It’s a tough decision to bow out of gift-giving at Christmas.
I mean, I did it as a child. Sarah did it as a child. It was a part of Christmas for both of us growing up, and we turned out alright. But this Christmas is different…
We have our infant daughter to consider. And that means more responsibility for us to set up Christmas for how we want it for her, and our family into the future.
And we don’t want it to be gift-centric.
Rather, we want to focus on:
- Spending time with family and friends
- Traditions, and
- Enjoying food together.
Why not start a Christmas morning tradition of eating breakfast as a family, and then going out for a snowshoe, skate, or walk? Make it extra special by doing the same thing every year and documenting it with a family photo on-site.
Certainly that would be more memorable 10 years later than giving your kid(s) the latest-greatest-super toy.
Plus, we don’t want our kid to be one of those kids that gets spoiled every Christmas and barely remembers to say thank you for her new toys, let alone that they even exist the following week.
Now I know that parenting is more complex than this—accepting gifts over Christmas won’t ruin her. That damage will be done by so many other things (if we let them happen).
But this is our first Christmas as a new family, so it’s the perfect time to take stock of what this holiday means to us. And consequently, what parts of it we like and dislike.
And who says gift-giving has to be the centerpiece of the holidays anyway? I mean, does it actually bring more happiness, contentment, and satisfactions to the holidays?
And for us, it’s has a few other problems…
So here’s why we’re not accepting [traditional] gifts this Christmas:
1. Gift-giving Leads To More Waste.
2. Christmas Gift-giving Teaches Kids Materialism.
3. Studies Prove Gift-giving Doesn’t Equate To A Merrier Christmas.
4. Gift-giving Costs Gifters A Lot Of Time, Money, and Stress.
5. Our Kid Doesn’t Need Any More Stuff.
But before I explain, let me clear up why “the magic of Christmas” won’t be ruined just because we forfeit gifts…
The magic of Christmas is bigger than any one thing:
It’s bigger than gifts.
It’s bigger than the decorations, carols, or food.
It’s even bigger than Santa Claus (although he’s pretty big).
You see, the magic of Christmas is a feeling.
It’s a feeling we get when everything comes together. When the season turns, snow falls, and the decorations go up. It’s when the streets light up, the caroling starts, and the community comes together. It’s all of that.
It’s not just opening gifts on Christmas morning (and if it is, then that’s a problem).
Besides, just like the Grinch now knows, taking gifts away never stopped Christmas from coming anyway. To his surprise…
“It came without ribbons! It came without tags!”
“It came without packages, boxes or bags!”
And he puzzled three hours, till his puzzler was sore.
Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn't before!
“Maybe Christmas,” he thought, “doesn't come from a store.”
“Maybe Christmas…perhaps…means a little bit more!”
Indeed, we think he’s right.
1. Gift-giving Leads To More Waste
Take my side of the family's gift exchange…
Every year, we each buy one generic gift that gains us entry into the gift exchange. We take turns opening a new gift from the pile or stealing one that’s already been opened by someone else. It’s a fun game that elicits heckling and the ever-so-famous “stealing from Grandma” routine.
But most of the gifts in circulation are Excess Cargo throwbacks, Canadian Tire specials, or Costco bulk-buys.
We battle it out for the best of the worst. And when the dust settles, we’ve collectively spent hundreds of dollars on commodities that might get used for a week (take the remote controlled helicopter I got one year) before breaking, being forgotten, and inevitably being thrown out making room for the cycle to continue next year.
Most of what people give and receive over the holidays probably isn’t worth the negative impact on our planet.
In the US alone, 1/5 of all retail sales come during Christmas time. And all that spending doesn’t usually fulfill needs. It satisfies wants. Not to mention the billions dollars spent on wrapping paper each year: It’s reported that:
And on top of that, think of all the waste associated with manufacturing, packaging, and distributing Christmas commodities. Clearly, a Christmas focused on gift-giving translates into more waste ending up in landfills.
In short, gift-giving is hard on the planet.
Not spending a couple hundred dollars on some new clothes or electronics is not going to save the world. But it’s a start.
Think of it like using cloth diapers. Using disposables might seem trivial, but when the effect of one person is multiplied by millions, or billions of people, the reduction in waste can be monumental.
The same can be said of small changes in your Christmas customs. And it’s easy to do better…
Try something from the greener-gift list:
- Make something special (e.g., craft, food, or drink)
- Donate to charity
- Start a goFundMe page for a cool cause or initiative
- Sponsor a child
- Volunteer your time
- Rescue an animal
- Plant some trees
- Adopt a star
- Start a shared investment fund
- Contribute to an education fund
Leaving out traditional gifts this Christmas doesn’t have to mean less thoughtfulness. Make your friends and family feel even more special by doing something different. If you must gift, gift something with special meaning.
So as far as my family’s gift-exchange goes, we’re still going to participate, but our entry will be with something from the greener-gift list. We’ll let you know how it goes.
2. Christmas Gift-Giving Teaches Kids Materialism
I’m not talking about unexpected, thoughtful gift-giving.
Done properly, it can teach kids to think about others and that their actions can have a positive impact. So whether the gift is a thoughtful act, handcrafted piece, or store bought item, I say go for it. Meaningful gifts can be great.
