Is a Non-Consumer Christmas Even Possible?

by Katy on October 3, 2011 · 99 comments

Christmas Boys

The following post is an answer to a question posted over at The Non-Consumer Advocate Facebook group from Donna who asked about “Getting extended family on board for a non-consumer Christmas?”


The calendar may say October 3rd, but for many Americans, the Christmas season is already starting to ramp up. The lead-up to Christmas, rife with incessant elevator music-style carols, family pressures and animatronic swiveling-hipped Santas make me hate Christmas. Big time. However, I don’t want to pass this attitude along to my sons.

I guess a little background is in order. I am Jewish, but my mother isn’t and we always had a Christmas tree and visits from Santa Clause when I was growing up. My husband is not religious in any way, although his parents grew up going to church. Having neither Jesus nor consumerism in my life, Christmas is more a stressful chore than anything else. We do not exchange Chanukah gifts.

For many people, the pressure to participate in expensive gift giving or to happily receive cluttery unwanted gifts can be an annual burden.

So . . . should you just grit your teeth and smile through a season of giving up on your frugal and simple living goals?


Now is the time to start those conversations with family members. Talk to your parents, your siblings, your spouse. That well meaning friend who overwhelms you with expensive gifts. But here’s the key, don’t simply suggest an abrupt stop to gift giving. You might try suggesting a replacement of your normal gift giving tradition with something else. Some families have tried the “handmade gifts only” route, or only giving to kids or simply drawing names.

For my family, the ramping down of Christmas gift giving was a series of conversations. My father and step-mother were very happy to stop exchanging gifts and to just give to the grandkids, as were my sister and brother-in-law. However, my mother and step-father were horrified at the notion, so we do still exchange adult gifts with them. My in-laws wanted no part in a stop of buying gifts for their adult children. So . . some progress.

The way that I keep Christmas under control is to stick with my normal shopping habits, even when it’s for gift giving. I still shop at thrift stores, look for cheap deals online, (like theater tickets) and I allow myself to be less than perfect. My husband and I differ on this, and we end up conflicted on how to provide a positive Christmas experience for the kids without dropping hundreds of dollars. He already knows that I will return pretty much any and all expensive gifts that I receive. (One year he bought me my own copy of The Complete Tightwad Gazette and a $150 purse. Guess which one went back to the store?)

I guess I don’t really have a definitive answer on how to put a Non-Consumer Christmas together.

Has your family found ways to usher Non-Consumerism into your traditions? Please share your ideas in the comments section below.

Katy Wolk-Stanley

“Use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without”

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{ 99 comments… read them below or add one }

MindyG October 3, 2011 at 10:10 am

I really REALLY struggle with this as well. This year we have gone down to just one income, so it’s not an option to play the game we’ve been playing with my husband’s brothers. Each year they buy us insane gifts… I’m talking a 42″ flat screen from ONE of them the year before last, or a $50 bag of coffee… INSANITY. I’ve tried telling them we just don’t have that same income, and they just are like “oh really, are you sure?”. If anyone has a SUREFIRE way to change this dynamic…. I am so all ears.


Jenny @ Ex-Consumer October 3, 2011 at 10:11 am

Ah…yes. Christmas.

Our extended family doesn’t really understand our non-consumer stance — especially not at Christmas time.

We’ve made some progress by convincing my large family to have only the kids draw a name and exchange one gift with a cousin.

But, we still end up with a pile of unwanted clutter no matter how convincing we think we’ve been. 😉

P.S. A few years ago my husband bought me a string of beautiful (expensive) black pearls for Christmas. He wasn’t terribly surprised when I took them back.


Virginia Dare October 4, 2011 at 5:13 am

I don’t think my husband could ever get over that. He doesn’t buy a bunch of junk, so when he buys a gift, he puts a lot of thought (and, sometimes, resources) into it. Last Christmas he got me the same thing as my parents did (negative scanner) but different models from different stores. My parents’ purchase was unreturnable (I tried but they bought it on clearance). When I even suggested that I might return his because I found something I wanted to exchange it for, he was hurt and mad.
So, now I have 2.


Katy October 3, 2011 at 10:22 am

I forgot to write that I was able to get my mother to stop putting together Christmas stocking full of doo-dads for the adult children.


P.S. Hi Mom!


Virginia Dare October 4, 2011 at 5:09 am

I wish I could get my mom to stop doing that, but I don’t think it’s possible. I just eat the candy and give away the clutter. 🙂


Paula in the UP October 6, 2011 at 11:51 am

I wanted to stop doing stockings and my adult kids, say they “love their stockings gifts!” I usually don’t buy junk for them, I just find useful little items that they actually like/want. Last year they got sun glass holders for their cars, car air fresheners, cute Christmas socks, purse size hand lotion and they always get their fav candy treat.


Jessica @ Faith Permeating Life October 3, 2011 at 10:36 am

We exchange gift wish lists in my family, and I have finally convinced my husband that I really don’t want things that are not on my list. (Seeing how excited I get about receiving gifts on my list made him realize I was serious.) His mother is a different matter. Last year I wrote, with his help, what I thought was a very tactful note on my gift list explaining that I was trying to clear out clutter in our apartment and rather than receiving something not on my list, would much prefer a donation to be made to such-and-such organizations. She ignored it and bought me a bunch of stuff I didn’t want. I don’t really know what to do this year. I would love suggestions!


Elaine October 4, 2011 at 10:51 am

Jessica (and everyone else who doesn’t know what to do with gifts they don’t want),

You don’t have to keep *anything* just because someone gave it to you. After New Year’s Day, go ahead and sell or donate the items, or give them to friends who would appreciate them.

I know all of us deplore the waste when people won’t listen to us and insist on getting us gifts that we don’t want, but once again, we don’t HAVE to keep the “things”. Just keep repeating, “It’s the thought that counts”.

And yes, I do know that some of the givers will be upset, but think about this: you asked them not to give you expensive gifts, but they did anyway and now you’re upset. Sometimes this is the only way to get your point across.


Jessica @ Faith Permeating Life October 6, 2011 at 10:12 am

I have returned some of her gifts–which can be a pain, trying to locate a store by us (she is in a different state) and then dealing with the post-holiday crowds! Some of the gifts I didn’t know where she got them from and had no way to return them. I planned to give to a friend the tea she gave me (I’m very picky about the tea I like), but it ended up not happening and so it has sat in our pantry taking up space ever since. Ah, well.


Ellie October 4, 2011 at 1:49 pm

Ah yes, Christmas Lists! Those are are solution, too – and we have the same problem of a few people who INSIST on getting us stuff not on the list!

By doing Christmas Lists, we can (mostly) avoid getting a bunch of “stuff” we don’t want. We just put things like theater tickets, gifte certificates to restaurants, museum membership renewals, wine/liquor/gourmet food items, and magazine subscriptions that we want anyway on the list. Occassionally, if we do want some “thing” (usually because the old one broke, or becaus we want to update some mundane part of the house), we put it on the list instead of buying it . This MOSTLY works…

Except for that ONE person (cough*mother-in-law*cough) who INSISTS on buying us stuff not on the list. It drives. me. crazy! If I’d wanted that stuff, I would have put it on the list! (If you HAD to get me something, you could have gotten me the boring thing I specifically asked for! It would have cost you less! Grrrr!) Sigh. There’s always one.

So no, I don’t have suggestions – but I sympathize!


Jessica @ Faith Permeating Life October 6, 2011 at 10:13 am

Glad to know I’m not alone! 🙂


Maggie G November 7, 2015 at 6:07 pm

I guess if your MIL really wants to give gifts, then perhaps something experiential (movie tickets, museum passes, restaurant gift card, sports tickets, etc), or something that can be used up fairly quickly ( food, beverages, locally produced products like soap, honey, etc) or something that you’d be very motivated to use…gift cert to your favorite thrift store, etc or a joint gift that helps the local economy like museum passes or she could pay for your tickets to a local festival or something. Or maybe she could pay for an online course in something you’d love. Good luck! 🙂


Adventures in Thrift Land October 3, 2011 at 10:41 am

I blogged about this last year. We have been successful in getting our family not to do Christmas in a big way. We talk about our feelings about “stuff” and consumerism often enough, it just became clear to them a normal Christmas didn’t do it for us.


