My Family Stopped Giving Christmas Presents—It Makes Our Holiday Season So Much Happier

We avoid the emotional and financial stress of the season, and now the weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas feel exciting again.

December 11, 2017
Christmas without gifts
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For the past three years, there haven’t been any gifts under the tree.

It started innocently enough. As my brother and I got older and the toy store no longer had a mythical pull, Christmas began to lose that heart-fluttering excitement and the desire to come peeling out of my room at 5 a.m. to see what was waiting for me. Our wish lists slowly got shorter and our requests more practical.

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After experimenting with minimalism in college, as one does, I came home for break determined to only give and receive things that added value. I thought it would reduce my guilt around consumption and help us all avoid some extra clutter. But it was difficult. If anything, finding the perfect, useful item for each person in my family actually added more stress to my holiday shopping and wish-list making. It wasn’t just me. My entire family struggled to come up with things to ask for or give.

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And then on the fateful Thanksgiving three years ago, we came to a family decision. Instead of buying each other gifts that year, we would take a vacation together during the summer and adopt a family through a local charity and check off their Christmas list instead.

The holidays have never been the same—they’re so much better.

holiday stress
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We Avoid The Emotional And Financial Stress Of The Season

I come from a family that views shopping as a form of torture. I have not once had warm, festive feelings in the midst of flashing advertisements and pushy sales people. Even as a child, I could barely make it to the front of the line to take my picture with the Santa at our local mall before breaking out into tears and pleads to go back home. (All too familiar with holiday stress? These stress-relieving foods will stop a holiday meltdown in its tracks.)

Saying no to gifts took off the pressure. Instead of coming from a place of scarcity or being all about rejecting an intensely consumerist culture (although I have to admit, that is a nice secondary benefit), our choice is from a place of love. No one has the emotional or financial stress of buying gifts. I no longer fret about burdening my family with things that I thought they might like, but in reality don’t fit their lives or the space in their closet. We realized we’d rather spend the holidays, and part of the summer, fully present with one another than at the mall.

Related: 5 Simple Zero-Waste Gift Wrapping Ideas

waiting for christmas
The Weeks Between Thanksgiving And Christmas Are Exciting Again

Instead of running around anxious about what to get, I am able to relax during the shortest days of the year and enjoy Christmas like I did when I was a kid. I actually have the time and the mental space to walk around the neighborhood to see the lights and feel the excitement in the air. I get giddy at the thought of baking pounds of cookies and making a dozen “mysteriously” disappear.

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Skipping the shopping altogether has made it easier to spend time with my friends and family during "the busiest time of the year," and it makes the weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas something to look forward to instead of feeling like a pressure cooker.

Count down to Christmas with this fun DIY advent calendar:

Christmas morning
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Christmas Morning Feels As Joyful As When I Was A Kid

On Christmas Eve we all sneak out to the living room to fill each other’s stockings with magazines, ridiculous amounts of chocolate, seasonal brews, loose leaf tea, or sometimes a little handmade gift. (Instead of shopping, try one of these meaningful DIY holiday gifts that won’t break the bank.) Despite only living an hour apart, my brother and I still pile into our childhood bedrooms so we can all wake up together. Christmas morning feels like it used to, bedhead and relentless questions about cinnamon rolls included.

Instead of clustering around the tree or getting lost in all of our new things, we spend the day in the kitchen baking cookies to share or making pasta from scratch like my great-grandmother used to for Christmas dinner. We gather around the table and reminisce about the time my mom made the turkey walk the plank into the pot before cooking it for Thanksgiving dinner. My grandma and I sit and chat while we knit together.

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cozy Christmas
I'm Grateful To Have This Choice

I know I’m making our holidays sound like we belong in a 90s sitcom, and the truth is that giving up gifts certainly didn’t magically stop all family fights or hurt feelings—but it really did make Christmas more merry and festive. I also know it’s a privilege that we are able to choose not to have gifts, and I am so thankful to have that choice. (Want to try it with your family? Here are 5 ways to do a present-free holiday.)

The holidays are even better with the empty space under the tree. It turns out the magic never left, it’s been here all along. We just had to make room for it.