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.