Annie Jones October 3, 2011 at 10:43 am

I guess I’m fortunate in that several years ago, one of my sisters suggested that, instead of our annual name-draw gift exchange, we should have a cookie exchange instead. Well, the cookie idea didn’t last past that one year, but the idea of not exchange gifts stuck…we haven’t exchanged gifts at all since then. The next year, we simply told the members of my husband’s extended family that, while we would attend family gatherings, we were no longer exchanging gifts with them, either.

So now, our gift giving is very limited. We give to our granddaughter who lives with us, we give something to her teacher (homeroom only), and we usually give something to my husband’s boss. We don’t exchange gifts with our grown daughter and son-in-law, and we don’t exchange gifts with each other.

No one seems to miss the gift exchange part of the holiday. In fact, I think most are relieved about it.


Donna October 3, 2011 at 10:44 am

My daughter-in-law goes all out for Christmas. She never likes what I get for her or the kids. I tried to explain that I do not want or need anything but it did not even register. Sigh….


Meghan H October 3, 2011 at 10:45 am

A few years back, my mom and stepfather offered to stop buying items for us grown children (and there are no grandchildren, so we’re pretty much it.) Instead, she suggested we all go on a trip somewhere every spring. Now, I know this scenario costs more than if they had purchased items — but it has been much better for the family overall. We “kids” live in three different major cities, so having a chance to go somewhere warm in the spring and spend time together is a vast improvement over getting a box of stuff.


ellie October 3, 2011 at 2:45 pm

Meghan H.- we do the same. Homemade gifts for and from adults are o.k., but we gather as a family once a year instead – the grandchildren still get gifts, but not the adults. Sometimes we get all family members (at the Oregon coast 2 years ago,) and sometimes just whoever can leave jobs or school (2 days of wine tasting in the Willamette Valley this year). However, birthdays are a different matter – we all treasure birthday remembrances.


Linda H. October 3, 2011 at 11:03 am

I gave up and waved the white flag. The suggestions of a non-consumer Christmas have NOT been well received in past years. Tears have been shed by my mother and I lost a friend (who was fond of purchasing $100.00 gifts) when I suggested we not exchange anymore. My husband and I are very modest and give a couple of simple/practical gifts to each other. I am a clutter phobe. All of the other stuff I get, especially from people that know how I feel about the issue, I either return, re-gift or give to the Salvation Army the day after Christmas. Harsh, but true.


Katy October 3, 2011 at 11:07 am

My husband and I don’t exchange gifts either.



Queen Lucia October 3, 2011 at 11:07 am

Perfect timing – just started thinking about more ways to have a frugal and stress free holiday season. We’ve made progress with our families over the last several years: combination of gifts for kids only/ homemade food gifts/ exchanging names . We do gifts with my parents, mainly because I’m an only child and they do a lot of babysitting for us, so it’s a chance to say thank you. We generally buy 1 main gift for each of our two girls, and then nice stockings (I’m very good at stockings). Last year I persuaded my husband that we should each spend only $25 on each other – he was reluctant, but it worked out great – I had less trouble buying for him than I usually do!

My main problem with Christmas is the stress of trying to please everyone, and I’m really going to work on it this year. We finally were able to convince both sets of parents that we cannot be two places on both Thanksgiving and Christmas Day, so we now have an alternating schedule. This year I’m going to ask my husband and girls about the one most important thing to each of us during the holidays, then focus on those things. For instance, my favorite thing is the day we get our tree and decorate it – we have really good hot chocolate, Xmas music and a yummy dinner. I’ll try to protect that meaningful family time as much as possible. And oh yeah – shop less!


Virginia Dare October 4, 2011 at 5:15 am

You make a great point about focusing on what’s key. I’ll be 37 weeks pregnant by the time Christmas Day rolls around, so while I LOVE Christmas, I’m already preparing mentally for paring down the shopping, baking, and decorating to focus on what I really would miss.


Laura October 3, 2011 at 11:22 am

I remember miserable, stingy Christmases growing up (nothing from my list, just cheap things I or anyone else in the family didn’t want or need. My worst memory was my mom holding back the November & December family book order and wrapping those for my one gift that year, something I would have gotten anyway). We weren’t poor, but my parents hated Christmas and I guess wanted to make sure we hated it too. I dreaded going back to school and seeing all the beautiful gifts my friends had received. Just getting one thing I asked for, or something chosen with love and care, would have made all the difference.

So as an adult I over-compensated. Christmas became an expensive extravaganza at our home with loads of expensive gifts for everyone. We racked up lots of debt every year in order to try and achieve the elusive goal of the “perfect” Christmas. But I was miserable, and stressed out and eventually had to admit I hated the overblown Christmas just as much as the hyper-stingy one.

These days we have small tree. We exchange names within our immediate family only and give that person a gif (with a $35 limit. My husband and I give each daughter one special gift, something they really want or need or that would be useful. We fill each others stocking as well, but again, with useful items only and a little bit of candy. No stress, no credit, we stay within our budget and voila! Everyone is happier and we haven’t received any complaints from family and friends with whom we no longer exchange gifts.

I sure wish I’d figured this out a whole lot sooner.


Daisy October 3, 2011 at 11:32 am

What I have to suggest could cause calamity and I suppose a bit of heartache to those not yet on board but it may very well deliver the message. You could word it in such a way that causes them to choose you and your families company for a family gathering over gifts. State that you won’t attend XYZ dinner if you are expected to participate in the gift exchange OR pick up and leave at the gift exchange.

You could also very well plan your own small family non consumer Christmas and not see your other family members until after the New Year. Tell them that if they can’t respect your “lifestyle” choices/wishes then you will do your own thing.

Since we have lived a couple thousand miles from much of our family and no longer see what family that is local we have built our own family traditions in regards to Christmas. It is LOVELY to spend the day in jammies, munching on a few special snacks and food or the previous nights dinner and lounging together to watch movies. The world outside of our house doesn’t exist that day.


Daisy October 3, 2011 at 11:43 am

I guess I should add that IF we were to move back closer to family that our current Christmas plans would NOT change. It has become something we very much look forward to.


Annie Jones October 3, 2011 at 12:01 pm

I agree with this idea. In addition to our family members mutually deciding not to exchange gifts, there are years when it just doesn’t work out for us to all get together. No hard feelings when any or all of us decide to do our own thing.


Dogs or Dollars October 3, 2011 at 11:41 am

I always start with good intentions; Last year everyone was getting homemade soap. This year its jam. Then I slowly cave to pressure, and add a thing here or there for someone I know won’t appreciate our humble little gift. The next thing you know there are gift baskets of stuff surrounding my simple homemade thing. Not this year I declare! You will get jam and you will like it.

Except for my MIL who does not appreciate unpurchased gifts. At all. She was not a fan of the soap, even when accompanied by other things.

And my BFF, who I enjoy buying for more than anyone else on the planet.


Ani October 3, 2011 at 11:48 am

I guess I’m pretty lucky because I come from a poor family in which parents buy gifts for children (sometimes) and that’s it! Growing up I don’t think I ever saw one adult open a Christmas present. When I became a mother I bought tons of stuff for my son’s first three Christmases, but last year I realized that it really wasn’t serving any purpose and stopped. For us holidays are a private thing, and though I still have to deal with gifts from the in-laws, it’s been a pretty easy transition for us. We are Christian, so I doubt that we will ever stop reading the Christmas story and using it as a day to reflect on the life (and sacrifice) of Christ and to be thankful for the gift he gave mankind. 🙂


Ma October 3, 2011 at 12:01 pm

I’m trying to find the balance between frugality and just plain stinginess. I’m kind of looking forward to giving nice (but not expensive) things this year.

