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12/17/2018 11:57 EST | Updated 12/19/2018 12:41 EST

Gift Ideas For Immigrant Parents Who Don’t Want Anything For Christmas

They can't help but be difficult when it comes to accepting presents.

They might not like gifts, but they appreciate the effort.
Carlina Teteris via Getty Images
They might not like gifts, but they appreciate the effort.

HuffPost Canada

I remember watching this scene from the Christmas movie "While You Were Sleeping." Sandra Bullock plays Lucy, a lonely gal who accidentally joins a big family over Christmas. The scene in question finds her character opening gifts with her adopted family and everyone is fawning over what they received, even the useless bath sets! Seems pretty normal, right?

Even though this is one of my favourite holiday movies, I can't help thinking, I can't relate to this. In fact, I can't relate to most sappy holiday films featuring big westernized families opening presents.

To illustrate, this is what Christmas morning looks like in my Chinese household. We're sitting on the couch watching sports highlights because of Dad. Mom is making Macanese-style Portuguese curry at 9 a.m. My sister and I announce we have gifts and my parents gather to open them, but they have yet to crack a smile. In fact, they start protesting right away.

"Why did you waste your money on that?" is a pretty standard reaction.

© Allard Schager via Getty Images
Immigrant parents can be impossible to shop for.

Unlike Kevin McCallister's parents, mine are immigrants from China and I'm a second-generation Canadian. I'm convinced the immigrant part of them has rendered them unable to happily accept gifts from their children.

I've never faulted them for being less than enthused about our gifts. After all, they sacrificed their own personal happiness for my sister and I. They don't realize it, but I see the microscopic smirk of appreciation they try to suppress. Ultimately, I think their protesting stems from selflessness and you can't really be mad at that.

My experience as a second-gen Canadian is certainly not unique. The proof is in the almond jelly pudding, but we'll never stop trying to make them happy.

Here, six second-genners (including myself) reveal what they're getting their immigrant parents for Christmas. (Whether they'll like it or not is a whole other story.)

1. Ancestry kit

Giver: Coneli Camayang, 30, Toronto stylist

Why this gift? "[My mom and I] were watching a talk show together one day where they were revealing the genetic markers of a guest, and [my mom] seemed interested in learning hers."

"I've found gifts I've given them in the past still [in] relatively new [condition], not because they don't like what I got for them, but because they want to preserve the item and save it for a special occasion. This is why I think the ancestry kit will be a hit — my mom showed interest in receiving it (which never happens) and it is not to be preserved. Once the swab is sent out and the information is returned, it can open up a whole new world that she didn't know about herself before."

Why her parents hate getting gifts: "Both of my parents are from the Philippines, and my mom had 11 siblings and my dad had six, so giving each immediate family member a gift with what little they had was unfathomable. Christmas, and every occasion for that matter, was enjoyed by being together and sharing a meal. Although they've adapted to western culture, this is still their idea of how to celebrate Christmas. The Philippines is a [developing] country where a majority of people live on what they need as opposed to what they want. So, unless they needed it, my parents didn't want it."

2. Trip to New York City via Porter Airlines

Giver: Bernice Couto, 41, communications consultant in Toronto

Why this gift? "This year, I'm fulfilling a long-lived dream for them: to visit New York City. I know they'll complain that it's too expensive, but they're gonna love it (and it's also their birthday gifts). And the best gift is time with each other, right?"

Why her parents hate getting gifts: "My parents both grew up in the Azores [a region of Portugal] in the '50s, and gift-giving wasn't a priority at Christmas. As first-generation Canadians, my parents basically never spent money on themselves, and I know that this lifestyle spilled over into their acceptance of gifts as well. Both parents were always impossible to shop for because they didn't want us kids to spend money.

"As I grew up, I learned that perfume gift sets for my mom were 'too nice' to use every day, so the best gifts had an expiry date or provided an experience."

3. Petro-Canada gift card

Virojt Changyencham via Getty Images
A gas gift card is something any parent can use.

Giver: Diana Cina, 34, media professional based in Toronto

Why this gift? "I'm getting my father a gas gift card. It doesn't sound very festive or fabulous, but it's the only thing that my father will be OK with receiving. Whenever I ask my dad what he wants for Christmas or any other special event, he says, 'Nothing is the best.' And if I do get him anything, he very reluctantly accepts it while shaking his head. When I bought my father a shirt in the past, he opened it and said, 'I already have a shirt.' With the gas gift card, he can't possibly say he doesn't need it."

