You know... we lived thousands of miles away, too, when I was growing up (military).
My mum's family all sent us gifts. My dad's didn't.
But we DIDN'T KNOW that until we were grown.
Why? Because my mum cheated. She picked out gifts from key people (dad's mom, favorite aunt, cousins), wrapped them, signed their names, and then had us write thank you notes, and mailed them. Just like we sent thank you notes to everyone else!
((Note: My mum was ALSO buying their kids gifts))
This DID get them off their backsides after about 2-3 years (depending on the individual). They kept getting these thank you notes... for things they hadn't sent. First year, apparently, they thought it was a fluke. 2nd year some thought someone else had included their name on a gift they sent.
How it apparently broke down was that people started calling, and my mum (totally happy voice) "Oh! I didn't want the kids to think you'd forgotten about them, or didn't love them, so I just picked up a few things. I didn't spend a lot, just enough so they'd feel special and think it was from you. I mean, I know shipping is a lot these days (back in the 70's/80's), and the season gets chaotic."
Yeah. My mum rocks.
They DID at that point start sending checks. And my mum would pick stuff out for us.
It's not about the gift. It's the FEELING kids get from the gift. Not Forgotten. Special. Loved. My mum was totally willing to play santa for her inlaws forever, but she made a clear point on WHY she was buying stuff in their name and having us write notes. My dad's family is great... they're just small town / big family forgetful. (Not a slight on small towns, in fact, the opposite. When "everyone" is there, it's easy to forget the one person who isn't.) Since we were out of sight, we were out of mind.
Found this all out DECADES later (after having kids of our own, and laughing one xmas about different family traditions with all of our inlaws v our family of origin.)
Not long after that checks started arriving in the mail in early december.