Waving Buh-Bye to Holiday Gift Stress

Update: The article I refer to in this piece is now online. Go on over and vote in the poll. Would you give up gifts?

There are only 63 days until Christmas!

Kwanzaa is a mere 64 days away!

And  only 46 until Hanukkah!

Yup, there’s no denying it. The malls are decked, the parking lots are full and the sharp elbow jabs over the last thing-you-absolutely-have-to-have have begun.

But this year you won’t find me out there among them. Nope.

We’re boycotting.

christmas past

Might have the tree. Won’t have the presents. Hoping to keep the smiles.

No wrapping paper or bows. No scanning the flyers or getting up early to beat the lines. We’re opting for experiences together, over a morning of gifts we soon forget we have.

I wrote about our decision to skip the gift-giving/receiving side of the holidays in the November issue of Canadian Family Magazine (on newsstands now!).


On newsstands now!

And then I held my breath.

What would family, friends, blog readers, think of our decision.

Turns out many of you are as stressed out and dragged down by the over commercialization of the holidays as we are.

In fact, if you turn to the masthead in the magazine, you’ll see that when they conducted an internal poll a surprising number of editors joined me in the pledge to let it all go this season.

I won’t give the whole story away but I am curious to hear what you think.

So….No present exchange this year.

Could you do it? Would you?


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{ 23 comments… add one }

Corinne @ HaveBabyWillTravel October 23, 2012, 9:12 AM

I would LOVE to be able to pull this off. Almost every we swear that next year we’ll all just go away, and then the planning usually falls apart by summer. It’s either too expensive, too difficult to find a place suitable for all, the excuses pile up. My husband and I have pretty much stopped buying gifts for one another, and the number the kids get (from us, anyway) is dwindling. Baby steps…


Heather Greenwood Davis October 23, 2012, 9:16 AM

Us too Corinne! I’ve toyed with it for years but last year sealed the deal. We had nothing but each other and an amazing experience on Christmas morning and the kids weren’t fazed by it ….at all. Made me realize that most of the pressure we put on for the holidays is adult-induced.
We won’t likely get away this season but that’s definitely a plan for another year.


Katja Wulfers October 23, 2012, 9:25 AM

I’m not certain we could or would, but we’ve toned down the gift exchange in our home and extended family in recent years. Christmas shopping doesn’t stress me out, although I think I could convince the kids to bypass it if we went on a great trip instead.


Heather October 23, 2012, 9:28 AM

A common friend just said we should all do what works for us over the season. I totally agree. I’m so in awe of people who aren’t stressed by it. Wonder though, “would you be offended by someone not giving your family gifts in return?” Not calling you out Katja. Just wondering generally.


Katja Wulfers October 23, 2012, 9:51 AM

Good question. I really don’t think I would be offended. Every family has different approaches. The one thing I can’t do without is spending time with my family and friends.


Heather Greenwood Davis October 23, 2012, 10:16 AM

Agreed! :)


Jen Maier, urbanmoms October 23, 2012, 9:38 AM

We don’t do gifts with extended family and only stockings for my husband and I filled with a few treats but mostly socks and underwear and deodorant (oh my!). For the kids we learned pretty early that too many gifts is overwhelming and makes it far less special. There is usually one great gift (often a trip) for the whole family or a big gift that is something they need (hockey equipment, etc). But I couldn’t give up the tree. We go and cut it down ourselves and decorate it as a family. That is a tradition I really cherish and focusing on those is what I want to do. I’m definitely going to read your article!


heather October 23, 2012, 9:56 AM

I love that you have specific traditions. I don’t think people should stop doing anything that makes the holidays special for them. I want more of what makes it special for us too. :)


welliwonder October 23, 2012, 5:21 PM

I switched (with my family) over to only home made gifts several years ago. You actually THINK about the person you are creating for, not just exchanging gift cards. Doing it this way brings back the spirit of Christmas.
I have painted, baked, made stepping stones, and knit for my family over the past few years. My sister has cooked and packaged meals for me to have on hand in the freezer and has made painted pottery. Oh, and once she made me a pecan pie!


Heather October 28, 2012, 10:03 AM

Love this idea! I’m not even slightly crafty so doubt it would work for us but I agree that it’s about creating the sentiment you want for the holidays and not just falling for the commercials.


