or Connect
Mothering › Mothering Forums › Natural Living › The Mindful Home › Frugality & Finances › No-Gifts Christmas
New Posts  All Forums:Forum Nav:

No-Gifts Christmas

post #1 of 40
Thread Starter 
The letter we have sent out to family this year. We've gotten several positive responses ("Thanks for being up front!" "I totally agree!" etc.) as well as a few crickets chirping (meaning: "Huh?").
Maybe it will be of use to somebody else here who's having a hard time figuring out how to bring up the subject to friends & family. Please feel free to edit and personalize as necessary. ~LeeAnn

Dear Family,

When thinking about Christmas this year, maybe these ideas have crossed your mind:

1) Despite “hopeful signs of recovery” the economy is still really bad! It would be more prudent to save our dollars than spend them on gifts.

2) I am tired of running around shopping and the focus on buying things every year! I would just like to focus on the real “reason for the season”: the birth of our savior Jesus Christ.

3) We already have enough stuff! I really don’t need anything and neither does anyone else on my list.

If so, you’re in good company. This is just a note to let you know we’ve decided not to exchange Christmas gifts this year. We are not buying gifts for each other or our relatives.

We will be sending Christmas cards (I love Christmas cards!) and probably a new family photo and maybe a family newsletter—which is all we’d really like from you: a card, a photo or a note to let us know how your year has been and how you are doing.

We want the focus of our Christmas to be on Jesus (the Word made Flesh through Mary’s “yes” to God’s plan for human redemption—that’s something to celebrate!), attending Mass together as a family, hearing the girls sing in the choir, enjoying the good food and good times with all of you.

We are still giving one or two gifts to each of our children, so please don’t think they’ll be deprived of a happy Christmas. We do want to encourage our kids to enjoy the many aspects of the Christmas season that have nothing to do with opening gifts; and so if giving a gift to the children is important to you, we would love for you to help us with that by giving a single gift or shared gifts if possible. (This is not a rule or anything; just what we think is a good guideline.)

If you are really disappointed we aren’t exchanging gifts this year, we are sorry; we still love you and please know that we didn’t make this decision out of lack of feeling for you. We are looking forward to seeing as many of you all as we can during the holidays. God bless!
post #2 of 40
We're not Christian in the traditional sense of "Jesus is the son of god, born to a virgin, savior, etc.", but we believe he was a real man who did exist. That said, something about gift exchanges during the holidays always seemed a bit off to me. And this is what it is:

You spend $20 to buy Uncle Bob a gift me hay or may not like. Uncle Bob spends $20 to buy you a gift you may or may not like. Both you and Uncle Bob would have prefered to keep the $20 in savings to help with December's heating bills. So all that was really exchanged was $20 being spent when the best gift to each other would have been a $20-bill in an envelope, canceling out each other's gifts.

So what's the point?

Christmas is all about consumerism, and has been for ages. Even when I was still Christian (and I once was), it got to me a lot that the way to celebrate a birth was to buy gifts for everyone under the sun, spending money that couldn't be spared, and then guilted into leaving big tips for everyone from the mail man (who legally can't accept cash) to huge, HUGE bonus tips to the news paper delivery person, the kid who cuts your grass, and even bigger tips to anyone who brings you a plate of food at a restaurant (I'm in a state where all waitstaff must be paid at least regular minimum wage of $8 an hour, not that federal minimum for tipped people of $2 and change).

I'm very much in favor of making gifts instead. When bought gifts are given on Christmas, it's really more a sense of "because we're supposed to"-obligation rather than desire.
post #3 of 40
I completely agree with Noelle C. (Except that I'm not religious in any sense of the word.)

I do wish you luck with your non-gifting Christmas! But....it may be difficult. As in, for the past two years, we've done the same thing. Money has been extremely tight so we couldn't afford gifts at all. We told people up front that we wouldn't be able to exchange gifts, but they bought us gifts anyway. It made us feel really bad to accept a gift but not have one to give.

I much prefer Thanksgiving! All the good food and family togetherness without the gift-giving pressure.
post #4 of 40
Thread Starter 
Fortunately all the families in my extended family are also religious (we're all different varieties of Christian but we all get along LOL), so my letter won't be spurned on that account.

I know many of the families are struggling financially or just on very strict budgets just as we are, so our announcement was welcome news to them. There are too many cousins already to even just do gifts for the little kids, so this is much easier.

