us that Christmas and got the entire family signed up on Elfster.com.

It has worked out really well –each family enters their children, and as it so happens, that my husband’s siblings who aren’t parents  have dogs the nieces and nephews all love. So Mini, Bull, Jake and Riley are all entered into the gift exchange as well, along with all of the children. The kids who get assigned to go to the pet store for Christmas shopping are always over the moon about it. We’ve set the limit at $25 per child, which makes budgeting a snap. What’s also nice is that families have the choice to opt out if they like. If they aren’t able to come to the family Christmas party, the kids are none the wiser about it. I love being able to really think about and concentrate on two special gifts, rather than being overwhelmed with the idea of having to buy 8 gifts all in time for the family Christmas party. On a related note, the grownups usually have an “adult beverage” gift exchange. Have I mentioned lately that I love my in-laws?

Once your party is set up in Elfster, then then you can build a wish list, ask questions of the person whose name you’ve picked and keep all the information in one place. It’s very fun, and has become part of our family tradition in just two short years.

IF YOUR FAMILY ISN’T READY FOR A GIFT EXCHANGE

When I explain the above to people who come from large families, they always smile in agreement. Friends who only have one or two children to buy for though, don’t always understand. Don’t I want to get a special gift for each and every child? I would love to, and that’s why we still celebrate each and every birthday. But  shopping for 12 children at once, ages ranging from new born to age 9 is a daunting, expensive task. Especially when you have no children of your own, so therefore you’re buying 12 presents and coming home with maybe two iTunes gift cards.

One solution is to come up with gift for a set of siblings. If the children are close in age, this is fairly easy. Depending on your budget, all kinds of games make great sibling gifts. Getting a fun Wii game like Just Dance 2 is something the whole family can enjoy. Wii accessories like the Official Nintendo Wii Wheel makes a great gift too. More budget conscious choices would be old school card games like Uno, or a board game like Sorry What’s even better is that after all the gifts have been opened, you can play the games with your nieces and nephews and have some fun. Along the same lines, toys that can be shared include walkie-talkie sets, kitchen sets like pots & pans, fake food, and tea sets.

It gets a little trickier when the age range is wider. One good trick is to get the kids things that are personalized. All kids LOVE t-shirts, back-packs, lunch boxes, etc. that can be personalized. One year I found a stationary company that sold personalized t-shirts for $15 each, and gave a 10% on orders over $50. Lands’ End is also a great place for personalized things. My nieces and nephews always get a personalized towel set from Land’s End either for their first Christmas or Birthday. You could even get crafty and make/paint ornaments for each child, add some yummy Christmas candy and they’ll be very happy children. Even if budget isn’t your top concern, finding an item or theme that goes across age levels helps in shopping and keeping gifts “even’ with each other. You can’t get one kid a sweater and another a monster truck and think they won’t notice. Trust me on this one.

Another idea that can be budget friendly and span age ranges is books — books are good for all ages and come in all price ranges. A paperback book and special bookmark makes most readers very happy. Dollar Stores tend to carry board books for younger kids, they also carry coloring books and workbooks for kids who like activities (or for families who are traveling over the holidays).

If you’ve got just one family with multiple children, consider offering an activity night for the kiddos while Mom and Dad go out on the town. This scores you points in all arenas. Your gift to your brother/sister is a night of free babysitting (you can decided if you want to treat them to a movie or anything else). Your gift to the kiddos is a fun night– either wrap up the games  or DVD you’ll watch, buy a hot air popcorn popper with a note attached to what’s going to happen, etc. Get creative and make it fun. You could get them all new PJ’s and then introduce the concept of a “slumber party”. Anyway you do it, it’s a great way to make a splash without completely lightening your wallet.

Other ideas on how to manage buying gifts for large families? I’d love to hear them!

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