The Joys of Not Gifting at Christmas

John Elliott | December 11, 2018

The Joys of Not Gifting at Christmas

Fifteen years ago my wife returned from an exhausting day-long Christmas shopping expedition with the declaration: “I can’t do this anymore!”

The pressure to find the perfect gifts was too much, so we made the drastic decision to end our gift-giving. Doing so was a great relief, and as it turns out, we are not the only ones to go down this path. 

Writing in Medium, Erica Sweeney tells about her family’s no-gift policy and the reasons why she and many others have opted out of the Christmas buying rush.

First, and most obvious, is the fact that Christmas gift giving is expensive and not something every family can afford:

“For many, the pressure to spend on holiday gifts can lead to overspending or even debt. Last year, Americans spent an average of just over $800 on holiday gifts. According to Discover’s 2018 holiday shopping survey, a quarter of people are planning to spend more this year, with 38 percent using credit cards to pay for most of their holiday gifts.”

Unfortunately, these expenses often dissuade Americans from doing what is more important, namely, spending quality time with family and friends:

In a 2017 SunTrust Banks survey on holiday spending, nearly 70 percent of respondents said they would stop exchanging holiday gifts if their family and friends were agreeable to it, and 60 percent said they would spend more time with family and friends if they didn’t have to worry about gifts. In SunTrust’s survey from this year, just under half said they’re feeling the pressure to spend more than they can afford.”

Sweeny quotes Trent Hamm who moved to a no-gift policy as part of a journey to become debt free: 

‘Each Christmas, a lot of people find themselves in gift exchanges that they don’t really want to participate in,’ he wrote in a 2014 blog post. ‘No more. This is the year we declare our financial independence from unwanted gift exchanges.

‘Hamm, who lives in central Iowa, was inspired to write the post after he saw that his family’s gift exchanging was getting out of hand. ‘We were in a pattern where everybody was giving gifts to everyone else, and we were really thinking about how we could stop this,’ he says. So Hamm sent an email to his two brothers and their spouses soliciting ideas for new gift traditions. They decided to switch to small homemade or consumable gifts, like soaps or salsa made from vegetables from his brother’s garden.’”

Hamm and his four siblings have developed another tradition to replace expensive gift giving. They all draw a name and then write that person a letter of appreciation to open on Christmas morning.

Sweeney also describes how Jodie Spears of Little Rock, Arkansas, convinced her family to stop buying gifts and instead take a trip around the holidays. Since then, the extended family meets at the Gaylord Opryland Resort in Nashville, Tennessee: 

“A self-professed ‘advocate for experiences,’ Spears recommends broaching the subject of switching up holiday gifting traditions by focusing on the positive. ‘It’s ingrained that Christmas is all about opening up presents, and if you try to flip that and get people excited about doing something else, they might be willing to get rid of gift-giving,’ she says.”

Since moving to a no-gift policy, my wife and I focus our attention on finding the perfect Christmas tree. After getting it set up, we decorate it with the ornaments which we have acquired over 40 years of marriage. Each year we try to find one new ornament to add to our collection. This year the no-gift policy will be very useful as my wife returns from visiting our daughter in Brazil only a week before Christmas. That’s is just enough time to find the right tree and a new ornament and enjoy the peacefulness of Christmas - but no more than that. 

[Picture Credit:  Daniel Martinez, US Air Force, public domain]


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