There are a couple of family members who may be put out by it--they relish the shopping and the gifting and love the opportunity almost to brag about how much they spent on so-and-so; they might feel like I am ruining their Xmas, but they'll survive. LOL

We may even still receive some gifts from some of them and that's OK, we'll just say "thank you" graciously and give them lots of love.

I actually do plan to give my younger sister (26yo) a gift for Xmas--she's the last single person among us all and her mother died in the past few years, she needs a bit of mothering and attention herself--but I like the idea that we are ending the assumption of gift reciprocation. "Oh I have to buy something for Grandma, because I know she'll buy something for me!"

Christmas has been a secular holiday with rowdy behavior (too much good food and drink) and crass consumerism for centuries, not just decades (why do you think the Puritans banned it?) and that's OK--I'm not in favor of squashing general merriment, however nonreligious it might be. But I am against spending money we don't have and the "gift-giving pressure" that we have come to expect.
post #5 of 40
I agree with the sentiments here. The materialism of Christmas drives me nuts. And Noelle hit it on the head. I've thought the same thing for years that we're all just exchanging money, not gifts. Last year I loved that my daughter, son in law, my husband and I only exchanged "made/baked" gifts and only bought gifts for my grandson. It was necessitated by my daughter's and sil's lack of finances but I would love to do it again this year especially because we now have a new little granddaughter and there will be a third one next year!!! Also, we buy gifts for my stepkids. Well, the two youngest anyway who stay with us part time. The three oldest have just wanted money the past couple of years. Hubby obliges. Whatever they all want, down to buying every last thing on the youngest ones lists. Don't get me wrong, I love them like they were my own but I think dh has divorced dad guilt syndrome and won't consider anything else. sigh. And then he goes on about how he hates Christmas. He doesn't hate it, he hates the expense, the expectations and the pressures. As do I but he gives into it every year.
post #6 of 40
Thread Starter 
You know, I was thinking about the idea of money as a gift. Generally, cash money is considered an appropriate gift for weddings and birthdays and in some cultures for New Year's, maybe even as a "new baby" gift.

Cash as a Christmas gift though seems a little off to me. Why is that?

It can be a good thing to give someone cash when that is what they really need (money to pay the electric bill or mortgage or Scrooge raising Bob Cratchit's salary) and it's pretty typical and accepted for older relatives who can't get out to the shops or who live far away to send cash as a gift--often with the note to go out and buy something nice for the recipient.

But cash and gift cards as Christmas gifts always seem a little deficient and second-best. I'm wondering if there is a notion of the "Christmas gift" distinct from other types of gifts. An ideal Christmas gift is: personal? delightful? needed? Hmmm, what do you think?
post #7 of 40
Originally Posted by The Hidden Life View Post
But cash and gift cards as Christmas gifts always seem a little deficient and second-best. I'm wondering if there is a notion of the "Christmas gift" distinct from other types of gifts. An ideal Christmas gift is: personal? delightful? needed? Hmmm, what do you think?
It's been drilled into us from early childhood to buy buy BUY at Christmas. Cash can be used for bills. But physical gifts mean money for the stores that tell us to spend money we don't have. We haven't been conditioned to see money as an appropriate gift. Those who tell us what's good and bad said so, that's why. We're supposed to go out to stores and buy. It's become a duty to buy. It's Patriotic to buy. It's our responsibility to BUY!

And then, come January, people are in dire straights trying to pay it off, debt sinking them for a few months. It's a great time to buy things if you didn't spend all your money in December. So many people sell cars and jewelry for cheap to catch up from the holiday spending.

The ideal Christmas gift is one that can't possibly make someone feel obligated to buy something in return or that their own gift was inadequate. Make a platter of cookies for the friend who bought you a new kitchen cooking set, and you're likely to feel your gift was inadequate because, dollar-wise, that platter of cookies isn't worth as much.

A sad truth is the value of gifts is tied directly to the monetary value, and we're conditioned to not want to be the one who spent less or gave a gift of less value. Not having as much or spending as much is seen as shameful.

I think the ideal Christmas gifts this year, and even for future years, will be gifts people make for each other. This is a gift in many ways. People can still give, but we're also giving each other the gift of a lifted burden of spending. Removal of stress and worry about how to afford gifts while also paying the bills is going to be a highly desired gift this year.
post #8 of 40

I love your letter!

How I wish I was brave enough to send it to my relatives!

post #9 of 40
My family has been doing the no-gift thing at Christmas for a number of years. We just all decided one year not to exchange gifts and it's been much less stressful ever since. I'm expecting our first baby any day now (first grandchild) and I think it will be a little harder for people to resist buying things for her, so we'll see how it goes.