We’ve been working on the fam for years to tone it down, it’s definitely a process, but we are making progress.

Me and the hubby don’t exchange gifts, either.


A. Marie October 3, 2011 at 12:14 pm

Lots of thoughts about this one, both naughty and nice:

(1) Naughty: The best Christmas Eve ever while the in-law family tradition was still in effect was the one where my sis-in-law (Martha Stewart’s separated-at-birth twin) had the flu and couldn’t run things as per standard operating procedure, and we had a power outage that evening. My BH and I sat cozily around our fire, a neighbor dropped in with previously baked cookies, and all was harmony and joy.

(2) Nicer: Now that all the parents have passed on and the offspring in each family are left up to their own devices, things have become saner. On my side, we exchange donations to nonprofits (my oldest sister’s idea some years ago); on my husband’s side, we simply exchange good wishes (the family tradition there collapsed from sheer attrition/exhaustion).

(3) Nicer still: My BH and I are childless, and no longer exchange gifts by mutual consent. But we have evolved a very pleasant tradition with other childless folks (neighbors and friends): We gather on Xmas Day morning and exchange modest gifts, with emphasis on edibles, thrift-shopped items, and tickets to events. We then have a lovely brunch and a delightful time.

(4) Nicest: Seek out and enjoy the holiday music of your tradition, whether it’s Christian, Jewish, Druid (my personal preference), or whatever.


leezcheez October 3, 2011 at 12:22 pm

Approximately 4 years ago, I was talking to my youngest sister about what a financial strain christmas could be. She had just taken a job with a lesser salary to decrease her stress and improve her quality of life. A few days after this conversation, my side of the family (did I mention I have 6 siblings, 4 sibling “inlaws”, 2 parents, 12 nieces and nephews-4 of which have significant others…in other words a HUGE number to buy for) received an email from my sis stating her lack of means and desire to “change things up” . She suggested a “white elephant” gift exchange for the adults, along with a drawing among the children. (It has been a rite of passage of sorts for the adult nieces and nephews to turn 18 so that they too can participate in the “fun christmas”).The children would each pick a name and buy EACH OTHER a gift of 35-50 dollars. My one child got one gift and gave one gift…voila! And each year, the hunting through the house for the most unique white elephant has been a source of pleasure. We draw numbers, and the person who gets #1 unwraps their pick of the presents. Number two person either unwraps a new one OR takes the gift from number one. This has become the highlight for most of us come christmas day! Although some people buy new…which is not exactly the idea, most of the items are chosen based on either the hilarity of the object (ie the football shaped dip holder-which played the NFL theme song when opened), sentimental value(ie my mom’s old scrabble board with beat up box-rubberbanded together), or (as in the case of my VERY CONSUMER brother) usefulness (ie used ipod)…
If people give gifts other than that, they are typically homemade. Well, except for my mom and dad who politely ask for a gift list of a certain price range for each of the grandkids…but, at least our son can get that one big thing.
At home, we can then focus on the one or two gifts we make or buy for each other.
I now think christmas is wonderful!


Jessica @ Faith Permeating Life October 4, 2011 at 8:34 am

Our extended family has traditionally done a Secret Santa with a price limit. It used to be just cousins giving to cousins while the adults all contributed to stockings for each other. Then when the cousins got older, we put everyone’s name in together and you might be giving to an aunt, uncle, niece, nephew, (adult) sibling, or cousin. (Immediate families are always separate and do their own thing.) Now we’ve grown even larger, with new family members marrying in who had children, and cousins having children, so the plan is to do a White Elephant exchange. My husband and I will not be there for it but are hoping to participate via Skype, which should be much fun!


Heather October 3, 2011 at 12:44 pm

I grew up in a family that celebrated Christmas and Santa Claus. It was a huge deal, because other than your birthday that was it for gifts. I have tried to change this in my family.

Christmas is low-key. Each of my children receive one gift. They also receive a joint gift (last year it was a refurbished computer that my husband found). I have told my family that our holidays are for handmade, hand picked or handed down gifts. We do not typically purchase new. That doesn’t mean you won’t like it! We have set the expectation, and it works part of the time. Some of our family members get annoyed. I have told them that if they get pleasure out of buying something for us that is fine, but we don’t “need” anything. Sometimes I also give a list. My husband and I do exchange gifts, but it is always something we need like new shoes.

To address the issue of frugality and scrooge-like holidays, we try to make sure our children have what they need and talk about needs vs wants. We also try to spread out gift giving throughout the year.


darmuzz October 4, 2011 at 3:16 am

Heather – I agree with you. I find a lot of people deny themselves and their children all year, and then have a blow-out of indulgence at Christmas. I also try to ensure my family has what it needs all year, and give/receive a few “wants” at Christmas.


Anne Cross October 3, 2011 at 12:48 pm

I don’t have any more living relatives. My circle is all middle-aged people of different faith backgrounds, with very different incomes and family sizes. Last year, I told people that I would be giving home-made gifts, and if they wanted to opt-out of gift giving, they could just say the word. Most opted-out with relief. I love giving presents, and happily made food-type presents for friends.

I’m a Catholic and Christmas means a lot to me as a religious holiday. I love to celebrate Christmas by giving the gift of making a big meal and having people over around to celebrate this important day.


Kristen@TheFrugalGirl October 3, 2011 at 1:03 pm

I freaking LOVE Christmas. I think we do manage to celebrate it in a non-stressful, non-consumery, fun way, and I have so much to say on the topic, I’m going to write an ebook about it. But I won’t get it done before this Christmas. Next year!


Katy October 3, 2011 at 1:08 pm

You seemed to have a very balanced way of approaching Christmas. Also, your family seems a bit simpler than mine. That is, no step-parents, half siblings or step-siblings. My family is confusing, even to me. 😉



Kristen@TheFrugalGirl October 3, 2011 at 3:07 pm

This is true. I have a large family, but the lines are all very simple. lol


Barb @ 1SentenceDiary October 4, 2011 at 6:06 am

My family is quite confusing too, even to me! But it’s such fun, isn’t it? Having all those diverse people in my life is wonderful.

Next weekend I’ll be meeting my (step-)brother’s father for the first time. The father will be visiting town for the weekend, and they are staying with us. I adore my brother, and I am simply delighted that he feels comfortable enough not only to hang out at my house with me and the kiddos but also to bring his friends, his girlfriend, and now his dad by as well.


Sara Nickel October 3, 2011 at 1:18 pm

I just had “the talk” with my family. I had realized that gift giving was the main event at our Christmas gatherings and so in order to talk about getting rid of it, I had to offer a suggestion that would be an enjoyable, special activity in its place. Everyone is on board! And now we look forward to setting up ping pong, games, special baking, and getting cozy in the evening with a movie.


Megyn @Minimalist Mommi October 3, 2011 at 1:27 pm

Oh how we struggle with this! When we switched religions, we stopped celebrating the Christian ones, so we told family members that they won’t be getting gifts on their holidays. We gave them gifts on our holidays and they gave us gifts on theirs. It worked for awhile, until we became less religious. My in-laws aren’t big gifters, so that helps. My mom LOVES to shop and spend money. My whole family exchanges lists to better shop, but there’s always excess (especially with kids). For our kids, I often give quite a few of their new toys away. I rarely buy them new items, even for birthdays. My mom is ok with buying used, so we do ok in that department. I try to give family members practical gifts, like dog training for my sister (well her puppy rather). It’s a hard road, but we are trying. That’s the best anyone can do 🙂


Mindy October 3, 2011 at 1:35 pm

Quite a few years ago, our extended family gatherings turned into a one present per person gift exchange, excluding the little kids. We each would draw a name at Thanksgiving and buy for that person. Then a couple years ago, the name drawing got dropped and instead, everyone brings a unisex gift and we draw numbers to see who opens first. We have our own rules for “stealing” and so on. The limit has always been $15. This year, we’re changing it up just a bit and the rule is now that the gift has to be homemade. Still one gift per person. It could be anything from a planter box, a frozen meal, canned items, artwork, flavored vodka, etc. The whole concept works perfectly for us.

