The three causes of Christmas arguments

As if we didn’t have enough to think about this time of the year! I’m currently scheduling every weekend between now and Christmas with ballet concerts, cricket parties, work lunches, client dinners, family get-togethers – and that’s just the scheduling! Then there’s the transporting of people to all of that, sleepovers, buses to organise, gifts to buy … and leaving enough room within ourselves for enjoying it all!

Argh! Breathe…

I want to talk about talking … I know – Can I write as much as I can talk? Probably!

With so much going on at this time of the year, it’s really important for you to take the time to make sure that you are clear about expectations with family, friends and colleagues about Christmas celebrations, which includes gift giving. Without clear boundaries, you will find yourself overspending, over-catering and be over exhausted and completely miss the joy of Christmas.

I don’t want to be all bah humbug but having experienced a number of Christmas’ now as an adult, mum, wife, daughter-in-law, sister-in-law etc… I know something for sure expectations around gift giving can cause massive upset. And we don’t want that… it’s Christmas!!

Here’s the thing, when I was growing up in the 70s/80s, no one talked about money. You didn’t talk about what your parents’ earned, what you spent on groceries or, God forbid, how much you spent on a gift. This is a mould we need to break through. We need to talk openly and honestly about where we are at. The ‘pressure’ from family members can be a lot to deal with. The expectation that everyone buys a $50 gift when one family has a double income and no kids and others have suffered job losses is really difficult and confronting.

Christmas can be challenging enough for many people and the thought of dealing with the overspending that your sister did on your children can be the last straw.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m a giver and am not expecting anything in return. However, it’s sometimes uncomfortable for the receiver to receive without having something to give. I tend to do my spontaneous gift giving throughout the year, not for any particular occasion and I leave Christmas for the exchangeof gifts.

So when it comes to Christmas, I like to be upfront about expectations on spending for gifts, food and any of the other expenses that may happen around this time of the year.

The three causes of Christmas upset

Unfulfilled expectations

This is when you expect something to happen and it doesn’t. You know, expecting a diamond ring for Christmas and not getting one. Did you tell anyone that you wanted one? Or ‘should they have known’?

Undelivered communication

Communication that is not clear, direct, specific or complete. Something like ‘bring a plate’ and your guest turns up with pizza and you meant an actual plate. Be really clear.

Thwarted intentions

You intended and agreed to do something but didn’t have a plan, ran out of time or didn’t have the resources.

So now you know that, there is no excuse for an upset at Christmas and with seven weeks to go – you will have a wonderful, calm and peaceful time shopping and surprising your loved ones.

Clarity is what you need, what you need to look for and listen for in your conversations. It may be a little extra effort for you now, but your Christmas will be even more joyful if you have these clarity conversations now.

I’ve grouped together the most likely people in your life to have a conversation with and I’ve added some conversations for you to cover. For all these groups you need to be clear and in agreement.


  • Spending plan – including your needs over Christmas and theirs
  • Gift giving to each other
  • Gift giving to children
  • Guest lists, parties, entertainment


  • They may not get everything on their list
  • Gifts to parents and siblings
  • Secret Santas
  • Gifts being opened before Christmas Day

Extended family members

  • Who is buying for who and what is the spending limit
  • Can gifts be opened when the giver isn’t there
  • Entertainment, parties


  • Set limits for spending
  • Are there other ways to celebrate the friendship
  • Determine how far and wide friends circle is

 Work and sports/hobbies/associations

  • Especially if you are in a new environment and not aware of the customs
  • Parties – do you pay your own way, is it paid for etc…

Other tips

  • Consider Secret Santa’s for larger groups
  • Question the necessity to buy for your adult relatives
  • Encourage your children to earn extra money to plan and buy their own gifts for people

Michelle House is a guest blogger for Canstar Blue. Read more of her posts here.

Share this article