Dear No Return,
Send them. You’re right to want to attach a letter of explanation. You can type up a note and just fill in the appropriate name for each addressee. Explain you just came upon a box of cards your mother wrote to her dearest friends but never got to send. Say you hope it is not upsetting to receive a letter from someone now gone for so long. But you were happy yourself to see your mother’s handwriting, and you’re assuming they would appreciate reading her last thoughts. Say that in the years since she’s been gone you’ve thought often about how important her friends were to her and how much they helped you and your brother. Add a few lines about how you’re doing and send your wishes for a wonderful New Year. I myself would be moved to get one last message from a beloved friend who was much missed.
I'm the oldest of my father and stepmother’s combined five children. My husband and I have both been very lucky to do better financially than all the rest of the family. My husband loves Christmas. Every year he gets excited about the gift that he picks out for one of my family members—we each draw a single name and exchange one gift. He usually remembers something that someone has mentioned being excited about over the course of the year and spends a couple hundred dollars. Every year, we get pressure from my father to purchase less expensive gifts. But I haven't heard that pressure from any of the siblings. They have always expressed appreciation at my husband’s thoughtfulness. Our gut feeling is that my father feels insecure that he can’t compete with my husband's income. Is it reasonable to put a somewhat arbitrary price cap on everyone’s gifts? My husband puts a lot of thought into gifts and just wants to have the freedom to express his love of Christmas.
—Who’s the Scrooge?
I bet your siblings don’t want to put the kibosh on your husband’s generosity. The participants in this lottery are limited enough that sooner or later each one is bound to be the winner of your husband’s largesse. But it usually is the case that when there’s such an unbalanced gift exchange—someone gets an iPod Touch but gives a CD—people generally feel awkward. That’s why it’s standard for families that institute these round-robins to also put a range on how much people should spend so no one feels embarrassed or cheated. It’s too bad if your father is speaking up out of his own insecurity. But I agree with the suggestion that your husband should put a lid on these displays. Surely his pleasure in making other family members happy doesn’t have to be limited to a single day. If you two are so flush, then treat your siblings at some point over the course of the year to a meal at a good restaurant, or remember them with generous birthday gifts. That way there will be fewer fervent prayers over who picks the rich Santa.
More Dear Prudence Columns
“Weapon of Choice: My husband insists we buy a gun to protect our family, but I disdain firearms.” Posted Oct. 13, 2011.
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“Surviving Mommie Dearest: My abusive mother haunts my dreams. How can I move on?” Posted Sept. 29, 2011.
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More Dear Prudence Chat Transcripts
“Who's Your Mommy?: Dear Prudence advises a man whose wife doesn’t want their twins to know they came from donor eggs—during a live chat at Washingtonpost.com.” Posted Oct. 17, 2011.
“Start Spreading the News: Dear Prudence advises a woman whose boyfriend revealed he had herpes only after they had unprotected sex—during a live chat at Washingtonpost.com.” Posted Oct. 10, 2011.
“Don’t Tell Dad: Dear Prudence advises a woman whose friend won’t tell her one-night stand she got pregnant—during a live chat at Washingtonpost.com.” Posted Oct. 3, 2011.
“Life or the Party: Dear Prudence offers advice on a woman self-destructing with sex, drugs, and alcohol—in a live chat at Washingtonpost.com.” Posted Sept. 26, 2011.