By John Hastings

Even if my wife and I limit ourselves to immediate family—siblings, their spouses, and their children—we still come up with 34 people. Which, at Christmas, used to mean 34 excruciating (and expensive, when you add them up) decisions about what to give—and that's not including the action figures and weaponry on our sons' lists.

This was Gift Giving Gone Wild , so we came up with an equally promiscuous-sounding solution: Love the one you're with (LTOYW). Which means we buy presents only for the family members we'll actually see. If I'm not in your house during the month of December, forget it. Should you have the poor judgment to show up on my doorstep unexpectedly, bearing gifts, you'll receive one of the wrapped fruitcakes we keep on hand to discourage such behavior.

The family had tried drawing names, but after the second year of my "funny" brother-in-law ending up with mine, I argued strenuously for LTOYW. (Two novelty lamps are one more than enough.) Now we're able to focus on choosing just the right gift, and we're there when the presents are oohed and aahed over.

And now that LTOYW is established, we're free to circumvent it as we see fit. If, as has happened in the past, we feel the need to remind our 2-year-old nephew exactly who his favorite aunt and uncle are, we simply send him Junior's First Fully Operable Monster Truck. Sure, it's possible the kid could rat us out, but he's a smart boy who knows what's good for him. The system would be flawless, if not for one looming problem—a proposed holiday family reunion in 2008.

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