I’m guessing that you have a lot of people in your boat and their boat is weighed down just as much as yours.  Even for those who haven’t lost jobs or had major cuts in income, the fear and stress of that possibility are there. Just ask them.

There are three issues that intertwine with your dilemma.  The first issue is socioeconomic class and how “have-mores” relate to “have-lesses” around times of holiday celebrations and gift giving. The second issue concerns expectations of yourself and others and the need to be sure those are realistic in light of your changed circumstances. The third issue involves clarifying what you wish to express to those you care about and what the holidays mean to you and those you love.

Socioeconomic differences are generally a taboo subject for most people. We all know people in our personal, social and work lives who have more money or social standing than we do and others who have less.  It’s hard to go from having more to having less in your own family. Often, it means not being able to do what you have been able to do for others in the past. This year, think about giving non-material “gifts” to those you appreciate: notes of appreciation, a home-cooked meal, or the invitation to spend time together sharing a meal or seeing a movie. Our time and thoughtfulness are really some of the best gifts we can give.

Next, examine your expectations. They come in two forms: the expectations we have of others and the expectations we put upon ourselves.  Think about your expectations of others. I’m guessing that you probably don’t require as much material giving from those you care about as you may expect yourself to give to them, especially if you have had the means to do so. Working with our expectations and really asking ourselves whether our expectations are realistic can lead to a re-evaluation and revision that can make the situation less stressful for you and your family.

Third, your changed circumstances provide a really valuable opportunity to reflect on what the holidays mean to you and what it is that you want to communicate when you give to others.  Giving material or monetary gifts can be one way of saying “I care about you, I appreciate you, and I want to give you something of myself during the holidays,” but these same messages can be communicated in many forms.  Use your creativity to create new, non-monetary ways of being generous. The possibilities are endless.