The Case for Saying Goodbye to Christmas Gifts Forever

Today is the 27th of December, three days after Christmas Eve. Today is also the ideal time to start thinking about next year’s Christmas presents. If that statement gives your shopping-sick self a headache, bear with me. Your future self will thank you profusely every upcoming December for the rest of your life.

It is time To Finally Stop Buying Christmas Presents

At a societal level in the Western world, Christmas now means going absolutely bonkers in the consumerism department as much as it means spending time with family and friends. That needs to change, for the sake of our collective sanity, for our wallets, and most pressingly, for the sake of Planet Earth.

This is not yet another post about the paradox of turning a time traditionally dedicated to gratitude for what we have into a frantic race to buy more, more, more, ideally with money we don’t have (39.4 million Americans are still paying off debt from LAST YEAR’S Christmas shopping!). That point gets made ad infinitum around Christmas (and Thanksgiving) time every single year, as predictably as lush green Christmas trees (and turkeys) are chopped up for our enjoyment as soon as November and December rolls around.

Instead, this is a post about what you can actually do in order to disconnect from the gift-fuelled consumerism craze and get back that comfortable peace of mind that Christmas time was once all about.

Step 1: Stop Buying People Stuff They Don’t Need

This point should be pretty damn obvious, but it clearly isn’t, let me be blunt: your family and friends do not need more stuff. 

If you are reading these words, you are most likely among the top 1% of people globally in terms of quality of life. You probably live in a first-world country, take your personal freedom for granted, live life worry-free and is more likely to die from comfort-induced health problems (passive lifestyle, too much food) than from anything truly dangerous and outside your control (lions attacking you, earthquakes, hunger). In short, you, like me, spend your time spinning around the top of Maslow’s needs pyramid like a God damn self actualisation machine, never having to worry about the basic needs we’ve got covered by default.

What’s the point here? We’ve got everything we need, and pretty much everything we want, too. Because when we need something, we have the financial means to go out and get that something right away, along with a fine instant gratification-fuelled dopamine hit to boot. Hairdryer broken? You buy a new one. iPhone XS comes out with a cooler camera than your iPhone 7? You just go out and buy it (and rationalise it to yourself later). By definition then, if you don’t already own a thing, you don’t need it. 

Your friends and family members are in the same situation as you. They too have everything they need. They, like us, have a problem of over-consumption and owning too much stuff, not too little. Therefore, your Christmas presents to them are utterly unnecessary. Don’t buy people more stuff they don’t need. In fact, if you buy them more things, you only create extra stress for them – they now need to care about the thing, clean the thing, repair the thing when it breaks, have space to store the thing, show off the thing, maybe even actually use the thing every now and then. Please, give me a break.

Stop buying more things for people, even if it’s Christmas time. You will be doing them a favour. Also, you’ll get your time, sanity and healthy cortisol levels back for the entire month of December, as you can now spend your life somewhere else than in the frantic shopping mall trying to figure out what to buy for the people who already have everything. Jackpot.

No, your friend who “has everything” doesn’t need that.

Step 2: Stop Receiving Things You Don’t Need

“But if I stop buying things for people, they will get pissed off..!”

Well, maybe they will. If so, what does that say about your relationship to said folks? That it’s a purely transactional, tit-for-tat relation, based on an annual, mutual exchange of gifts? Is that even worth holding on to..?

I’m getting ahead of myself. The truth is that yes, perhaps some people will be a bit uneasy if you suddenly tell the world that you’re going to stop giving them Christmas presents. You can mitigate that by leading by example. Be the change you want to see in the world, yadda yadda yadda. So tell people to stop buying you presents. Simple as that.

I did this five years ago. I sent out an email to my family and friends, explaining that I don’t need, want nor expect any Christmas presents whatsoever. Here is the email in its entirety:

[14. November, 2013]

Hello all you fine family folks!

I’m looking forwards to Christmas as it should be and always has been – together with family and friends, including high doses of grandma’s comfort food and grandpa’s excessive logwood burning in the fireplace.

This year, though, I am jumping off the gift-giving carousel that has gone utterly off of the rails in our day and age. Why? In order to ease the pre-Christmas stress for both gift-givers and receivers, to contribute to the future of our planet, and because I already have practically everything I need and more – and so do you, as far as I can tell.

Therefore, I am not buying any gifts for any of you, nor do I expect anything in return, except for time and togetherness over the holiday. Presence is your best present.

Merry Christmas!

-Jacob

This email does two things well: state my wish for a gift-free Christmas time, and explain my value-based reasons why (less stress, save the planet, I’ve got it all already).

Now, did this message resonate with everyone in my family and friend circle? No, not right away. Some people got a bit upset. Did I not appreciate them or their efforts anymore? If I didn’t buy them stuff, did it mean I didn’t love them anymore? No, of course not. I had to explain that to some. Then they understood, and it was okay.

Did the email at least make all incoming gifts disappear? No, not right away. Some people insisted on buying me stuff regardless, that first year. Some had already purchased gifts 2 months in advance of Christmas. I still got some well-intentioned items I had little or absolutely no use for. But my incoming gifts load was cut by 70-80% at least. The next year, however, a reminder email was sent out. And I got just about zero gifts. Minimalistic bliss ensued.

Now is the Time to Lobby for a Gift-Free Christmas Next Year

As mentioned initially, now is the ideal time to start thinking about next year’s Christmas presents. We’re just coming off the holiday high, but the frantic last-minute runs to the shopping mall are still fresh in mind (and the credit card bills well under way). This is the time to start talking with your family and friends about making a change for next year. Start managing expectations early – don’t tell people you’re done with gifts a week before Christmas, when half the presents are already bought.

This can be the beginning of the end for Christmas gifts in your household. Start now, and take your future Decembers back. Merry Christmas and a happy, more intentional, less consumerist-ridden New Year to all of you!

(Protip: If you like the idea of gifting, but not the idea of gifting physical stuff, try limiting incoming and outgoing gifts to one of three categories: experiences, books or food/drinks.)

Don’t spend December at the mall. Do this instead.

Also published on Medium.

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