Could Your Family Have a Gift-Free Christmas?

If the stress of buying holiday presents for family and friends is starting to wear you down, consider going gift-free this year

photo: Jayneandd/Flickr (CC)


My kids won’t be getting any Christmas gifts from me and their dad this year. My parents are out of luck too. In fact, the only thing my siblings, my in-laws, the neighbours and my friends will be receiving from us this year is a wish for a happy holidays or a merry Christmas. My husband and I are boycotting Christmas gifts and, as a result, hopefully skipping the obligation, stress and worry that finding the “perfect” gift for more than a dozen people has placed on us during the holiday season for years.

When I was a kid, I loved the holidays. Sure, there were always gifts under our tree on Christmas morning, but that thrill lasted only moments. What we really looked forward to were the feasts and time with family. And we still do, but even with a focus on food and loved ones, there is an abundance of stuff that really isn’t appreciated longer than the time it takes to open the present. Over the years, my husband and I have wondered what we’re teaching our two sons about wants, needs and what’s important as they watch us spend unnecessarily and ferociously during the last quarter of the year on things that a few months later bring little to no lasting joy.

So this year we’re letting that go. We’re letting it all go.

We’ve done it before.

A few years ago our family of four travelled the world, which meant there was no room in our luggage for things like stocking stuffers. We told the kids early on that there’d be no gifts and were surprised at how little it bothered them. Instead of being surrounded by mounds of discarded wrapping paper on Christmas Day, we spent it searching for elusive desert elephants on the savannah in Namibia. We ate a huge holiday meal and the only thing we missed was our family at home doing the same. I realized that much 
of Christmas’ consumer side is fed and propagated by us, the parents. When we let go, the kids let go too. We vowed then and there to drop the habit for good.

It’ll be more difficult this year. There are no grand adventures to occupy our attention, the kids are bombarded with ads for toys they’re told are the must-haves, and we’ve found ourselves struggling to explain that our decision to change the way we do Christmas isn’t meant to offend or affect the way others choose to do theirs.

So far, our immediate family members have met the idea with the same relief we felt, but I’m anticipating that there will be those who don’t know what to do with our decision and others who may interpret our lackluster interest in gift-buying as a sign we love them less. They shouldn’t.

Some ask: “Does no gifts really mean no gifts?” Yes, it does; but it doesn’t mean no to celebrations. As a family, we’re making a list of things we’d like to do together over the holidays. This year there’ll be games of laser tag, movies to watch, short road trips, family game nights that may last for days and long, lingering meals surrounded by family and friends.

Instead of stuff, we’re asking friends 
to just bring themselves or something to share with us when they visit. We’ll host open houses, potlucks and get-togethers. We’ll break bread and sip wine together. We’ll have the kids rediscover toys they haven’t played with in years and get down on their level to play too. And at the end of the day, when we’re exhausted from all of the good times, we’ll fall into bed happy, without any worries about whether we recycled the wrapping paper or need to avoid the credit-card-bill-bearing mail carrier in January.


  • Spread the word early. Not everyone is a last-minute shopper. Ease their burden as early as possible so that people aren’t stuck with gifts they’ve already purchased for you.
  • Provide holiday options. Stress that it’s not personal. Don’t just tell people what you don’t want—share what you do: more time together. Why not have an invitation ready to offer at the same time you break the no-gift news?
  • Have a plan in place for unsolicited holiday cheer. Know what you’ll do if your pals refuse to be thwarted. Will you give the gifts to charity? Hand the wrapped packages back? Decide how you’ll handle the rule breakers or if you’ll make exceptions. For example, if your mom chooses Christmas Day to pass on your grandmother’s wedding ring, saying no sort of defeats the purpose.
  • Give teachers, tutors and coaches your thanks. Years ago, I got really close to my boys’ Kindergarten teacher and she told me that what every teacher really wants is a heartfelt note from the parent or the child that they can keep.
  • Get out of town. If you can make it happen, do it. It might be the easiest way to change your frame of mind and break the cycle.

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