But for most of us, gift-giving over the holidays isn’t this…
What we gift at Christmas usually ends up being store bought things that the kids have begged and screamed for over the last month. It’s the latest-greatest-super-toy that “all their friends have” and that they apparently need, too.
But do they really need it?
(And yes, I get that having some of the same things as your peers is an important social cue that helps kids relate to each other. But that doesn’t mean our kid needs everything their friends have).
Anyway, in this scene the kids are amped up about Christmas presents, elf on the shelf, Santa, and all the things they’re gonna get if they behave. Not exactly the ideal Christmas attitude, right?
But it’s not their fault…
We teach them materialism by emphasizing the importance of the stuff we have. And we take it to the extreme every Christmas by supporting, promoting, and emphasizing gift-giving (not to mention we use it as a bargaining chip for good behavior).
The message is clear: Good kids deserve lots of stuff and bad kids don’t.
Ok, now I hear some of you saying:
“Well, it’s not that bad. We open a few gifts and that’s it. Deep down the kids know it’s not just about the presents.”
Sure. But how deep down do you have to go, to get that out of them?
Let’s be real for a second. A few gifts over the holidays isn’t going to ruin your kids. But if it gets outta control, it can be hard to reverse. And even if it doesn’t, hyping-up presents still support a materialistic view of the holidays.
So we’ve decided not to tread down that path at all—it’s just not worth it.
3. Studies Prove Gift-giving Doesn’t Equate To A Merrier Christmas
Just because we’re choosing to give up gifts doesn’t mean we’re giving up on life. Or the holidays. Or anything really.
It just means we’re just shifting the focus of Christmas to the things that really matter—spending time with family and friends, maintaining tradition, eating, drinking, and being merry.
Besides, studies prove that gift-giving doesn’t equate to a merrier Christmas.
One such study found that the more the holidays focused on spending money and receiving gifts (i.e., “when spending and receiving were especially salient experiences”), overall holiday well-being dropped.
Researchers concluded that focusing on the materialistic aspects of Christmas “apparently contributes little to holiday joy” (pg 324).
So. Like I said.
We’re trading in our gifts for more holiday cheer… Not to mention saving our friends and family the time, money, and stress of shopping for us.
4. Giving Gifts Cost A Lot Of Time, Money, And Stress
We moan and groan every year about Christmas shopping. That’s because it takes so much time and money, and is just plain stressful.
Cuz if you’re like me, you also hate going to the mall when it’s packed with slow-walkers, doddlers, and distracted buggy-pushers. You know the type?
Try going around them and you risk a head-on collision with the other lane. So you wait for just the right opportunity to pass, only to get stuck behind the next lollygagger.
And don’t get me started on the lineups for everything, everywhere—the checkout, the bathroom, the parking! God, kill me now for the parking drama.
And I haven’t even mentioned your visa bill after it’s all said and done. Because you never really stick to your budget anyway and Christmas ends up costing you the price of an all-inclusive holiday. And for what!?
Ok, you get the picture.
So why not relieve everyone, and politely explain that you’re transitioning away from gift-giving this Christmas and that you won’t accept anything from them (you have my permission to reference this article directly).
Remind them that spending time together is what’s meaningful and that you’d rather shift the focus away from gifts.
For those friends or family that insist, request that they donate money in your name (or any of the other options from the greener gift list). And if you don’t think that’ll work, convince them you’ll donate their gift without ever opening it. Just let them call you bluff, if they dare.
Once they know you’re serious (and aren’t just being polite), they’ll jump at the thought of crossing you off their list with zero time, money, or stress.
5. Our Kid Doesn’t Need Anymore Stuff
Our family is fortunate enough to not want for anything. Sarah and I both have great careers and can afford to buy our kid what she needs.
And when it comes to what she wants, it’s our job (as parents) to temper what she actually gets. No parent in their right mind would give their kid everything they’ve ever wanted.
So naturally, a Christmas full of gift-giving really throws a wrench these plans. And that worries us.
First and foremost, we don’t want her to become entitled by being spoiled. And that means we won’t spoil her and neither can anyone else. Grandparents are not exempt during Christmas.
Second, we don’t want to promote gender stereotypes (which is a real concern, even at such a young age). And right now we’re especially concerned about “princess culture”. So this can make gift-giving a slippery slope.
In the end, it’s just not realistic to explain to all of our extended family our point of view, and expect them to uphold it. We’d rather just avoid the slip-ups and explanations.
Finally (not to sound ungrateful), but there’s a good chance that most generic toys gifted, won’t get used. It’s hard to admit, but true: Most extended family won’t know our kid like we know them. So any gifts they choose will be a shot in the dark at guessing what their little personality will like (granted, at this age Poppy will play with a spatula—so the margin for error is really small… At least for now).
And when they fail, all the toys, clothes, and games will just end up in the trash (see point #1). Of course we’ll certainly donate what we can, but why not avoid having to do that in the first place?
Now, I hear some of you saying: “Well isn’t this family snobby”.
But that’s not our intention.
We’re just trying to be realistic and honest about what Christmas means to us. And rather than let the cycle continue year after year, we’re gonna nix gifting from day one (and this isn't the only way we’re engineering Christmas—check out our “non-traditional Christmas traditions”. Number 6 is super controversial, but totally worth it).
So if you feel the same, then why not drop the gifts this Christmas and join us, too!
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Or, if you don’t agree, tell us why. Maybe we’re missing the point.