Emily October 24, 2012, 2:07 PM

Love this! I come from a family that never gave a ton of gifts for Hanukkah/Christmas, and am trying (despite my in-laws reluctance) to do similarly with my children. We will be in Thailand this year for Xmas, so the kids know that they might have 1 or 2 little items, but not much. A few years ago, we went to Australia over the holidays, and the kids each got a bouncy ball and ruler from the hotel gift shop on Xmas morning. I expected rebellion…but there was none! They still have the rulers, 3 years later, and I love how much it reminds them of our trip (and that spending our money on experiences rather than stuff they don’t care about a month later is well worth it). I don’t mind a few small tokens, but a living room full of gifts for kids who already live privileged lives seems unnecessary.
I do find that when we stay home for the holidays, the gifts do start piling up. I guess that means we should plan to travel each holiday season! :)
Thanks for the reminder!


Heather October 28, 2012, 10:02 AM

I hear you Emily. The living room full of gifts thing rings true with us too. But moments later it would be all forgotten as they ran off to do the same things they’d done the day before. And I would LOVE to take off for the holidays again. Best avoidance technique out there. :)


Amanda Lee October 27, 2012, 1:28 PM

Just so I get this right… no toys for the boys? Was this inspire by your trip around the world? I found after being in countries like Bangladesh where there’s essentially NO Christmas, it does change you.


Heather October 28, 2012, 10:00 AM

Yup. No toys for Christmas. No anything for Christmas…except for love, time, affection, activities together, family….come to think of it, maybe I’m giving them everything by doing that. ;)


Tasha October 28, 2012, 11:10 AM

Wow!! I applaud you and sit here conjuring up ways on how I can get away with it too!! Duane and I are not big on Christmas (or any holiday commercialized that much that you actually forget about the meaning of the day) because we are both people that don’t wait for a special occasion to give gifts, my family on the other hand is a whole other story. My nieces have already called with their lists, that too of my 18 year old child ( I did say 18 right?!) And should I broach the idea with my mom, it would translate into me being an ungrateful daughter. Taking off for the holidays has been done, but we end up giving out the gifts BEFORE we leave :-(

Back to the drawing board…


heather October 28, 2012, 11:33 AM

Tash I expected some bounceback from family/friends but got none. Everyone really seemed relieved and when I prefaced it with the fact that I wanted to share time with them instead, they all could relate. That being said, I think some of my “courage” on the topic comes from having been away from everyone/thing for as long as we were. I hope you guys can figure out something. Maybe just starting with a limit on spending and then bring it down from there?


Tracie Winge Shroyer October 31, 2012, 10:20 AM

Last Christmas the kids knew we were planning our six-week summer adventure, so the gifts they got were things we would have purchased for the trip (small compasses, hydration packs, etc.). After traveling where each person was limited to one small tote for their belongings (we were in a small travel trailer), the kids realized they’d rather spend money on experiences together than on gifts they have to dust or pick up.


heather October 31, 2012, 10:42 AM

I love that your kids came to the realization on their own. :)


Tracie Winge Shroyer October 31, 2012, 10:23 AM

Last Christmas the kids knew we were planning our six-week summer adventure, so the gifts they got were things we would have purchased for the trip (small compasses, hydration packs, etc.). After traveling where each person was limited to one small tote for their belongings (we were in a small travel trailer), the kids realized they’d rather spend money on experiences together than on gifts they have to dust or pick up. http://facebook.com/OTRLewisClark


Kathy Murphy November 8, 2012, 7:16 AM

Love it Heather – you’re on to something big here! I am seriously thinking about this – better pass the word soon so people are ready – and hopefully they follow suit!


Heather Greenwood Davis November 9, 2012, 11:57 AM

Oh! Good luck! Let me know how it goes. Curious to hear where the cracks lie for people.


Elizabeth December 10, 2013, 8:04 PM

I heard part of your interview on the radio today. Brilliant! I have been trying to “downsize” the Christmas craziness for years now. My side of the family do a very small “fun” gift game. It’s pretty low key on the stuff side and high on the fun side. We are up against a brick wall with the other side. They want to get and give lots of stuff and spend no time together….arg! Any tips on convincing the hard core spenders?


Heather December 11, 2013, 8:59 AM

Thanks Elizabeth. I wish I had a secret formula. Some people have had success with suggesting secret santas to start or putting a limit on the amount spent or only buying for kids but if they are completely against it all, that won’t work either. Really you’re only option, I think, is to decide what you want to do with your family in that situation. It’s tough but maybe after a year of you not reciprocating with large gifts, etc, they’ll tone it down …at least towards you. Tough one though.


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