Christmas gifts buying in the UK

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dulceximenabo
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Hi, so I'm mexican and I'll be studying in the UK starting this September. I have a few questions regarding the Christmas gift culture over there.

So, in Mexico (in the north, in the south they don't really celebrate christmas, rather they celebrate what we call "King's day" on January 6) we celebrate christmas by having a family gathering, it's almost strictly always your grandparents, all of your mom/dad's siblings and their kids. Most families will have a "Gift interchange" in which you put all of the family member's names in a container and pick one out.

Basically, we don't really do christmas shopping. I don't know of anyone that buys gifts for every relative and close friend they have. In christmas I get gifts from my parents, my godparents, my grandma and that's it. No presents from friends, siblings, nothing like that. Basically no-one expects gifts from you until you have moved out of your parent's and are completely independent, then you would give gifts to like your parents, grandparents, godchildren and maybe siblings, just maybe. Some people will buy something for their couple, but not everyone, and if they do it's something simbolic.

But now through Youtube vloggers in America and in the UK I've learned that you guys go all out and get everyone gifts, how does that work? who do you buy gifts for? what if someone gives you a present and you didn't get them anything? I'm probably more confused about this than I should be.
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Kiwi789
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(Original post by dulceximenabo)
Hi, so I'm mexican and I'll be studying in the UK starting this September. I have a few questions regarding the Christmas gift culture over there.

So, in Mexico (in the north, in the south they don't really celebrate christmas, rather they celebrate what we call "King's day" on January 6) we celebrate christmas by having a family gathering, it's almost strictly always your grandparents, all of your mom/dad's siblings and their kids. Most families will have a "Gift interchange" in which you put all of the family member's names in a container and pick one out.

Basically, we don't really do christmas shopping. I don't know of anyone that buys gifts for every relative and close friend they have. In christmas I get gifts from my parents, my godparents, my grandma and that's it. No presents from friends, siblings, nothing like that. Basically no-one expects gifts from you until you have moved out of your parent's and are completely independent, then you would give gifts to like your parents, grandparents, godchildren and maybe siblings, just maybe. Some people will buy something for their couple, but not everyone, and if they do it's something simbolic.

But now through Youtube vloggers in America and in the UK I've learned that you guys go all out and get everyone gifts, how does that work? who do you buy gifts for? what if someone gives you a present and you didn't get them anything? I'm probably more confused about this than I should be.
I'd say it's safe to say everyone buys presents for everyone (by which I mean people they know and get on well with), though from my experience you buy more cheaper presents for people you know less well. So I'd say that you're expected by custom to give a present to your friends at christmas but it doesn't have to be something big or expensive (for example, last year a friend of mine bought me a pair of socks and some chocolate).
And then there are christmas cards, basically the same rules as above apply.

It is a bit of a silly custom that has been commercialised like crazy (some people spend way too much money on christmas!) but gift giving is basically what christmas is about here.
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scrotgrot
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We are inveterate materialists, you don't want to become like us. We buy presents for family and close friends when we are old enough to have the disposable income. It is common among groups of close friends, colleagues, housemates etc of more than about six people to explicitly agree to exchange gifts in the form of a single group gift or a secret santa. And these gifts are usually humorous or tokenistic and above all cheap; there may well be an explicit price ceiling.

A secret santa is the same as your gift interchange.

December 25 (and the surrounding week) is a time for families and the present opening, and much of the rest of the day, is highly ritualised. When it comes to the sort of group gift exchanges mentioned above, presents are likely to be opened with everyone meeting up on a convenient date close to the Christmas break. Presents from friends and relatives who are elsewhere celebrating with their own immediate families are put under the tree and opened on the 25th even though the giver is absent. They may then be thanked with a thank you card, though this is rare these days.

It is a bit embarrassing if you receive a gift you have not thought to reciprocate. Usually the following year such pairs will then be quite beholden to each other to exchange gifts, at mounting cost, and for this reason Christmas tends to remain about the innermost circle.

Generally parents and grandparents buy the bulk of the presents for the kids. The adults buy just one or two presents for each other, which can range from token to expensive gadgets, and the kids buy, or have bought on their behalf, a token present for the parents/grandparents.

Like you, as kids grow up, leave home, and start earning a solid income, the volume of presents and effort made drops off steadily (though it happens more organically than deliberately), and quite soon after that a new generation of grandkids is born to become the new focus of the parents' dotage.
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Persipan
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I find a good way of avoiding the issue of someone having bought you a present when you don't have one for them is to get (and pre-wrap) a few small items (like a small box of chocolates, say) and then you have them handy if you need them, and can just produce something and say 'thank you, and here's your present' if you unexpectedly get given something. (And if you don't end up beineg them you have loads of chocolates left over, so result!)

As a rough guide, I'd say grandparents/parents/children, siblings, partners and close friends would usually exchange gifts, and then depending on the habits and preferences of those involved this might extend to more people. For example, I usually get two or three presents each for my parents and my brother and his girlfriend, as I spend Christmas day with them; and one small-ish present each for the aunts, uncles, cousins and their husbands and children on one side of the family (who we used to spend Christmas with), but not for those relatives on the other side the family (because we've just never done that). I also usually get things for my close friends, especially the people who feed my cat over Christmas; for my downstairs neighbour (to be polite), and the people I work with. But, a lot of those will be small token gifts (for example, at the moment I'm making lots of jars of fruit jelly with wild hedgerow fruit so I can give them as gifts at Christmas.)

Secret Santa is quite common, especially in workplaces or between flatmates - a group doing Secret Santa would often exchange their gifts at a Christmas party or meal in the run-up to Christmas.

If you will be in the UK on Christmas day and make any plans to spend the day with other people, you may want to think about whether to exchange presents with those people. If, say, you were invited to someone's home on Christmas day it would be appropriate take them a gift (and I would definitely get a present for any children I was seeing that day). If you're hanging out with friends that day it's fine to ask if you're 'doing' presents and talk about what you all plan for the day. Oh, and be aware that EVERYTHING is shut on Christmas day (except the odd convenience store, or some pubs/restaurants where you can get Christmas dinner if you pre-book) so it's a good idea to a) make sure you have food the house for a few days, and b) make some sort of plans, because actually would be quite a boring day otherwise.

Giving Christmas cards is pretty ubiquitous - friends, relations, colleagues and neighbours will all tend to exchange cards - but they're cheap to buy (most people just buy a few boxes of cards) so this isn't a huge commitment.
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Persipan
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Oh, and if you do want to celebrate Epiphany, go to Barcelona if you can! They go in for it in a big way and have a parade on the 5th January where the three kings sail into the harbour and then travel through the city.
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dulceximenabo
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Wow thanks for all the useful information guys! I guess I'm going to be saving up for christmas time and be thankful that I don't have to send anything home 😂! Maybe I'll give something to my parents and siblings.
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Drewski
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Presents for everybody is a bit much. I've only ever done presents for immediate family (brother, mum, dad) and other half.
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TroyAndAbed
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lol I buy presents for my family and that's it.
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dulceximenabo
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And don't you ever receive gifts from people who you didn't buy anything for?
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