DEAR STRAIGHT TALK: It’s the day after Christmas and I’m so depressed. We do this whole thing at my grandparents where my relatives buy all this stuff and we spend the day pretending we are so thrilled with what we opened. I just want to laugh out loud, or actually, cry. Mom says just to smile and say thank you — AND write a thank-you note (she is one of those). I just don’t understand why we don’t communicate our wants and needs! The gifts are such a waste of money that hurts all the more as my family is stressed financially and really could use some things. I’d skip gifts entirely and share a nice meal rather than have this empty glittery build-up dominate the day. Are other families this weird?

— Robin

Moriah, 17, Rutland, Vt.: Our family had the same problem. We tried a Yankee swap to bring the number of unwanted gifts down and eventually just stopped gifting. My cousin’s solution is to write a small list for her family, even if they don’t ask for it. If you know someone is getting you something, I don’t think it’s rude.

Taylor, 16, Santa Rosa: Wasting much-needed money on not-needed presents isn’t cool, but the thought does count. I really enjoy watching my loved ones open their presents from me. My family asks for wish lists but random stuff still gets bought. Next year, send your extended family a wish list saying, “I really don’t want much this year, but if you insist on getting me something, I could use . . . .”

Katie, 20, Auburn: My family is fortunate to either communicate our needs effectively or know what “luxury” items will be loved. If in doubt, I don’t buy. Give out a list next year and ask what they want, too. How else will they know you want a set of silverware from Target or a new toothbrush for your stocking?

Leah, 21, Yuba City: Be thankful these people choose to get you gifts! Regift or donate those you dislike. Since the situation depresses you, be honest next year and suggest things you really need.

Brandon, 21, Mapleton, Maine: As uncle to little kids, I’m on the other side of the coin. Strangely enough, the Dollar Store toys were a hit and my expensive stuff was a huge miss. I would rather someone tell me one reasonable thing they want, just as I would rather get one desired gift over a cavalcade of oldies chocolate, a book on trigonometry and a re-gifted toaster wrapped in duct tape. Be vocal, especially in a bad economy! Most people will react positively to a list if it’s not piled with iDevices or other high-cost stuff.

Brie, 22, San Francisco: I work in retail and see lots of older shoppers wildly guessing what to buy. While some relatives might sniff at a list, others will be relieved.

Gregg, 21, Los Angeles: Your complaint is spot on. Next year, write to Santa like the old days.

DEAR ROBIN: The “weirdness” you describe is throughout American society. Professor Joel Waldfogel, published in the American Economic Review, calculated the loss to the American economy from “deadweight” Christmas gifts in 1992 at $4 to 13 billion. For needy families, that is depressing. Biggest culprits (you guessed it): gifts from grandparents, aunts and uncles.

Be the change you want to see. Ditch the Grinch outfit and take the panel’s unanimous advice by writing a warm gracious wish list next year while encouraging your relatives to do the same. Wishing your and other needy families prosperity in 2014!

— Lauren

P.S.: Kudos to your mom for insisting on thank-you letters.

Straight Talk is a nonprofit that tackles youth’s toughest issues with youth’s wisest advice. Go deeper in today’s conversation or ask a question at or P.O. Box 1974, Sebastopol 95473.

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