Christmas sneaks up on me every time. I don't know how that happens; it's not like it's a fixed date on the calendar or anything. But somehow I still miss it, put things off, always thinking this will be the year I plan ahead, yet I never do.
At some point in November I get the email from the parents asking what they can do for us for Christmas. This proves to be a bit of a conundrum as we no longer live across town; we live across an ocean. Shipping rates aren't exactly favourable to any of us and I spend hours racking my brain on gift ideas for my children (and, likewise, for them!) that will be thoughtful and personal, as well as thrifty and expedient.
If you're a fellow expat, or love an expat, or just live too far way from family, here are a few ideas to make Christmas gift-giving (and shipping) not such a pain in the neck.
1. AMAZON WISH LISTS
I wish I'd thought of this sooner! Asher's grandparents surprised him with a parcel from Amazon.co.uk for his birthday and it was a huge hit. Actual mail in the post AND a shipping fee that wasn't exorbitant. We tried this out again for Ella's birthday, making a wish list for things she'd like. When a gift was purchased, Amazon took it off the list, so we never ended up with duplicates. Huzzah! If you live outside the US, but need to send gifts there, Amazon.com is a perfect option. Ask for a couple of ideas - or a wish list - and enjoy sending them exactly what they want.
Cons: Purchasing and shipping from another country does confuse the billing process a bit. My family from the US will pay things in British Pounds (sometimes with a higher exchange rate) which then have to be shipped to Ireland (not a nominal fee, but infinitely cheaper than using USPS to ship internationally). Also, Amazon.co.uk isn't on the ginormous-scale that Amazon.com is, leaving fewer options than its sister site.
2. PHOTO SERVICES
In the past we've sent calendars and photo books to family via Shutterfly, Blurb or Snapfish. In 2014, though, there are so many more options for photo-based gift giving! This is a fab idea if you have grandparents in need of printed photos of the kids or happen to live in a scenic environment or European capital (ahem). Besides calendars and photo books, most companies offer cards, mugs, posters and even specialized canvas prints.
Cons: I always feel a little weird sending pictures of myself (and family) as presents. Also, these services can get overrun at the holidays, sometimes delaying shipment (we had this happen with Minted last year, with the holiday card ornaments not arriving till a couple days before Christmas... even then, I'm not sure everyone received them).
3. GIFT CARDS + VOUCHERS
Depending on where you live - or where you're sending gifts - chances are good you can buy gift cards or vouchers online for a particular location. Investigate the restaurant and shopping options near your loved ones. Most big box stores, movie theatres and chain restaurants will allow you to purchase gift cards online (arriving via e-mail or postal service). The same is true for web-based shops like iTunes, Amazon or Groupon.
Cons: Gift cards or vouchers don't exactly offer a personal touch. And there's always the chance they will go unspent.
This is probably the easiest option for gifting overseas, but I actually hate asking for it. I know my family doesn't mind, and truth be told, I loved giving my nephews a tenner so they could pick something out they wanted. Giving money for Christmas is easy, especially with services like Paypal where you can give a "gift" of cash through them. If you've linked up your bank, you can transfer in (or deduct out) fairly efficiently. This comes in handy when one wants a particular thing that can't be easily bought and shipped. I actually sent out that email this week, telling the parents what Jack wanted and saying, "So, yeah, I guess just money then... yeah..." I don't know. I still feel icky about it.
Cons: Feeling icky. Asking for money is hard and awkward and, sometimes, more than a bit humbling. Also, you run the risk of money being used for something other than gifts: petrol, groceries, doctors' visits. But actually, those are pretty great gifts to some people.
This is a new idea, and something I would really like to do (but like I said, keep putting it off). When money is tight or when it's just not prudent to buy and ship things, write a letter. Write several, actually. Inside the Christmas cards, write out your thoughts, your love and affection, your hopes for the coming year. Include letters from the children; maybe some drawings, too. Write out all the things that don't suit Facebook statuses or quick emails. All it will cost you is time, a stamp and maybe a thumb cramp. But I'm betting it might be the most cherished gift one could ever receive.
Cons: I can't think of a single one.
So, now it's your turn. For those who are better planners, better gift-givers and better adults than we are, how do you give gifts when you live far away?
You might also like: an updated list of suggestions, plus a Christmas Gift Guide (for the family on the move)
This post is not sponsored by any of the above companies, but affiliate links are included. Any purchase you make using Amazon.co.uk will put a nickel or two towards this site.