Giftless for Christmas: Why We Decided To Ditch Presents

Ha… I know. The last post I published was a gift guide. And now here I am, giving you this: the case for why Jake, myself, and our families decided to quit gifts cold turkey this year.

Let me start off by saying I can only recall Jake and I exchanging gifts once or twice for Christmas in the seven years we’ve been together (and even less often for birthdays, and never for other holidays). For some reason, we’ve just never been super into it. My family and Jake’s family both do Christmas gift exchanges where we each pull a name and get one person a gift. So, already, we were pretty minimal.

The gift exchange was a great method that’s worked for our families for the better part of a decade. We rarely felt unduly stressed about money because the amount of gifts we were buying wasn’t exorbitant. Over time though, it’s become more like a preparatory chore we had to tick off of a list than a heartwarming family tradition. We were either having people buy us things that we needed, things that we were specifically *not* buying ourselves so that we at least had a list, or things that we kind of wanted but definitely did not need.

Stuff. Just stuff.

Last year, my sister-in-law Rachel and I were making dinner together when she brought up the idea of going giftless. Since then, I really haven’t been able to stop thinking about this idea. Jake and I are very fortunate and have everything we need; we have wants, sure, but they’re expensive and we would never ask anyone to buy them for us. So while I said I’d be fine with the idea of a Christmas without gifts, we’d have to test the waters on everyone else, too.

So this year, I started dipping my toes in.

I won’t lie, I was apprehensive to start asking our families how they felt. I absolutely did not want to upset anyone. I didn’t want everyone to think we were just being cheap, and I didn’t want to take joy away from anyone who really loves giving or receiving gifts. I totally understand this bit here: I love to gift — just less so when it’s on a schedule.

“How do you think the girls [my sisters] would feel if we just skipped gifts this year?” I asked my mom, “Maybe volunteer together or just bake together and watch a movie instead?”

She said sure; she thought they’d be game. Turns out they were both thinking about saying the same thing. Moreover, they were both elated with the idea of potentially spending our Christmas volunteering and immediately burst into plan-making and googling about where we could go. We’ve never done that, so it feels new and exciting as well as tender and benevolent.

Jake’s family was much the same. I already knew Rachel was on board — I could literally hear her in my head saying “we already have so much crap!” — and so I sent out a few texts to assess how everyone else was feeling.

Check, check, and check. To my surprise, it was an emphatic YEP, let’s do it from every single person. Ideas of ways to spend uninterrupted quality time together started excitedly pouring in. Since then, I’ve had conversations with various family members, both my side and Jake’s side, who have said that they’re looking more forward to Christmas this year than years prior. It feels like we’re celebrating with more intention and less obligation.

Since we made this decision, I wanted to know what other families who partake in minimal Christmas gifts do. So, like I always do, I asked my Instagram followers.

Again, to my surprise (why does this keep surprising me so much!?), a TON of people already adhere to a giftless Christmas and have done this or something similar for years. Others were taking a stab at it for the first time this year. I suppose, in a consumerist economy such as ours, going giftless probably just isn’t talked about as much.

A vast majority of my followers mentioned something along the lines of gifting “experiences” instead of gifting physical items, For example, Melanie of A Small Life told me that she and her family nixed gifts in lieu of a girls’ trip with her sister and mom. Britt, another follower and fellow creative, said that her family is doing one single big gift and room makeovers for each of her individual children. Other ideas came in, like a family vacation, dinner and a movie, kayaking excursions, or handmaking one gift for one person whose name was pulled from a draw.

Even now, a month and a half away from Christmas, I can feel the relief of not having to worry about money, about what if I can’t find them a gift?, about being impersonal, and about giving money to the ever-growing, ever-present machine of holiday retail.

I’ve caught myself smirking (semi-self-righteously) when I catch an advertisement for a big box store on the radio or on the tv. If you pay attention, which I never really did until this year, most of the ads run around the premise of “you’d better hurry,” “before it’s too late,” or “Christmas will be here before you know it.” Rushing, rushing, rushing. Why the heck is it that way!?

We have so much pressure on us to buy the gifts, clean the house, put on the happy faces, don your brand-new holiday garb, and emerge as the physical embodiment of Christmas Cheer without ever breaking character, lest you be called a Scrooge.

And that just isn’t what it’s about. Dressed up or not, we’re the same people that we were last week when we were sitting on the couch, watching the third episode in a row of The Office, eating potato chips while the crumbs fell lazily onto the front of our sweatshirt. And that’s good enough.

So why not take some of the pressure and hassle off? That’s our motivation. We definitely aren’t Scrooge-y about it, and you can bet that in a few weeks Jake and I will be blasting Christmas music while decorating our tree together and re-arranging our tchotchkes to embody the season, if only for a month. It’s truly one of our favorite times of the year and we’re looking forward to it with a fresh set of eyes.

I hope this holiday season, whether you celebrate or not, you feel a little less pressure to perform. I hope your heart and home are filled with love and charity and kindness. I hope that you gift thoughtfully. And I hope you wear your best potato-chip-ridden sweatshirt to breakfast on Christmas morning. I know I will.


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