Now if we could just cut back on the immediate family spending…….


Susan C October 3, 2011 at 1:47 pm

This year will be the first year we won’t have all of our children home for Christmas since we moved out of the US. We have one child with us he is 13 and doesn’t want much. We will probably buy him a game for his PS3 or computer.
I am not sure how to address the gift giving situation with our children. I know they won’t expect much since over the years we have scaled down on gift giving do to less income. It costs too much to send them gifts from Ecuador, so we may get them gift cards from online, this way they can buy what they want or need.
Next year I hope to save enough money to fly them here for their present.
Our extended family has never been an active part of our Christmas. Which is nice in a way it saves us $, but sad because we don’t have the closeness as other families.


Rubymay1029 October 3, 2011 at 2:10 pm

One way to do the inevitable gift exchange with small groups of friends, i.e. book clubs, card clubs, etc. without being too offensive to the spenders in the group is to have an exchange where you have to “shop” for the gift you give in your own house. For my book club, we draw names and find something in our home that we think that friend would enjoy having. Books, movies and music CD’s are popular choices.


harriet October 3, 2011 at 2:26 pm

I love Christmas, I get excited about it like I was a kid, and I choose presents for family and friends all year round. I don’t understand why people get so stressed out about this stuff! If I want to buy my sister an expensive gift (and I do!) I give it to her. She never buys me anything nearly as expensive because she has less money. Who cares? It’s about the love and the thought, not the dollar signs.

I hate when people are big grinches about Christmas. Don’t exchange gifts if you don’t want to, but don’t deprive the rest of us the joy of finding and giving great gifts. And don’t pretend there’s something morally superior about smaller gifts as opposed to bigger ones. Give what you can from your own means and do so with a loving heart.


Annie Jones October 3, 2011 at 4:36 pm

That’s just it…in our family, we had reached the point that we weren’t finding joy in either the giving or the receiving of gifts. Some of us are generous, others are Grinchy. For me, it was becoming a chore to buy for people who might not be gracious about what I bought for them. I suppose it was also a chore for those who didn’t feel like spending their money on gifts. Perhaps that is why everyone quickly jumped on the bandwagon when it was suggested that we stop exchanging gifts. We all seem to enjoy the holiday more without the gifts.


Kate in NY October 3, 2011 at 5:41 pm

Harriet, I love the Non-Consumer Advocate (of course, who doesn’t?). I also always look forward to your comments here – today I even looked for your comment specifically, because I thought “Harriet will definitely have something to say about this.” I am fairly frugal all year long, and Christmas is my one chance to be somewhat extravagant – – – my kids do NOT get lots of stuff, but even my surly 13 year old recently said: “I just love how you spoil us at Christmas.” I think the key is that I do not feel resentful or bitter about this, and I put aside monthly money in an ING account for just this purpose. Whatever is in that account come December, I spend on the people I love. And it is FUN (for me, anyway, which is not to say that it would be for everyone).


harriet October 3, 2011 at 6:38 pm

You know, Kate, that’s great. I have a lot of happy memories of Christmas growing up. We didn’t have much money, but my parents worked hard to ensure we had a great Christmas, and I hope my own children have those happy memories too. We’ll see–they’re surly teenagers now too!


sheri October 4, 2011 at 5:52 am

i completely agree! i love love love giving gifts and i absolutely dont care if someone cant give at the same level. i almost prefer it that way – i LIKE them giving me silly, thrifted, homemade items because it is more meaningful to me, i can go to the store and buy myself anything i actually NEED. i think the whole point of a gift is to give someone something they wouldnt/cant get themselves, regardless of what they may give in return. for my sister in college that might mean a nice item of clothing she’s been wanting, tickets to an event, or a giftcard to a nice restaurant. for me, i couldnt be happier than when she gives me a few cds she made or a unique bracelet she found in a thrift store – her handmade cards always make me cry. and my mom never splurges on herself, its so fun to give her something luxurious. many times, i also give a corresponding charitable gift in their name to be mindful of how blessed we are. And, where appropriate, i give homemade cookies/candies where the person would appreciate that (my aunt who has everything, my group of friends, a few coworkers). i too save all through the year and look for sales/coupons/cash back when i shop, but as long as im not going into debt over it i dont see the problem in giving gifts that i can afford and the receiver wants. of course, i also love all the non-consumery parts of christmas too, decorating, good meals with family, board games, singing carols (badly) and general festivities. i am a true christmas fanatic


Adrienne October 3, 2011 at 3:14 pm

This is why Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday (just food).
Our problem isn’t so much the getting of gifts but the kids receiving of gifts. One grandmother is so over the top it’s unbelievable. The kids get overwhelmed and we have no where to put all the stuff. I’ve tried talking to her many times but there is no stopping her. It really ruins the holidays for us. I know she means well but she just causes stress and unhappiness for all of us. (yes I’ve tried telling her this but she just hears what she wants to hear….)


April October 3, 2011 at 3:19 pm

We solved our big gift exchange by making a donation to a meaningful charity in our relatives’ name. We all agreed to it the first year. The rest of the family dropped off in the following years, but we continued. Everyone know what is coming from us and don’t get us anything. Even if we are the only one donating, at least I know the animal rescue is getting much needed funds and we don’t get things we didn’t ask for and don’t need. And no one can say they need a gift more than a food bank or the cancer fund.


Jessica @ Faith Permeating Life October 4, 2011 at 8:37 am

I asked for donations instead of gifts last year, but no one did it. Going to try again this year…


Molly October 3, 2011 at 3:57 pm

In years past where we both have heavty incomes have been difficult. Family and friends have a hard time understanding why we wouldn’t want tons of presents. Now that we are both unemployed it’s so lov-er-ly. We can just pull out the ‘we can’t afford it’ card and ‘we will sell it if you get it but can you really blame us’ card!


shari October 3, 2011 at 4:24 pm

I have actually taught workshops on this topic. I love Christmas but it has never been about the stuff. It is not a religious holiday for me, either, but rather a spiritual season. I have never emphasized “the day,” and that has always made it much easier to not focus on the consumer aspect of it. We emjoy the music, the lights, the cookies baking, and other peaceful domestic moments and I am a winter-lover anyway (hate summer quite a lot and always wait eagerly for winter)–we have always celebrated a season. There are gifts–small ones. My husband and I might buy used stuff or we might donate to a charitable organization. Sometimes we make ebooks for each other with letters, photos and poetry. My mother-in-law was always thrilled with the yearly framed family photo. This can literally cost a couple of bucks to have the photo printed and then put it in a thrift store frame or a mat from a craft store. Other gift ideas would be framing a vintage family photo or two, creating digital scrapbooks with family photos, giving people things you make–baked goods, fabric or yarn items if you’re into that, or whatever you’re good at. You can collect the makings of a meal and put it in a basket, box, or bag and you would be providing a gift without cluttering someone’s home. Give coffee, tea, cocoa or something like that–it could be something the person likes but would not normally buy for themselves. You could tell people you want to focus on experiences instead of stuff and maybe ask for museum passes or something like that. Some people, though, enjoy the gift giving–I was teaching a workshop one year and someone told me that she really loved buying a gift for her sister. They lived far apart and did not spend the holiday together and for this person, it made her happy to find the gift. That may be true of many people. It may help to remember that sometimes graciously accepting a gift can be a kindness you provide to the giver of that gift. You can always find someone to donate it to later, but you have done them the service of accepting what they have given you cheerfully. This is not something I have always been good at myself, but something I have had to learn. Sometimes, too, you just have to say, “We are not buying gifts this year and here’s why.” Make a donation to a charitable institution instead if it makes you more comfortable and tell people you are doing that. I also agree with the commenter above who loves to snack her way through Christmas in her jammies. That pretty much sums up the way we have celebrated for over 25 years. We spend the day laughing and hanging out together. No big meal, no kitchen to clean, no pressure–just being together and enjoying each other. You just have to make a stand–decide what is important to you and communicate that. It is true that some people won’t like it, but really, you can’t be held hostage by what other people think. It may take some time for them to get it, but eventually, they realize that the sky is not falling, and they may or may not come around–but you gotta do what you gotta do!!


