Christmas Without Presents?

Reader Contribution by Staff

At first, I just wanted to write about the present-free (or present-minimal) Christmas. It’s something we’ve done in my immediate family, without any formal agreement, for several years now. And let me be the first to say that it’s great. Better than great: It’s amazing — really — everything Christmas or holidays in general should be, in my humble opinion. Because without presents, the focus has to go somewhere else, and the next obvious options — food, family — are what it’s all about. And boy is it fun.

But then I got to thinking about what a present-free holiday means outside of our homes, say, in the world of business and people earning a living from that business (which is pretty much all of us). And I was realizing that Christmas this year (or any other pending holiday that can involve gift giving) just got simpler and more complicated, all at once.

First, the complicated part:

My entire life my dad has owned his own businesses making handcrafted percussion instruments — objects that visually are beautiful and musically are something even more. Not being a percussionist, I’m not the ideal judge, and am obviously biased; but I know from those who do understand — his friends, customers and competitors — that they’re highly unusual in their quality and sound. This makes them almost invaluable to those who use them, yet they’re still far from the staples that people buy regardless of the economy, such as food and warm socks. (Unless, of course, you’re one of those goofy drummer types.)

Being the daughter of a businessman, I get that if people don’t go shopping, business doesn’t happen. And it’s a thorough cycle: When the economy tumbles, people shop less, and the less they shop, the farther the economy tumbles. That’s one devil of a problem we’ve got to figure out if we’re going to live sustainably as a species, but that’s a bigger conversation than this post, and frankly, one I’m not yet knowledgeable enough to tackle without making a fool of myself. (You can look for informed coverage of this topic at Rancho Cappuccino.)

So, while I want to tell you about the brilliance of a present-minimal holiday, I also get that if we all stop shopping, right now of all times, that, baby, things aren’t going to get any better. And after a few years of hearing “go shopping!” as the directive following any bad news, the last thing I feel like doing is telling anybody to go shopping. Not to mention that I imagine no number of stocking stuffer purchases is going to be enough to turn around the economy right now. I suppose maybe the point of all of this is just that I feel a little guilty about suggesting that everyone minimize their shopping, and realize that some of these simple decisions can have some rather complicated consequences.

 But, now that the musing and guilt is out of the way, on to the simple parts:

  1. People are rightly worried about their jobs and money, so saving money makes good sense (ooh, and I love good old simple common sense!).
  2. Present-free and present-minimal celebrations are, trust me on this, really where it’s at. Be there, or be square.

Yes, this list of simple stuff is a lot shorter than the musings on the more complicated aspects — as is appropriate. But those simple bits are really big, and as long as you have food on your table and a roof over your head, the elements that are wrapped up in those two little points are everything. Think friends, family, food, peace of mind, games, laughing, bear hugs* — and don’t forget financial solvency!

Not only do you get more time and energy to focus on what really matters, but research shows that people who give and receive fewer gifts are happier than their more gift-ed counterparts. Just think, you could spend your evenings in front of the fire, rather than in line at the mall. Maybe you would have room in the budget for a great cheese that everyone can enjoy, if you’re not spending hundreds on presents. And when the holidays are gone and the decorations are back in the box, you won’t be facing crazy bills or credit card statements, or the stress that goes with them. You won’t be finding room for items you didn’t really need or want. And this list doesn’t even cover all of the environmental benefits of a less material holiday: less shipping, producing, packaging and disposing.

This isn’t an argument for no presents, though if that works for your family – go for it! I still participate in the gift exchange at my grandmother’s, where we all draw names and purchase one gift. Last year, I saw a stunning ornament that I knew my mom would love, so I gave it to her. But only because I knew she would love it, because I knew she would have room for it and enjoy it, and because it wasn’t going to just add to a pile of stuff or make my bank account suffer. It was exactly as it should be, again, in my opinion.

For more on the benefits of a present-free or present-minimal holiday, check out the Christmas with No Presents blog post from No Impact Man (Colin Beavan), plus read Beavan’s full article on the subject from Yes! magazine.

 *If “bear hug” doesn’t mean anything to you, consider this Christmas the perfect time to check it out. Find the best hugger in your group, give ’em a two-armed, full-on, full-strength (unless this person is a lot smaller than you, of course) squeeze – and really squeeze! My dad and I have spent years perfecting the bear hug, and while I may be nearly 27 years old, I still get lifted off the ground with a good bear hug. Trust me on this one, too, the holidays are perfect bear-hug season.