Skip to Content »

Compulsory trading of Xmas presents

  • December 14th, 2015

I’m intrigued by a family tradition that might remove a significant Christmas irritation. Essentially, the friend’s family have a session of compulsory trading of presents after the unwrapping is over. It was reported to be fun, among the most eagerly anticipated rituals of the day.

I’d like to try it in our family. Not to inculcate market worship, or to train the little ones in trading – probably small children should be exempt. Instead it would be to make present selection less stressful, to reduce the awkwardness of receiving carefully chosen duds,  and to put discipline into agreed cost limits.

Some people love finding presents. They tend to be good at it. They are clearly better people than me, more thoughtful and able to put themselves into the shoes of others better. But even from them, receiving can be a trial. If it is something you really want, as an adult in a prosperous country you’d probably have gone and bought it. Unless it is so expensive that it is unfair to expect to be given it anyway.

And if it is the right kind of present, you’ve been deprived of the shopping fun – comparing all the features and then choosing. Of course a really apt present is wonderful. But few can reliably acheive that.

I like to think I’m  bad and indecisive in present buying because I dread imposing on others the discomfort I feel in getting presents. When it is expensive I feel undeserving. When it is nearly right, or wrong, I feel awkward saying thank you.

Too often, especially for people past child rearing age, presents add to clutter. Christmas panic buying is Consumerism at its peak. So I’ve been finding out the ways some families limit the mounds of stuff they have to politely thank for:

  1. Some have a ‘secret santa’ system. It limits both numbers and value. But it is disappointing for those who like buying and receiving presents. A robust tradition must cater for those who like presents.
  2. Some just impose price limits,. But in our family at least any treaty to govern the present quality  ‘arms race’ will be breached and undermined by some who want to feel generous, and others who will be embarrassed if they do not follow.
  3. Some cut down the burden by extreme limits on who can receive. For example it may be only presents for those you will be with at Christmas, not those you share Christmas with on alternate years.

But the solution that sounds the most fun is the compulsory trading period. Warning – I’ve not tried it nor am I confident my family would agree to it.

As described:

  • After all the presents are opened everyone gets a chance to force a compulsory swap with someone else.
  • There may be numerous rounds.
  • So you may lose say your best two presents and get a couple of those someone else considered their worst.
  • But of course you can then use your next turn to get rid of the awful rugby book you’ve just been landed with, or the green socks.
  • You can demand the present that someone just demanded from another.
  • To discourage calculated gaming (waiting till the last round to demand the best present where-ever it has lodged) the number of rounds may be determined by a dice, thrown after each round. If there have already been more rounds than the number thrown, it stops then.

My informant ( I can’t remember who it was) said that there were varying degrees of chivalry in her family. Some would not demand another’s dearly desired best present. Others would delight in just that, even if they did not really want it. Characters come out. Some family members are expected (required) to live down to bad reputations established years before, in selfish teenager-hood.

I like the possibilities that:

  • It makes it easier to avoid wasting time agonising over something particular for a hard to please person. They might not keep what you choose anyway, voluntarily or involuntarily, so worry less.
  • It is easier to keep spending below a guideline. There may be little point if the person you are selecting for you may be obliged to hand your valuable gift over to the relative you don’t  much like anyway.
  • The trading session will fill that flat gap after the presents are opened, when you can eat or drink more to bad effect, or sleep somewhere, or look to go somewhere to work off the excess.

I was prompted to record this after enthusiastic comments by listeners who heard me discuss it on Jim Mora’s Panel on RNZ this afternoon.


  • Roger Strong
  • December 18th, 2015
  • 8:34 pm

What a ghastly idea.

  • Tauhei Notts
  • January 13th, 2016
  • 6:47 pm

I have found one of the greatest joys of giving is to find a peculiarly apt gift in, say, July, and keep it safe to give as a Christmas gift. And remember where you put it!
Troubles are to find such a unique gift, then keep the secret so long.

Leave your comments:

* Required fields. Your e-mail address will not be published on this site

You can use the following HTML tags:
<a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>