Amanda October 3, 2011 at 4:37 pm

I usually make chocolate truffles, turtles and toffee for friends and family. For extra special people, I add in some homemade jams or other handmade goodies. This year I’m also making goat milk soap. I have a SIL who is childless, so she completely spoils my children, buying them the biggest, loudest toys (as if they need any more!!). My parents also spoil them, as they are the only grandkids, but since they live across the country, they have to contain themselves and not send as much junk to them. Christmas just stresses me out, trying to make it all ‘equal’. I’d rather not exchange with my hubby, but he loves to give me things (maybe I’ll ask for more goats this year) feeling like he ‘has to’ since it’s Christmas!! I try to put my foot down, but no one listens, so I look like the jerk with the small basket of homemade goodies.


harriet October 3, 2011 at 6:42 pm

Maybe you should relax about it! I love spoiling my baby niece with expensive toys, now that my kids are too old to get excited over a rocking horse. I love buying toys!

It doesn’t have to be about equality. Give what you want and let other people give what they want and don’t try to spoil their fun. If there’s really way too much stuff, give some of it to the less fortunate.


Indigo October 3, 2011 at 6:11 pm

I remember a lot of shoestring and less Christmases growing up. We were always broke, but especially in the dead of winter when we kids would get sick racking up doctor bills, the heat bill would rise, and whatever in the house was about to blow, blew, along with tempers.

Even as a little kid I knew I could never spend my way to a happy Christmas. I saved and when shopping at the dollar store and the Attic, Basement, and Cellar sale at a thrift shop to buy my family presents, trying to find just one small thing that would be perfect for that person.

I still stick with that mentality now. I’m constantly on the lookout for something that just suits someone. One year it was a warm colored wall tapestry for my Mum who always wants but never buys art for her walls, polished stone bookends for my older brother who used to collect rocks and constantly had music books falling off the piano, and sometimes I make things such as a chai tea blend in decoupaged box for my grandmother who has too many knick knacks thanks to 5 kids, 13 grand kids, 8 great grand kids, and a very full life.


Nina Nelson October 3, 2011 at 7:05 pm

A month ago I sent out a Facebook message (I kind of hate talking on the phone) to all extended family letting them know that we would like to not do the traditional gift-giving anymore. It helps if you can cite low-income as a factor and they’re much more likely to agree if they are also in the same situation.

Here’s the list of ideas I sent to them:

Don’t give gifts at all. Instead have a special potluck meal together.

Give gifts that help other people. A family donation to charity or donating our time to help someone else.

Only get gifts for the kids (and, personally, I’m thinking stuff they really need or gift cards to fun places. We tend to get rid of a lot of toys)

Give the same gift to each family – one that’s inexpensive and preferably hand made. Like cookies, a loaf of bread, a meal for the freezer. Something enjoyable.

Pick one person to give to – like we’ve been doing. But get something that they need or really want and buy it used or make it yourself if possible.

Set a $5 limit – like the change Christmas experiment I led at our church last year. It was a big success.


Katy October 3, 2011 at 7:56 pm

Well . . . I just sent out an e-mail to my extended in-laws suggesting a handmade only Xmas. I’m crossing my fingers.



Ellie October 4, 2011 at 2:05 pm

If handmade only doesn’t work (or if someone wants another idea), may I suggest another/compatiable option?

How about suggestions a “no things” gift-giving? As in, gift certificates for expereinces only (restaurants, theater, massage, museums passes, sports tickets, whatever), OR a donations made in someone’s name. I would also count consumables, like food (homemade or purchased) and liquor that people actually like, as “not-things”, since you eat them up and they go away! That way people can give gifts, but you don’t get clutter!

(We do a modified version of this: my in-laws are big gift-givers, but fotuately they use lists, so those of us who don’t want “things” can ask for theater tickets, gift certificates, a nice bottle of scotch, etc. There is one person doesn’t respect this, but it could be a lot worse. And we get non-thing “things” we anctually want, rather than THING CLUTTER we don’t!)


Nina Nelson October 5, 2011 at 7:53 am

That is a really great idea. I think we’re going to add micro-brews to our list of non-thing things. 🙂


Nina Nelson October 5, 2011 at 7:51 am

I hope they go for it! Last year my in-laws got all of their kids things that they’d asked for – movies and other miscellaneous stuff. But since my husband and I didn’t ask for anything, they got us something really thoughtful. It was a big dish basin, some towels, a bath mat, soap and lotion – for washing each others feet. We’ve used it many times and I didn’t mind getting a little bit of stuff because the gift was so meaningful. And I use that basin a lot for other stuff as well.


Cate October 5, 2011 at 9:58 am

Those are all great ideas! My in-laws go all out for holidays, but one of my favorite gifts they’ve given my husband and I was a big plastic crate full of fancy popcorn and movie candy, with a Netflix gift voucher. Nothing to store after we were done with all the goodies inside, and we still use the crate for storing some of my daughter’s books. I would be beyond pleased if that was the only gift they gave us every year!


Amy October 3, 2011 at 8:22 pm

This is where I consider myself lucky in that we don’t have a large extended family, and the ones we do have enjoy homemade items (consumables usually like soap and foods). For our kids, we do 5 gifts each: one from each person in the family and one from “Santa.” To reduce clutter, when they get something new, something old has to go. 5 new gifts = 5 things leaving per kid.

That said, I usually have all my Christmas shopping done by June, save for food items that I make and christmas cards (I also make those). By starting early, I can really stretch my dollars by playing the waiting game for the perfect deal to come along. I should also say that we do lots of experience gifts instead of physical things: trips to the local aquarium/science center/aviary and the like.

It makes me sad that you hate Christmas because of consumerism. It’s such a fun time of year for us, but I don’t think it would be if we went nuts spending or receiving.


Barb October 3, 2011 at 8:26 pm

Wow, you have a lot of responses. I’m with Harriet on this one-I enjoy christmas. More importantly, I dont buy into the “he who gives the smallest christmas present wins. In our family (about thirteen people on one side) we share gifts. This generally are things we would not buy for ourselves or things we need, big or small. Personally I looove shopping for christmas gifts and now that my kids are grown we open them after christmas eve mass (the immediate family gifts). Last year I got a real teakettle. I love it but would never have gotten it for myself-I was using the micro wave. It probably cost twelve dollars and it matches my kitchen. Perfect.


Megg October 3, 2011 at 8:46 pm

I have 3 sets of grandparents, and we all do something completely different, especially now that most of the grandkids are grown-up. My mom’s stepmother and father have a lot of money, so they always give gifts. This year, thankfully, they gave us blankets. Not something we needed, but definitely useful. Usually they spend about $50.

On the other side, my mom’s stepfather and mother don’t have money, so we have alternated between exchanging names, giving PJs and, lately, choosing a charity to give to. This can also get out of control easily, but I like that better than giving each other gifts.

On my dad’s side we usually get gift cards to book stores. Thankfully I have recently convinced my grandmother to give me things from her house because she’s trying to get rid of stuff and I have attachment to a lot of things there!

