Wake up, people.
Seriously… we are embarrassing ourselves.
This isn’t what Christmas is about.
I know this isn’t a new change, but we’ve fully shifted the focus from quality time with family, friends, and God – into mindless exchanging gift cards so that we can avoid guilt.
Worse than mindless exchanging of money is the complete free fall into consumerist shopping. Have you been to the local mall in the last few weeks? If you find yourself in the belly of the beast this season, take a few minutes to just sit and observe people.
It’s mind numbing how mass-programmed we are at this point in the year.
Christmas has the power to turn normal, every day people into this:
Seriously? Is this what our annual Christmas traditions have spiraled into?
Listen to the celebratory roar of the crowd as the first break into the metal doors in the first clip… it’s like a siege scene from a fantasy movie. I can’t even believe this is real.
And let’s all not forget the 2008 fatality of the Wal-Mart employee… death by human stampede:
Wal-Mart fights $7,000 fine in Black Friday death [USA Today]
Sure, the above video compilation and story are examples of some of the more extreme cases in recent years. But on a smaller scale, this madness influences us all.
Over the past couple of decades, consumerism has been elevated to an art form. Christmas has become a well-calculated, well-executed, income-generating masterpiece.
Rather than looking forward to intimate time with family, friends, and religion (gasp, I know – I’ve cussed twice now)… we sit around and wait for Oprah’s annual consumerfest:
Watch this above video carefully. Study the reactions of the audience members as they are given shoes, cameras, sweaters, jewelry, shampoo, candles, and 3D televisions.
People are crying, make-up is smearing, and facial expressions are frozen in shock. Every time I watch another audience reaction, I want to vomit.
I know that’s extreme… I don’t *want* to be so judgmental about other people’s values. Deep down, I feel that as long as people aren’t hurting others – they should be able to live with whatever value structure they want.
But I can’t help to think… “any value structure they want… except this madness.”
Also, I fully realize that Oprah has done more positive humanitarian work than I will ever do in my lifetime. It won’t even be close – she does a lot to give back (not to audience members, but to girls in real need across the world).
Frankly, I wish if they wanted to show hyped-up, hysterical reactions – they’d show more of the good work Oprah is doing. Show the girls in Africa crying and celebrating their safe education. I know they have those shows, too – but it’s just so sad this is the one everyone waits for every year.
Despite, half the audience screaming “Oh my God… Oh my God…” – this still isn’t what Christmas is about.
How to Save Christmas…
I have no idea how to fix everything – nor do I want to dictate how people should live their lives.
I’m willing to honesty share my thoughts – even if they are more judgmental than I wished – in hopes that it challenges you to think outside the box. But I’m not going to propose a 10-step plan to save Christmas.
The plan on what to do is on you.
Courtney and I have decided to severely limit the gifts we buy this year. We won’t be buying for each other (instead we are making huge life changes – trust me – we are spending enough on those “gifts”).
We’ve bought a few small traditional “gifts” for younger family members, but decided that we would make small donations on behalf of any adults in our life. We’ll be browsing to attempt to find charities and non-profits that reflect the values of each family member and rather than buy them golf balls or a candle, we’ll make a small donation.
We are lucky that none of our family really cares about the “stuff”. The donations will be a valued gesture and by customizing each one, we show that we took time to think about and appreciate the personality of each family member.
I’m not saying our method this year is better or worse than any other. We are still affected by the consumerism, too. We are still spending money – we are still giving a few traditional gifts, as well.
We aren’t immune or above this issue – we are simply searching for our own answer to it. 🙂
What other bloggers are saying…
Fortunately, many of my blogging friends – especially in the minimalism niche – have also chimed in their thoughts on the season. Here’s what my friends Leo, Joshua, Everett, and Dave have to say:
Zen Habits: The Case Against Buying Christmas Presents
Leo goes into great depth (much more than I will here) into the reason why not to buy gifts. Not only that, but he answers some common questions and objections – and provides a list of alternatives. Leo calls this post a “rant” – it may be – but it’s one of my favorite posts of his in a long time!