Why her parents hate getting gifts: "Both my parents came to Canada from Italy with very little [money] and the idea of gift giving is somewhat frivolous and unnecessary to them. This only applies to them, however. They are happy to get me and my sisters [gifts].

"My mother is almost worse [than my dad]. I bought her a beautiful necklace, and a few months later she gave it back to me and said that I should enjoy it instead of her."

4. Uniqlo Ultra Light Down Jacket (for dad) & mango ice cream (for mom)

Uniqlo/Instagram
This Uniqlo Ultra Light Down Jacket will certainly come in handy.

Who: Jennifer Choy, 34, Toronto stylist and freelance writer

Why this gift? "I've all but given up on getting my parents gifts for Christmas. They are the least materialistic humans I know, so I'm not really sure how I ended up making a career out of shopping, and writing about shopping.

"This year, I'm going to get my dad a Uniqlo down coat because his job as a mail carrier requires him to be outside a lot and I want him to keep warm. My mom is getting mango ice cream because that's the only thing she won't rant and rave about being a waste. Actually, she will, but she'll grumble about it while eating it, so I guess that's kind of a win."

What she's previously given: "In the past, I've gotten them everything from phones to iPods to a digital frame, and everything has ended up unopened in a drawer or given back to me. My dad made several sneaky comments last year hinting that he wanted a cell phone, so I got him one and 75 per cent of the time I try to call it, it's dead or he left it at home. DAD!"

5. The Pickle Barrel gift card

Giver: Alicia Dubay, 34, web content manager in Toronto

Why this gift: "My parents came to Canada from Guyana. Growing up they didn't have much, like so many immigrant parents. They worked really hard and provided all the things to us as kids and teenagers and young adults, too! So it just feels right to want to do things for them, now that I can. But it's honestly like pulling teeth sometimes to get them to accept it. My dad most of all. My mom is more likely to relent. Her thinking is, 'I gave you life. So I'll happily take this gift.'"

Why her parents hate getting gifts: "I think their inability to accept gifts is just a mentality they have about not wanting to be a burden to us, and also feeling like we could put our money to 'better' use. Sometimes they may accept money, depending on the circumstance and celebration."

6. Edible bird nests from a Chinese herbal store

mletruc via Getty Images
Edible bird nests can be dissolved and made into soup or desserts.

Giver: Eileen Liu*, 36, Toronto stay-at-home mom

Why this gift: "Bird saliva [which is what the nests are made of] is known for its health benefits. It's a rare and expensive delicacy, so I figured I'd give it a try."

Why her parents hate getting gifts: "It's not that my parents dislike the gifts I give them. Each gift is usually thought out these days, as any material gift is usually useless, especially for retired parents who keep saying they are soon going to downsize. So, for the past few years, I've been trying to give them the gift of indulgence. Delicacies that they wouldn't dream of purchasing on their own due to cost. They are the cheapest people I know!

"At the end of the day, my parents mean well. They don't hate gifts, but they hate the idea of their child spending their money on them. They would rather their child save money for investing. Typical Chinese parents?"

*Note: giver's name has been changed for privacy.

LISTEN: Our podcast, "Born & Raised: Food," tells stories of food and family from second-gen Canadians. Subscribe on Apple Podcasts or Google Podcasts. Story continues below.

What to buy when you're in doubt

If you're at your wit's end about what to get, here's one simple tip from a first-generation Canadian.

"My adult kids always try to give me fancy stuff like candles, Aveda products, jewelry, and I get all weird and uptight about it," said Beryl Tsang, a 52-year-old not-for-profit consultant in Toronto. "Then my son started figuring out that I love everyday things that last, so one year he got me a great knife with a great sharpening stone."

"Yes, it is weird, but I am drawn that way. I have other first-generation friends who are like this, too. Therefore, my terrible advice is to give [immigrant parents] a high-quality version of something they need and already use. This year I am angling for a fancy thermos."

Note: Interviews have been edited and condensed for clarity.

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Born And Raised is an ongoing series by HuffPost Canada that shares the experiences of second-generation Canadians. Part reflection, part storytelling, this series on the children of immigrants explores what it means to be born and raised in Canada. We want to hear your stories — join the conversation on Twitter at #BornandRaised or send us an email at bornandraised@huffpost.com.

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