Since I’m newly married, my husband’s side of the family is new to me, but thankfully they seem to be pretty laid back. In the extended family we exchange names and have a $25 limit, and in his immediate family we are moving towards all handmade.
My husband and I do exchange gifts…and I like it that way. This year everything I got him was paid for with swagbucks! Our anniversary is on Jan. 2nd, and I think we’re going to start a tradition of going out for a really nice dinner instead of exchanging gifts.

All in all, I like what we do…it works for us. I have no idea how things will play out when we have kids though…


helen October 3, 2011 at 8:48 pm

A few evenings during December, I bring out a huge box with all kinds of paper supplies, pencils, crayons, glue, stickers, magazines, scissors what have you etc. for family card making. The goal is for everyone to make a personal card for each family member (we have 6 kids 12-19 years old) and write something nice about the receiver (characteristics or fun memories). Jokes and poetry and rhymes are encouraged. On Xmas, we put all the cards in everyone’s stockings. The kids also get some candy and a little money to buy themselves something they really want after the holidays or put into savings. We spend a long time opening and reading and showing off our cards. Tons of fun.
In addition when grandparents arrive we have a crazy/fun/silly gift exchange where everyone puts in one gift worth less than $20–kids participate too except really young ones–with rules for pulling numbers and stealing from each other and having fun. We have asked relatives and grandparents to only bring that one $20 gift for the exchange and no individual gifts at all.
We love our low-stress non-consumer gift giving traditions!! It is so nice not to have to shop in crowded stores but instead spend a few fun evenings creating cards together. In addition we have baking days, cooking days, gingerbread decorating, and tree cutting and decorating times together leading up to a low stress enjoyable holiday.


Jean October 3, 2011 at 9:02 pm

Harriet and Kate in NY, thank you! I too LOVE Christmas–have several gifts already bought and some sewn. I truly love the choosing or making something special for people I care about, the wrapping, the decorating, the cards, and I budget for it. I do a holiday club at a local bank that is the best deal going, as the $25 bonus they throw in for making your monthly deposit by electronic transfer is better than any interest on savings accounts. My kids are adults and still love the stockings, so we still do them for everybody, including having some generic stockings and stuffers around for last minute guests. Some of the items I put in stockings are practical, some are just fun, but it’s a tradition, including the sequined felt stockings my mother lovingly made for each of us. A few years back, my son was bringing a serious girlfriend home for Christmas and I asked my daughter what we should get her. Her reply–there are three things we always get at Christmas–the stocking, a calendar and a tree ornament, so make sure she gets those. The ornaments are a tradition I began with my childrens first Christmas–by the time they left home, they each had quite an ornament collection, since other family members found out about it and frequently gave them one too. Some are themed to their interests at the time, many are handmade. On my side of the family, which is small, we still exchange gifts. On my better half’s side,which is large, all is confusion! A few years back, we went from exchanging gifts to a name drawing, and then my sil’s decided we would only buy for the children. Then last year, one of them showed up with gift baskets for each family and a few of us had always bought for my mother in law. So this year I am just going to do what I want to, also–it’s about giving from the heart, not receiving and not being “equal”. I am frugal about nearly everything else all year long, and am certainly not extravagant at Christmas, but it is not something on my list to simplify or economize out of existence–there is far too much joy in it for me.


Candy October 3, 2011 at 9:05 pm

I have a large and diverse family as well. There is my mom and siblings and their significant others, children, etc. Then my dad, step mom, their children, etc. And finally hubby’s mom and dad, siblings, children, etc.
When I turned 18 I told my family I would not be buying presents, and did not expect to receive presents. I was a poor college student and had just read ‘The Tightwad Gazette’ 😉 I stuck with it even when certain family members thought I was acting ‘better than them’. When I married hubby, his family didn’t exchange gifts either. Eventually they get it, and they either get on board, or have a change in lifestyle that causes them to get on board reluctantly.
Finally, this past year, we only got together and had a meal together, played games, no pressure! If there are little ones, the parents have their little present exchange before the get together. It only took them *ahem* ump-teen years to come to ‘the dark side’
What I have done for the past many years since I chose not to exchange gifts because of a certain date on the calendar is, if I find out something someone really likes, or wants, and is practical, I will surprise them with it. It’s great to see them light up when it is truly a surprise.


Kate October 3, 2011 at 10:03 pm

You’ve hit the nail on the head when you start to mention family. That’s the key: engaging & encouraging family members. Two years ago I decided to make all my Christmas gifts. I started telling my family about this, and why I was doing it, a few months in advance. They were worried at first, but really impressed after they received their gifts. Now I get requests all the time for my homemade vanilla, vanilla sugar, jams … you name it!


Kris October 4, 2011 at 1:43 am

I have an enormous extended family. Now that we are all spread out, this will be our 4th year of giving a group donation to International Justice Mission ( I started this with the recession hit in 2008 and the family were actually relieved.

My immediate family however, are just going to do what they’re going to do. They know I personally don’t want clutter, so I get a combination of 1 or 2 very useful things I ask for (like this year I need one of those stones for sharpening knives) and gift cards for things I like to do. But for themselves, they like what they like and that’s OK. Love and let live.


Valynne October 4, 2011 at 2:06 am

I used to give myself hives over the whole holiday gift exchange thing (Merry Christmas to me). It took me a long time to come to terms with the fact that not only could I not afford to give gifts to everyone I knew, I wouldn’t want to even if I could. Almost all of us have too much stuff as it is, and here I had been contributing to the problem, year in and year out! It was mostly a guilt thing. Meh. These days, I send cards with handwritten notes. I remember when the shift occurred ~ had an epiphany one year and never looked back…


Michelle October 4, 2011 at 2:59 am

For several years now, I’ve asked my dad’s side of the family to give to a charity that I select and set up a fundraising page for on It usually works; although, last year I received a gift card but that’s not too bad. At least I don’t get stuff.

My mother’s side of the family stopped exchanging gifts awhile ago. We give my grandmother money and she buys something for a needy family. I don’t have children so that makes things simpler too.


AnnDenee October 4, 2011 at 4:07 am

There is a difference between buying gifts because it’s expected and because you want to. I come from 2 very different families in terms of their value systems. My mom’s family are very frugal, rich-in-family, but not money people. My dad’s family are very over-the-top and “socially acceptable” people.
When I go to the family-do on my dad’s side, I don’t know anyone and they don’t know me, but I am expected to bring gifts .. no, I don’t enjoy that at all. Inevitably, I bring home gifts that while appreciated, they don’t bring joy to my home. It just adds to the clutter which I am working hard to clear out, but I do take it home out of a sense of obligation. Where is the joy in that? Does the giver even care that I feel this way? In my situation, they don’t because to them, it isn’t about the receiver’s feelings, but it is about their feelings of giving.
On my mom’s side, the family-do is simple home-made foods and gifts, games and acceptance.
There has to be a balance. To the enthusiastic gift-givers — have a conversation, an honest conversation with the receivers on your list about this beforehand. Make sure the gifts you are giving with such good intentions are being received in the way you intend.


Jinger October 4, 2011 at 4:30 am

I love the Christmas season. My favorite part is making gifts for my friends and family and finding stocking stuffers all year round for my adult children. They love their stockings. The stocking is the only gift I give them, filled with gift cards and other small mementos. This year for my sisters and women friends I am making items for spa baskets…body soaks, bath fizzies and eye pillows. I love the sounds, sights and smells of the season as well….sitting in front of my fireplace, drinking hot chocolate with carols playing…pure bliss.


Cate October 4, 2011 at 4:42 am

We are not religious, but we LOVE Christmas. And we do go a little overboard in terms of our spending (always paid for in cash!), but we try to value quality over quantity. We’ve scaled down in recent years and enjoy it just as well. Thankfully, my husband is an only child, meaning we only have to buy for his parents on his side.