In lieau of gifts, we get together (brother, sister, sig others and my parents) and have a nice dinner. My parents go on a vineyard tour every fall and buy some nice wine to go with it.

Preparing some kind of food item to give as a gift can be a good substitute, if you can't manage to go completely gift-free. We make pierogies (they freeze up really well), or cookies or fudge or something and package it up really pretty. Then you have something to "give back" when somebody gives you a present.

The only awkward thing is that my DH's family is extremely materialistic and gifts can be really over the top. Last year they bought us a 40" flat screen tv! (and we had not had a tv in about 5 years and didn't really want one) DH has one sister and she always asks for A LOT of expensive stuff and then they feel like they have to give us equal presents, etc. And then of course, we have to spend a significant amount of money on each of them. So I always feel weird that my side of the family gets nothing and we spend all this money on them. But they are not ready for our freakish frugal ways...us being vegan is bad enough.
post #10 of 40
Great letter, LeeAnn!! I know my family isn't ready for that, but I certainly hope to scale back this year. It would take an act of God to get my mom to scale back, though, I'm afraid.

kathleen_mary, can I ask you a question? You mentioned you're vegan, as am I (newly this year). I was thinking of cooking/baking for gifts instead this year, but I'm not sure how welcome vegan treats would be. Do you make vegan foods for gifts, or give in and do conventional ones (assuming your whole family isn't vegan, of course).
post #11 of 40
Thread Starter 
So this is my Christmas shopping so far. Some of this was purchased months ago over the summer and some this past week. Very little shopping left to do!

3yo son: $5 toy police car, $8 set of Matchbox cars, $10 book, $12 dvd, $30 balance bike
6yo daughter: $10 "fairy dust" necklace, $9 book, $15 dvd, $25 small Playmobil set
9yo daughter: $12 t-shirt, $14 book, $8 dvd, (looking for one more item--Playmobil set or sweater perhaps?)
12yo daughter: $10 t-shirt, $12 book, $16 dvd, (looking for one more item, either music cd or fashion accessory type item)

Other gift shopping to do: none

$15 for 100 Xmas cards
-need stamps
-need to take & print family photos
-instead of an Xmas letter, I would like to record our kids singing Christmas songs, reading a short story, Nativity narrative, etc on an audio CD for our relatives. They're the ones who most love to read our updates. I think we have everything on hand to do this: microphone, blank cds, plenty of material.

Decorations: $20 for door wreath (pre-ordered with a friend)
-Christmas week we'll cut our tree
-we have more ornaments and lights than we need, so nothing to buy

Wrapping paper: 2 rolls at $1 each at Dollar Tree, plus whatever I have on hand (plenty)

Food shopping: think about that later this month, but as we'll be hosting dinner for only two additional persons, we'll be providing most of the food. Some nuts/oranges/candy to buy for St. Nick as well....

Am I missing anything?

BTW, I'm not the person the vegan treats question was addressed to but there are so many good fruit & nut type foods available at Christmas that are simple, I don't see why anyone wouldn't love that. Even if it is just a box of satsuma oranges or some nice pears or locally grown cashews--you don't have to be too elaborate and bake some kind of substitute brownie made with vegan ingredients or whatever.
post #12 of 40
Some years ago I stopped the gifting with my parents (they were notoriously difficult to buy for and would rarely buy me stuff I liked - such as particular books on my wishlist) - I'd send them a check for $50 and get a check for $100 in return. Made no sense!

Mind you, I'm single. I buy for my 4 yo goddaughter, her 2 yo sister, and their parents who are close friends. The girls often got a "group" gift, such as a Sandra Boynton book/CD set. The parents are very happy with consumables such as coffee, tea, Starbucks card. This year, the parents in this family are getting a $15 Starbucks gift card (that I ordered online - free shipping). The girls are probably getting the Little House book complete set I was given when I was a kid (if I can bear to part with them!). Otherwise, another Sandra Boynton book/CD set (they love these and only have two).

I've ordered a small book and a bar of homemade soap for another close friend. I'll make some banana bread. That's it.

I like the gift-giving tradition, just not to excess. So by really keeping down the number of people I buy for, it is much more manageable/affordable/enjoyable.
post #13 of 40
OP- I LOVE this idea! We have been doing homemade christmas gifts for a couple years. Last year, I made scrapbooks and this years I'm making small nativity settings with terra cotta pots!! Well, thta's what I'm planning on making. I need to get started- LOL!!

