Skipping Christmas…Again

Last year we opted out.
We put up the tree and the lights, sipped the wine and ate the chocolates. We even celebrated with family and friends. But on Christmas morning, instead of unwrapping a big pile of gifts found under our tree, we spent time snuggled together in my bed and headed out to eat  a big breakfast/lunch with family before hosting Christmas dinner with cousins and grandparents at our place.
I wrote about our decision to nix the gifts last year  in Canadian Family magazine and it was met with mixed reactions from readers.

The short story? People were very  divided over our decision. The strongest reactions fell into one of two camps. There were:
1. People who love Christmas – gifts and all – and thought we were nuts.
2. People who stress over Christmas from the moment it’s over to the moment it begins again and  wish they could do it too…but are afraid that people will think they are nuts.

The experience taught me a lot:

1. It was as big a relief as I’d hoped; maybe even bigger.

I had expected it might be a weight off my shoulders but I was still surprised when it happened. There’s a lot of pressure associated with gift-giving around the holidays that just doesn’t manifest when I give a gift on a Tuesday in May  just because. I wasn’t in the mall fighting over a sweater that the person I was buying it for would likely have to be in line for a few weeks later to exchange.  I wasn’t pulling my hair out over whether I’d spent too much or too little. And in January when there was no huge bills that still needed to be paid? Like Christmas morning all over again. Instead we found we had extra time to catch up on holiday cartoons on TV together, bake cookies, hang out with friends and actually enjoy the season.

Christmas cookies

Baking up a sweet gift-free Christmas in 2012.

2. It made some people REALLY uncomfortable

I knew it would throw some people for a loop and so we tried to give a lot of warning, but even people who claimed they got it and understood would show up with a gift or call inquiring about what the kids might like. For some reason our family’s decision to opt out of something was seen as an insult or affront to the way they were choosing to celebrate the season. That wasn’t the intention at all. I’m hoping that over time it’ll get better. I hate the idea of hurting someone’s feelings by turning away a gift because I understand that there is usually a wonderful intent behind it, but I’m hoping in the future friends and family will understand that the gift of their presence is really all we want. We got exactly that when we spent a gift-free evening with friends and neighbours over the holidays. Our time together meant the focus was on fun not whether our gifts were the right ones or anyone was still into Hannah Montanna.


All in all I’m really glad we did it. At a family meeting earlier this year, the kids said they liked it better when we focused on the fun too. (Not surprising from kids whose biggest thrill from birthday party presents is the unwrapping. Most of the latest haul from Cam’s October birthday remains  in the living room untouched.)

This decision isn’t “anti-Christmas,” it’s pro-us.
We  love the excitement around Christmas. We love the family get-togethers and the cookies and even decorating the house, so why not have more of that?

We spent more time together last season than we had in years (not including the Christmas we spent in Africa) and instead of having a mom who was burnt out at both ends running from store to store and trying to scratch things off a list, they had a mom who was open to an hours-long game of Monopoly and hot chocolate movie-fests.

This  year we’re opting out again.

(Consider this your notice friends and family!)

And to add fuel to the fire, we’re flying the coop and heading to Cuba for the holidays.

It’ll only be our second Christmas away from family and friends and I’m sure we’ll wake up with a pang of sadness on Christmas morning – much like we did during our year away.

Christmas Elephants

On Christmas Day 2011 we were here and it was magical.

But that year away is also one of the reasons we knew we needed to do this.

It’s the same reason we went on that yearlong trip in the first place: We miss each other.

christmas toast 2011

Raising our glasses (and pop cans) to Christmas in Namibia.

Coming back has meant we can’t spend as much time with each other as we grew used to while we were away. Those obligations we fled in 2011 are slowly but surely creeping back into our lives.  Spending a few weeks together (in the sun!) rekindling that common passion for travel, inside jokes and each other is long overdue.

None of us have been to Cuba before and we’re looking forward to exploring and discovering it together. We’ll hit the beach, wander the cities and meet the locals.
And on Christmas morning I’m guessing we’ll snuggle up together, grab some breakfast and celebrate the gifts we have in each other.

This year I have no doubt that THAT will be enough.


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{ 27 comments… add one }

julie nowell November 11, 2013, 12:55 PM

here here! We go really small when we give gifts and it seems to throw our other family who go big. It is something we have fought against and will continue to make happen. We enjoy the season from beginning to end and never set foot in a mall. THe holidays should be about the enjoyment of giving gifts and the experiences of the event. Enjoy your holiday, the way you intend to


Heather November 11, 2013, 1:02 PM

Thanks Julie. Isn’t it interesting how uncomfortable it makes some people? I find it fascinating!


Dana November 11, 2013, 12:55 PM

Love the idea! As a family we have always limited our gifts to a couple. Our kids have never felt slighted or like they missed out on Christmas. As of last year we decided to escape as well, which was met with mixed reviews. We have one of those families where there are a couple of people who are always grumpy, negative ect. and we decided enough. Christmas should be about family and togetherness, so we packed our bags for far away land and are doing it again. We chose our family (husband and 2 kids) over the nonsense of what our big family Christmas has always brought.

Enjoy Cuba. It is a wonderful country,


Heather November 11, 2013, 1:00 PM

Thanks Dana. We’re excited to explore Cuba. I love the holidays just not the focus on stuff.