My side of the family is a little more complicated. I have a biological sister in addition to two stepsiblings, both of whom are married with children or children on the way. My mom has remarried (hence the stepsiblings) but my dad has not. All of us stepsiblings do an ornament exchange each year (one ornament per couple), and we love it. It’s inexpensive, and we all enjoy picking out a unique ornament. We give small gifts to each other’s children.

But, much as we love giving and receiving gifts, we try not to make gift-giving the focus of the season. This year will be the first using the advent jar I made last year, and I’m looking forward to it:


Laure October 4, 2011 at 5:42 am

My family has (more or lesss succesfully) organically turned into a non-consumer Christmas for adults, as well as birthdays, by stressing how much we LOVE gifts that you get to enjoy and use up. It started with my mom’s begging for theater/symphony tickets and gradually expanded. Granted, this can include bath products/candles, but for the great majority it means food or beverages. This works well, because someone who doesn’t want to scale back – or is short on time – can give expensive bottles of wine or a gourmet food basket of cheeses, etc. Someone with more talent and time can make their own jelly for everyone, which could cost very little if you had your own source of free fruit/cucumbers/whatever. One year a family member made chutney for everyone. Many people had never even heard of chutney before, and this was a big hit. Since we all entertain during the holidays, all of the food/beverage ends up saving each of us time, as well, which is much appreciated.


Jennifer October 4, 2011 at 5:48 am

One year I told my parents not to buy any toys for our son. He had plenty! I suggested clothes or books instead. (Still consuming, but more practical, anyway.) I said we had no room for any more toys at our home, so if they chose to buy toys, the toys would stay at Grandma and Grandpa’s house.

They ignored my request, and spent a fortune on toys. Boy, were they steamed when I let my son choose ONE toy to take to our house, and we left the remainder at their house for when he went to visit.

After that year, they began to listen a bit more. 🙂


Cate October 4, 2011 at 6:59 am

Hehe! I love that approach. My in-laws are lovely but have a habit of buying enormous toys, and we’ve donated many of them over the years because we just don’t have the room.


Katy @ Purposely Frugal October 4, 2011 at 6:22 am

We try to buy things that we really will use. One year I was needing a new pair of jeans, so my hubby got me a giftcard for jeans. I could have just gone and bought them, but it was funner getting a giftcard and making it a gift. I bought him tools one year and he often gets socks from me too! 🙂


Barb @ 1SentenceDiary October 4, 2011 at 6:24 am

As for gift giving, I’m kind of haphazard about it. We are a big and complicated family, and we tend to give gifts to the kids but no one is particularly bent out of shape if one of the uncles doesn’t send a gift. Adults — we exchange presents more along the lines of “I just knew you would want this” and only if something presents itself. No gift giving is ever required or expected. And it’s not always on a holiday, either. If I see or think of something that is perfect for a loved one, I will give it to them, regardless of the date.

A couple of years ago one of my sisters-in-law gave me a crock-pot cookbook that she had on her shelf. She said she had heard me say I wanted one like it, so she made copies of the few recipes that she used from the book and then wrapped and gave it to me. I was delighted! I still use it, and I love it.


Annie October 4, 2011 at 6:29 am

Several years ago, my sister-in-law made and froze a dozen meals, side dishes and desserts and gave them to me as a Christmas present. It was, beyond doubt, the most thoughtful gift I’ve ever received.


Katy October 4, 2011 at 6:46 am

That is an awesome gift! I am deeply envious.



Tamela October 4, 2011 at 6:50 am

I can’t imagine Christmas without Jesus. He is the reason for the season we so often hear. But more than that, I can’t imagine my life without Him in it on a daily basis. I pray that this holiday season you may search to see how Jesus could bring so much for into your life if He were included. He loves you and gave His life for you all you have to do is accept Him and your life can be changed forever and you can have eternal life.


Katy October 4, 2011 at 6:54 am

It sounds like being Christian is very important and meaningful for you. However, I am Jewish.

Please respect that.



Liz October 5, 2011 at 5:07 pm

It is interesting that biblical scholars agree that Jesus was actually born in October, not on December 25. And, Christmas as a holiday has pagan origins.

Personally, Christmas is no big deal for me. My father is a non-practicing Catholic, and my mother became a Jehovah’s Witness (from Episcopalian) when I was little, so I never really had Christmas. (Relatives weren’t hugely into it and for the most part respected my mother’s wishes not to give us gifts.) If you’ve never had it, it’s completely and utterly meaningless to you, and it’s no big deal not to celebrate it. As an adult (and not a Jehovah’s Witness myself) I, like another poster, and “haphazard” about gift-giving. My husband’s family, as a rule, only gives gifts to the kids. But the nieces and nephews have no many aunts and uncles that they get a million gifts… and no one really notices if someone forgets to give something one year. My husband and I sometimes exchange gifts, sometimes not. We don’t usually do a tree, and if we do exchange gifts, they’re usually small. Sometimes we’ll just travel instead. As much as I felt “different” from other kids growing up, as an adult it feels hugely freeing to not have the burden so many other people have.

That said… when an older woman with whom I volunteer asked me how my Easter (another overly commercial holiday) was, and I said I didn’t celebrate Easter, she told me (knowing nothing about me) that clearly I had never had any problems in life, but that when I did, I would find Jesus. She said she would pray for me that I would find Jesus, and “not go to hell”!!! I told her thanks, that’s okay (and quite frankly though I have no religion, I believe that if there is a God, it is not Jesus… Jesus would at most be God’s son (if not just a man.) She wouldn’t let up. Please, respect other people’s religions, or lack thereof!


Lizzy October 4, 2011 at 7:42 am

I always got stressed out over Christmas shopping for extended family. (I have two children and have always limited their gifts to three each.) Last year however, I gave each of my siblings’ families a tabletop pizza oven. This year I will give each family an ice cream maker. I gave my father a bottle of vodka and my mother a plant from the nursrey (we live in Florida). That reduced stress and spending for me, plus the waste of more broken, unwanted toys hitting the landfills.


lindsey October 4, 2011 at 9:30 am

I have a huge garden and most of my friends and relatives do not. So, I spend the year scouting out nice large baskets at garage sales, and in September I give baskets of vegetables and a few jars of homemade jams or relishes. I have found that people like getting the food and like that it is not arriving when all the other Christmas stuff is…It also saves me money and I really, really enjoy thinking about each person as I put in potatoes, pumpkins and peas and so on in each basket. It is sort of like praying for them for those few minutes I am focused on them.

As for what people give us, I ask for high quality toilet paper and my favorite kleenex. It took a while, but after a few years I pretty much have everyone trained. They think it is a hoot and I am always very effusive and reiterate how much money this saves us over the year—and that I would only buy the cheapest stuff, so it is a luxury to get soft toilet paper. And if someone gives me something really over the top, I thank them and either use it or pass it on. I feel like part of kindness is not making people feel awkward or insisting that they adhere to my version of Christmas—they can do it their way and I do it mine. Sometimes my gift to them is that I don’t get all cranky because they don’t chose to live the way we do; I want to be polite about this, but a lot of folks who commented on this topic sound very righteous and mean-spirited—Christmas is their way or the highway. If you don’t like or want a gift, then honor the person who made the effort and pass it on.

My husband always makes my gift, as he is a skilled carpenter. I buy him presents but I don’t go overboard. And we spend Christmas day going to a movie (which we seldom do because of the prices!).


Denise Johnson October 4, 2011 at 6:27 pm

Well Said.


cathy October 4, 2011 at 10:39 am

For our family, Christmas is all about the birth of Jesus and celebrating that and honoring his life. We will save a special offering…kids and adults, it’s a family thing…to be donated to a charity our church sponsors. This is something aside from our usual giving, and we will make a point of learning as much as we can about the charity and the people they are helping. To us, that is what it’s about, not elaborate decorations and gifts, not focusing on ourselves, but the needs of others.