Originally Posted by smallmama View Post

kathleen_mary, can I ask you a question? You mentioned you're vegan, as am I (newly this year). I was thinking of cooking/baking for gifts instead this year, but I'm not sure how welcome vegan treats would be. Do you make vegan foods for gifts, or give in and do conventional ones (assuming your whole family isn't vegan, of course).

I'm not KM, but I'm the lone Vegan family in a large group... How about making something like granola (my family LOVES my granola), hummus, candied nuts, fudge, cookies... I've not had anyone NOT like my Vegan cookies. Even my nephews that are in college took seconds and thirds! Good luck, Mama!!
post #14 of 40
I can edit it and use it thanks!
post #15 of 40
We stopped giving gifts outside our immediate family a couple years ago. Our income took a giant hit, so we're definitely not reinstituiting any unnecessary gifting this year.

On DH's side, we found that everyone was exchanging gift cards anyway; there wasn't really a point. On mine, the family is huge; we've tried every trick in the book (drawing names, playing games) but it never works out equitably. Some people are generous and some are stingy.

Even so, we still get some gifts for the kids. OK, too much for the kids. Our family is mostly out of town though, so I intercept them on the porch and give anything we don't want (most of them) to thrift shops.
post #16 of 40
The issue with giving cash for Christmas is the exchange.

Cash for a wedding gift isn't an exchange. A couple is getting married, you give them some cash to help them start their new lives together, they send you a thank-you note. You send them $50, grandma sends them $200, and BIL sends $10, but it's all fine.

But if grandma sends you $200 for Christmas and you send her $50... uh oh. Now you basically haven't given her a gift at all, and she's given you $150.

And frankly it's equally ridiculous if you give your brother $20 and he gives you $20. What's the point?

In THEORY you give your brother a pair of gloves he really wanted, and he buys you a book you'd been wanting to read. Maybe you wouldn't have splurged on the book for yourself but you were happy to splurge on your brother. In THEORY now you are both happier and there weren't any numbers attached. Neither of you have any idea who spent more, and you both made out with gifts rather than 2 x $20 checks cancelling each other out.

But lest you think I'm arguing for gift-giving at Christmas... no way. I am at this point hard-core anti gift giving. I hate it But I can at least see why the cash gifts don't work either. I know the origins of the gift tradition came from the gifts of the Magi, and it was once a very thoughtful tradition. In the last 150 years, since industrialization/commercialization, it's changed (and really, mostly changed since the 1920s-1940s it seems). Now it's all about the corporations, and we are left with empty obligations to spend money we can't afford to buy junk nobody wants.
post #17 of 40
Thread Starter 
That's a very helpful bit of analysis, Laohaire!

[Interesting side note, there's been a growing trend for ritzy wedding couples to give all their guests gift bags of goodies rather than the traditional wedding favors like almonds or candy. At some point, this makes giving the wedding couple a gift pointless too; it becomes another $$$ money exchange. This also happens, as I think about it, with kids' birthday parties, where take-home goody bags have become ever more elaborate. Almost an expected thing now to get a nice "gift" from the birthday kid for the honor of your presence. Anyway, back to the topic at hand....]

I am not against intermittent gift-giving at Christmas (provided it is within your financial means!); it's the *expectation* of gift *exchange* that has made it detestable. Baby Jesus, after all, didn't give each of the Wise Men shaving kits after they gave him the gold, frankincense and myrrh (tongue in cheek here, folks, but I bet Mary served them a nice supper!). [You could get all theological here and riff on what kind of spiritual gift the baby Jesus gave the magi, but let's leave that aside for now.]

I think it's great if someone wants to surprise someone with an unexpected and much-needed or delightful gift. I think it's great if Aunt Edith loves making plum jam and gifts everyone with a jar every Christmas because she knows they all love eating it. I don't like that people make a list of demands of gifts they expect their relatives, loved ones and co-workers to buy for them along with the obligation to do the same in return.

[When I was buying my brother's wedding gift last week, the people in line in front of me were downloading a kid's birthday gift registry!!! Yeah, next year, let's all just trot our kids down to Target to input their wish lists to Santa, maybe right after they get their photo in Santa's lap, and then the store can send some nice harassing reminders to the grandparents to get out there and buy what Suzie wants or the store clerks can print it on your receipt at checkout: "Have you bought Tommy's ImagiNext Deluxe Playset yet? Don't forget the gift bag and card!" Oh, I am so full of digressions today!]

