The Gift-Receiver Templates Part One: The Troublemakers

Part one: The Troublemakers

Your homework over the last few days has been to make a list of the special people in your life to whom you give gifts during the holiday season. I also asked you add the people you sometimes forget about. (“How do I remember something I usually forget,” you may ask? Start thinking about it now. Start thinking about it early!)

(Sidebar, please: We want to reduce stress this year. Consider the stress that you might feel on December 18 when you realize that you forgot to get your kids’ teacher a gift. By December 18, you are in the thick of Christmas programs at school and work events and the traffic… ugh. Thinking about this now is going to help you avoid that stress right there. That is why we are doing this now.)

Remember, our mantra this season is “Done, not perfect.” Right now you have plenty of time to get things done.

Now, let’s look at the list.

I’m willing to bet there are a few people on the list for whom it is easy to come up with gift ideas. Those are probably people who know how to receive a gift with grace, and for whom you usually have little-to-no-stress in the giving. These lovely people will get their due in a few days, when we will study them like a chef d’oeuvre to understand their Receivers Template.

But for the moment, let’s consider the people on your list for whom gift-giving can be a chore.

The techniques I describe are not easy. They require determination on your part: Love is the only reason to do anything this season. Remember? What I want you to think about is this: “How can I be a courteous gift-giver to the people I dread giving gifts to?”

The Disappointed/Unhappy Receiver

One of our children, like me, absolutely hates surprises, (equally unsurprisingly, this is my youngest scalawag, who is exactly like me in most ways.) Even if he receives a nice gift, if it is a surprise, he will initially refuse it. This is really, really uncool. Like extremely uncool when well-intended grandparents show up with a surprise gift. The word “ungrateful” is the first word on my lips.

The truth is, he really isn’t ungrateful. He just hates surprises. He would rather feel like he has chosen what he wants and he likes to know that it is coming. He likes to be able to have a little picture of it up on the wall of his room to look at it and dream about it.

Is there anyone on your list like this? It doesn’t matter what you offer them as a surprise gift, you get the sense that they don’t like it, whether they say it out loud or not?

What would happen if you leaned into this? If this person’s template says “I like to know in advance so I can look forward to it?”, what harm is there in having a conversation?

I want to get you a gift you will enjoy, and I was thinking of xyz… Would that be something you might like? Yes? Cool. Consider it done!”

You could even follow up with a link/screenshot with the text “Do you like this? Or do you know of something else?”, so that the person knows you are serious and has that little image to hold onto. The added benefit of this is, if what you are thinking of isn’t what they want, they can respond with a different suggestion.

What you are doing here is setting expectations for someone who needs to have expectations set, as well as managing those expectations: If they were hoping for a Play Station 5, they will know that the best your bandwidth can do is a pack of Pokemon cards. This way they can get over their disappointment now, instead of on Christmas morning.

The Sarcastic Receiver

This person is one I have a ton of trouble with. It won’t matter what you get them, their reaction will be one of, “Oh great. More socks.” or “Yay. What a surprise. Cigars again.”

There are probably dozens of reasons why this person reacts the way they do, but my unscientific study of human nature says that they are uncomfortable receiving gifts. There are people like this out there. They do not believe that they are worthy of receiving something, and it will not matter what you give them. They will never respond with enthusiasm. They don’t like talking about gifts.

They will tell you, “Don’t get me anything…” and in the back of your mind, you know that if you wouldn’t feel guilty not getting them a gift, you probably wouldn’t.

Remember what we said? Guilt is not a reason to do anything this season. Love is the only reason.

If the inevitability of their sarcastic reaction is already causing you stress, then you need to sing with your feet here, friend. Either you need to have an upfront conversation about how their inability to accept a gift graciously makes you feel (right, Lily. Right. I’d like to see you do that.) Or, you need to do one of two things:

Option 1: Accept that this person does truly not want a gift from you. Instead, write them a really thoughtful note. (Yes, this may actually be harder work than buying a useless gift they won’t like. But the benefit to your relationship might be much greater.) Here is a sample to get you started:

Dear Aunt Gertrude,
I know you said you do not want a gift, and I really want to honor that desire. Honestly, it feels weird not giving you a gift. However, I still wanted you to know how very special you are to me. I always enjoy hearing your stories of shuttle board championships and how funny the people in your Bridge Club are.
It wouldn’t be Christmas without you there to narrate the gift opening. I still remember when Uncle Horace gave Aunt Myrtle that lamp! Your reaction was priceless.
Thank you for always being good for a laugh.
Love, Lily

Does the thought of doing this scare the daylights out of you? Yeah, me too. But here again, you are managing expectations and you are making it clear that you are honoring their desire. Here, you are acting out of a place of love and not out of guilt.

Option 2: Get this person a somewhat meaningless gift like you always do, and then detach yourself emotionally from their response. Prepare a few comebacks for their inevitable sarcastic comment:

Hah! When I picked it out, I debated whether you would say, “Well now if that color isn’t fit for a pumpkin” or “Somebody get me a latte, I’ve got the pumpkin spice right here!”

By engaging with their sarcasm, you are engaging with their core fear of rejection. This, in and of itself, is an act of love. You are proving that this gift, and consequently, that they are more than an afterthought.

The essential way to deal with this person is to be ready for their response, and to detach emotionally from their approval. This will liberate you to be loving towards them, no matter what they throw at you. It doesn’t hurt to say this again, love is the only reason to do anything this season.


Although we have only talked about two Gift-Receiver Templates, I want you to look over your list of “trouble-receivers” and consider what makes them a challenge at this time of year. Is there something that sticks out in your mind about this person at the holidays? (This could be a specific example or a hazy feeling or memory.)

This is important, so read this sentence carefully: Many of our family relationship are fraught and heavy with history. We can’t change difficult people, but we can change how we interact with them.

How can you sing with your feet this year when it comes to those fraught and heavy relationships? Maybe you can’t fix the relationship, but you can put your love glasses on and take the situations on differently.

I know this sounds like a very, very small thing to pray about, but in fraught family relationships, taking a few minutes to pray about how you can show love to those difficult people through the gift you give them at Christmas can open up access to all the creativity and love of God.

Sidebar: In spite of what we have made it into, (aka a bacchanal of food and gifts and busy-ness and stress), I do believe that God still cares about how we celebrate the birth of his son. Asking God in to help you find meaningful ways to love through gifts is one very small way to remember that this season is about love.

No Guilt. Just Love.

Tomorrow we are going to look at the Quantity vs Quality Templates and how, within our bandwidth for gift-giving, we can increase satisfaction for everyone.

Published by Lily Fields

I am passionate about contentment. This is a challenge, because I am equally passionate about progress. I get up at 4:00AM to chip away at a solution to this monolithic problem: how to make progress on my contentment. Born and raised in the USA, I married a French philosophy teacher in 1999. We have lived in France since 2007. We stayed young and carefree until life threw us two curveballs in the form of little humans one after another in 2015 and 2017 respectively. Now I am a slightly older, slightly more exhausted version of myself, but with mystery stains on my walls and a never-ending pile of laundry.

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