We bake cookies or other treats for our neighbors and co-workers. Then we focus our celebrating on doing activities together and being with family and friends, and celebrating Jesus…the local Christmas parade, a concert, an interactive nativity drama, zoolights, a night drive to look at lights, making gingerbread houses….we usually don’t have enough time to do everything we think of! We give minimal, if any, gifts to adults, and everyone is quite happy with this. For the kids we give a couple of gifts that are of good quality and will last for a long time vs lots of cheap, soon to be broken toys.


Samantha October 4, 2011 at 7:37 pm

It’s been a slow process over the past few years to turn our holidays away from the gift giving so much as our time together. We start about 3 years ago – first we just drew names and only bought for one person.
Last year my husband and I didn’t give gifts at all but instead “acts of service” – for our mom’s we gave them flowers each month (we got creative – potted forced bulbs, garden grown sunflowers), for our siblings we baked them one treat each month. It definitely took the pressure off the holidays!
This year we are not exchanging gifts at all and instead are pooling our resources to rent a cabin together as a family next summer. My mother was diagnosed with stage 4 cancer in the Spring and it really drove home to my family that gifts are not important – our time together is what we really value.


Bet October 5, 2011 at 6:49 am

Even in the “flush” years, we have never given expensive gifts for Christmas. Our kids friends get i-pods, i-phones, Playstations, etc. but we have never done that. If our kids want those things they can buy them, and they usually get some money from us and some from their grandfather.

We have had several years when my husband didn’t have work for a couple of months around Christmas and we told the kids in advance that they would get some things in their stockings, and nothing else. No matter what age they were, they were fine with that. We still decorated a tree and had a feast on Christmas. My husband’s father spends Christmas with us, and we emphasize the time together. He often takes us all to a movie (a movie in the theater is a rare treat!) while he is with us.

We stopped the aunts, uncles, and cousins giving gifts years ago. My husband and I don’t live near any of them and we didn’t know them well enough to give or get a meaningful gift anyway! And we told them we would rather have a family picture and a letter catching us up. We have often done that (can’t even afford THAT anymore) and but they never did. We made up for it with phone calls on Christmas Day.

Now, I confess that I LOVE to give and receive presents, so this is not what I want to do. But I refuse to go into debt to finance Christmas!


Madeline October 5, 2011 at 7:38 am

Over the years we have made Christmas into an OUTDOOR celebration. We live in Arizona. Most of our relatives live far away and we never did have a family gift giving routine, except I send My Dad and step Mom a food gift from Harry and David which they LOVE. My in laws were never gift givers, my mother in law returned ANYTHING anyone ever got her so years ago we all stopped buying her gifts.

Nieces and nephews are scattered all over, and know that there is not an extended gift giving policy in this family! Everyone celebrates with their own family in the way that is meaningful to them..

Here in Az. we have a Christmas day hike with our grown children, we exchange ONE small gift (everyone knows I LOVE to receive movie going gift certificates!) I usually give our son some Chipotle Grill gift certificates. It’s his fave. lunch spot. We often drive up to Sedona and pick a red rock hike we have’t done before. I gave up cooking huge meals on holidays, we prefer to be outdoors all day.I usually leave a crock pot of pasta sauce going for when we get home..


Rebecca B. A. R. October 5, 2011 at 10:38 am

I always ask for pictures (candid is fine!) of my extended family and my friends. My two friends that have children, I always ask for a homemade picture from the kids for my present. I absolutely love both–I also really love getting Christmas cards with messages in them, or Christmas letters. Knowing that people are thinking of me is what I really want, not more gifts to clutter up my house. I think that helps people feel like they don’t need to get me anything and takes the pressure off of them.
My dad always asks for a Christmas list from me and my husband every year. We usually ask for books that have been on our “want list”, and my husband always asks for the current Hallmark Star Trek ship ornament that is out, since he collects and displays them.
I have a dresser that is full of gifts for others, that I buy thoughout the year (getting the best prices that way). I keep a list of what I get people, and what I still need to get for people. So far I’m almost done with Birthdays, Christmases, and Mother/Father’s day gifts up through the year 2013. The only ones that I usually wait longer on are the 3-4 kids that I buy for, since they have changing tastes. I can’t have kids, so I really enjoy getting gifts for the 4 kids I buy for. I really try to get the “perfect” thought out gift for everyone, but I definitely don’t spend a lot of money! I love giving gifts, and about 3 years ago I started including a family picture in our Christmas cards to people. I usually only spend around $300 on all gifts (b-day, Christmas, etc.) per year.
Christmas is about celebrating Jesus’s birth more than anything to me.


Andi October 6, 2011 at 9:23 am

My husband’s family is very large, and they enjoy exchanging gifts liberally. A few years ago, mother-in-law decreed that no gift for the adults should exceed $10. At first I was horrified at the thought of so many cheap gifts entering my house (even as I was happy at the reduction in expenses), but then I decided to ask for exactly what I wanted – books, fat quarters of fabric, and yarn, since I’m a crafter. The best part is that I can usually turn the yarn and fabric into a scarf or mittens or a shawl or quilt or yoga bag to give as gifts the next year.


Anne Marie @ Married to the Empire October 6, 2011 at 9:32 am

I adore Christmas, and I love to give gifts. It’s kind of my specialty. I’m the person everyone in the family goes to when they can’t figure out what to get for someone because I can usually nail it. It gives me great joy and pleasure to give well-thought-out gifts, whether storebought or homemade.

Where I cut back on Christmas, though, is in the activities and miscellaneous gift exchanges. I really hate going to parties with the expectation of bringing a gift for some pointless gift exchange. So, I either skip the party or just don’t participate in the exchange. (For example, the women’s group at church always does one, and it’s usually themed. Everyone gives socks or scarves or $10 gift cards. What’s the point?) I also don’t participate in cookie exchanges. I hate baking cookies, so why stress myself out to do something just because it’s traditional?

Also, we only give gifts to family. Our little group of friends with whom we often celebrate birthdays and various holidays usually exchanges gifts, but I tend only to give things like homemade bread. The others are free to give us expensive gifts if they so choose, which they usually do, but we don’t reciprocate in kind. Can’t afford it, nor do we want to get caught in that cycle.

I’m actually extremely careful with our schedule in December. I see others completely stressed out over all the Christmas activities and supposed obligations, and I don’t get it. Just say no! A perfect December evening for me is being home with my husband, drinking a cup of tea, and watching a Christmas movie.


Emily October 7, 2011 at 12:27 pm

I couldn’t agree more with what most people are saying – Christmas (if you celebrate it) should be able spending quality time with family and enjoying and being thankful for what you have, not endless streams of presents. From this year we are stopping exchanging gifts with extended family (some of whom we rarely see so buy us unsuitable unwanted presents and vice versa) and friends. From now on we are only doing presents with parents and siblings and sending good wishes to everyone else. It’s such a relief and will save us and them a lot of money!!


Auntie Karen December 13, 2013 at 2:53 pm

One of the most delightful photos from our nephews’ younger days. I have grabbed it for our family album. Thanks for posting today’s blog.


angela November 7, 2015 at 2:29 pm

I’m happy to say after many years, it’s been a long transition, I think the bulk of my expenses are food for the holidays. I’m hoping that means that being together around the table has become the priority of the season.

Reply November 7, 2015 at 9:41 pm

It is hard to save money at Christmas. With a lot of planning on years when I wasn’t working as much I was able to create fantastic family Christmas celebrations for very little money, some years almost nothing. Lots of food and useful/fun gifts through couponing, swagbucks, frugal living, buying ahead and a bunch of other tips and tricks I picked up like using free gift cards to buy gifts. This year is going to be harder because I am working so much I don’t have a huge amount of time to devote to it but challenge accepted!

I wrote about how I save money during the holidays here-


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