Vanessa (@Turnipseeds) November 11, 2013, 1:48 PM

I think this is a great idea, one we’re slowly moving towards. We give friends gifts of baked goods and other edibles (that we often enjoy with them) and instead of buying presents for each other, we plan out travel “gifts” that we put under the tree (like new snorkeling gear). There’s very little to unwrap, there are very few surprises, but we’re focusing on the things that will bring us pleasure throughout the year, not just on Christmas morning. I still like wrapping (and unwrapping!) stockings, so that remains a part of our tradition.

Christmas morning in your house sounds ideal – tons of treats (hot chocolate, cookies!) still a few surprises (spontaneous fun, excursions), still lots of festive cheer. Just no mall and money stress. It’s not like the kids are sent out to reshingle the roof – sounds like they are having an amazing holiday! I think you’ve got a great holiday spirit and I hope you keep it up!


Heather November 11, 2013, 1:52 PM

Thanks Vanessa. I agree. I think it’s key to make the holidays what you need them to be. I’m not against other people giving gifts (big or small) to each other. We made a decision we feel is right for our family and completely respect whatever decision other people make for theirs. For the record yours sounds lovely. :)


Abby November 11, 2013, 6:35 PM

This is such a nice post. I do believe that Christmas should be about family. During holidays, me and my family would pack our bags and leave. We usually spend our holidays in a farm.


Heather November 12, 2013, 6:58 AM

A farm sounds lovely. I’ll miss our extended family but looking forward to our sunny escape.


Elizabeth November 11, 2013, 6:43 PM

From the start, we nixed our kids friends giving birthday presents. It just seemed crazy to get gifts from family and then all the friends, and most would be stuff our kid probably wouldn’t want/need. BUT, we had the same problem – people like to give gifts! (So do I.) We “solved” it by choosing a “friends” gift each year and simply asking people coming to the party to donate, say, $5 per family. That offset the cost of the gift, pooled money and let us get something we knew our kid would really want, and seemed to satisfy people’s need to give. We still encourage kids to make a card to bring, and as part of our birthday activities, all the kids wrap the gift for our child. We haven’t gone gift free for the holidays, but I can see the appeal. Some variation of what we do for birthdays may help some people with the transition.


Heather November 12, 2013, 6:57 AM

Great tips. Thanks for sharing.


Elizabeth November 11, 2013, 7:04 PM

My kids just reminded me of what we did last year. Among our immediate family, we re-gifted to ourselves. I.e., when my daughter gave me a gift, she found a game we already owned but hadn’t played in a while and wrapped that up for me. So, we had the fun of opening gifts, but not the hassle or expense of buying gifts.


Heather November 12, 2013, 6:56 AM

I LOVE that! If my kids ever suggest they want to go back to gifts I’ll try that one first. Thanks.


Maria November 12, 2013, 5:06 AM

Thank you for sharing. I decided to opt out of the gift giving several years ago and met with much criticism and raised eyebrows as well. The true meaning of Christmas is spending quality time together not stressing over gift giving a d spending money you don’t have. Celebrate your family and friends with gifts on their birthdays and celebrate the gift of Christmas with love and time together! Good for you!


Heather November 12, 2013, 6:55 AM

Thanks Maria. I couldn’t agree more.


Boomergirl November 12, 2013, 8:53 AM

I loved your post, Heather. We invite friends to join us every Christmas in a beautiful winter setting that has a huge fireplace, cozy feel. We cook communal meals, shoot the breeze, toboggan, snowshoe, go for walks in a winter wonderland. It is my favourite time of the year. Hope you like Cuba. Beaches lovely. I loved Havana. Took a pedicab through morning rush hour. Hairy. Old cars something else. Wonderful architecture.


Heather November 12, 2013, 9:04 AM

That sounds heavenly! We had so much fun at our get together too. The laughs were non-stop.


Schmutzie November 12, 2013, 8:57 AM

Aidan and I skipped it one year, and despite the fact that we spent it puking with the flu, it was one of my favourite Christmasses. I’ve almost decided that we should do it again this year.


Heather November 12, 2013, 9:04 AM

the “skipping” not the “puking” I hope. ;)


Mary Ann Simonds December 7, 2013, 11:28 AM

Glad to read this article as we have been doing this for many years. Our son is 28 now and very generous. We did not give gifts but rather we would choose a fun adventure together. We gave each other our time and the joy of sharing fun together. We would also give to our favorite charity as gifts instead of spending money on “things”.
Teaching these values to children really does help them grow up to be amazing adults. We have proof. We still spend Christmas together and love planning what we will all do together and what charities we want to support.


Lucinda Sage-Midgorden December 7, 2013, 3:29 PM

Yay Heather! I agree with you. We came to that decision because we didn’t have money to give gifts, but the result has been similar. We love spending time with family and friends and I definitely enjoy not having the stress of having to give gifts. Making the decision not to give is a little like giving up an addiction. It’s difficult at first, but it gets easier with time. After the changes in shopping hours this holiday season, I wrote a blog post in response to the craziness. You give me hope that maybe we’ll realize the real meaning of the season. Thanks for your courage to lead the way.


c.wright.thru. December 7, 2013, 7:05 PM

Divine infinite blessings to you Heather, your family and all like-minded/like-hearted souls like you.
Thank you and continue to be truly inspiring/empowering/enlightening.
You beloved, are a Divine Goddess manifested. Stay wise/stay beautiful.


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