Maybe this is why the Giving Tree/Angel Tree program kind of rubs me the wrong way at times--because it's another list of demands. The giver doesn't get to choose what they think is the right gift for the recipient--thus losing some of the pleasure in giving it--but rather just forks over the money for the requested, sometimes questionable item. Read "Tinsel" by Hank Stuever for more info.

I probably can't quite forestall my own kids from making a wish list to Santa--with a list of desired items undoubtedly much too long--but as they get older I've been somewhat successful in getting them to make a "giving list" first (what they would like to GIVE to others before thinking of what they WANT for themselves) or writing an actual letter to St. Nicholas (since we believe he is a real saint, not just the "Santa at the North Pole" story) detailing what good things they've done in the past year as well as keeping their list of gift wishes modest and realistic.

There is probably more that could be said about the over-romanticization of Christmas and Christmas gifts. I think that is part of what I was trying to get at a few posts up. You hear these "Christmas Wish" programs on the radio or watch "Miracle on 34th Street" or whatever and they all set extremely high or unrealistic expectations for what Christmas should be like. I am all in favor of taking Christmas down a peg. Let's bring it back to earth (how about Nazareth?); the reality of Christmas is good enough.
post #18 of 40
I wish this would work.

My mom and her husband are fine with this situation. We did a very simple christmas with them last year. Mostly the problem is w/DH's family.

Last year, in the midst of a conversation about the market crash and the fact that so many people will be HUNGRY because of it and how terrible it all was (THEY were saying that), I mentioned the idea of instead of giving gifts to each other that christmas, we take that money and give it to a charity instead. They all just stared at me for a minute like I had broken out in chinese. I mean... it really didn't seem like such an off-the-wall suggestion considering the discussion at hand... but it went over like a lead balloon. Actually, they didn't even aknowledge I had said something... just stared at me for a minute and then switched gears and started a different conversation.

It was COMPLETELY unreal to me. Sooooo, since I'm not christian anymore (though they are) i don't think this note would go over well As much as I wish it would.

post #19 of 40
Thread Starter 
Originally Posted by Juvysen View Post
I mentioned the idea of instead of giving gifts to each other that christmas, we take that money and give it to a charity instead. They all just stared at me for a minute like I had broken out in chinese.
Are you willing to take the lead and suggest it again? Or be unpopular and do it anyway?

Admittedly, it's easier for us because we won't be having all our relatives over for Christmas day (just my mother and her husband) so we won't have to feel awkward if a bunch of other people decided to exchange gifts anyway. "Now, I didn't get anything for YOU because I know you are all down on Christmas this year...."

My mother might still very well show up with gifts for DH and me and I'll just have to live with the fact that she really, secretly thinks the only reason we aren't exchanging gifts is because we're broke. Boo hoo, pity on me. But the only real obligation I have when receiving a gift is to say "thank you." If that's what she chooses to believe, that's OK, I know she loves me and is giving me a gift without expecting anything in return (since I emailed her my no-gifts letter a few weeks ago).

One thing I did to prevent seeming like we were secretly hoping for gifts but were too broke to reciprocate is delete our Amazon wishlists. That has been the go-to source for several years for my extended family to find out what we want for birthdays and Christmas. By deleting those lists, hopefully I'm reinforcing the message, "No, really, you don't have to buy us anything."

One thing I still need to do is have a conversation with the kids about our no-gifts letter, letting them know it's OK to say what they want if someone asks, but that they should expect fewer gifts or shared gifts this year or perhaps only gifts from Mom & Dad. Hopefully good manners we've already taught prevent them from making up-front demands to anyone for any kind of gift. LOL You never know though!
post #20 of 40
I dunno... we did a one-gift (per person) christmas a few years ago, after having sent them a letter to that effect, and they INUNDATED us with gifts... which I hate because I never feel like I know who anything came from when I'm sitting under a pile of newly opened gifts. It was... horrible I'm sort of at a loss on this... We decided to go with all home-made or local goodies this year, so hopefully it's ok. It's extra hard, I guess, because we *have* the money to do it, but we have environmental/anti-consumeristic concerns and truely do not want more junk in our house (trying HARD to declutter right now) and I feel awkward buying junk for other people's houses. They don't get that at all, and I feel like they think we're just being cheap or obnoxious or something. *sigh*
New Posts  All Forums:Forum Nav:
  Return Home
  Back to Forum: Frugality & Finances
Mothering › Mothering Forums › Natural Living › The Mindful Home › Frugality & Finances › No-Gifts Christmas