Becoming Minimalist: 35 Gifts Your Children Will Never Forget
So many of us can’t imagine not buying presents for our kids. But as Joshua points out, very few – if any – of my most passionate childhood memories are of Christmas presents. In fact, even my childhood memories of Christmas, don’t include specific presents. I’m a sucker for list posts and this one is awesome!
Far Beyond the Stars: 1 Simple Strategy to Save $2,000 and Make Everyone Love You Forever
You think my tone is a little strong at times? Go check out what Everett thinks about this topic. Never one to pull punches, Everett wrote an aggressive, but important piece when it comes to challenging the status quo for many people.
Dave Bruno: The 100 Thing Challenge
Lately, I’ve also been following the new blog and Twitter stream of Dave Bruno. Dave was the first person I ever saw online consciously tracking his possessions – and was the sole inspiration for me to do the same here when we started traveling. Dave’s recent insights have been stellar and I can’t wait for his soon-to-be-released book The 100 Thing Challenge.
None of these gentlemen can tell you how to celebrate Christmas either, but they’ve all help shape our approach this year.
How would your life be different if you spent $0.00 on Christmas this year?
Two weeks ago, I asked a simple question on Twitter and Facebook that got over 50 responses:
I’d like to take that conversation from those platforms and gather your responses and insight here. I realize that most people have already spent some money on Christmas – and I’ve already stated that we our in this group, as well.
But I’d still like to know your honest response…
But first, some final perspective into this issue by my friend Eddie Vedder (not really my friend yet, but one day…)
Society, you’re a crazy breed…
Oh, it’s a mystery to me
We have a greed with which we have agreed
And you think you have to want more than you need
Until you have it all you won’t be free
Society, you’re a crazy breed
Hope you’re not lonely without me…
When you want more than you have
You think you need…
And when you think more than you want
Your thoughts begin to bleed
I think I need to find a bigger place
Because when you have more than you think
You need more space
Society, you’re a crazy breed
Hope you’re not lonely without me…
Society, crazy indeed
Hope you’re not lonely without me…
There’s those thinking, more-or-less, less is more
But if less is more, how you keeping score?
Means for every point you make, your level drops
Kinda like you’re starting from the top
You can’t do that…
Society, you’re a crazy breed
Hope you’re not lonely without me…
Society, crazy indeed
Hope you’re not lonely without me…
It’s your turn…
You’ve heard from me, Leo, Joshua, Everett, Dave, and Eddie…
What’s your opinion?
How would your life be different if you spent $0.00 on gifts this season?
How can we save Christmas?
96 thoughts on “What Christmas Is NOT About…”
Adam, I hope a lot of people read this. Very thoughtful. I appreciated the inclusion of “Society” as well.
Haha, glad you liked the last part. 😉
MissMinimalist.com also has a great Gift-Avoidance Guide. Thanks for this. I’m weary from the rampant commercialism and the messages that parents are sending their kids. Kids who have been spoiled feel entitled and actually lose their childhoods by spending time acquiring. Is that what YOUR childhood was about? It’s sad. Spend $500 on buying toys for kids who can’t afford them! Anyway, I’m ranting. Thanks again for the post.
1. I would be a step closer to being completely debt free.
2. My daughter would learn the importance of looking for needs in order to be a proper gift giver.
I am all about giving for the holidays, but not any more than the rest of the year. I try and find a void that can be filled. Sometimes its a physical gift but other times its a helping hand. I have found that more often than not people want to have a relationship built rather than a physical gift. We are shown all the time how valuable our time is. Is there a better gift to give than that?
Hey Baker you are showing the extreme of consumerism, but if that’s what wakes people up then more power to you bro!
We only hear about these extreme cases but, consumerism, greed and power affect all of us daily.
We are doing the same in my family. Brooke and I are not doing any presents for each other and will be focused on getting essentials for our little one Liam.
For our large family gift exchange I asked to have the money spent on gifts for me donated to my two favorite charities projectangelheart.org and brentsplace.org.
I still feel kids should be kids with Santa Clause and a few charished gifts but nothing overboard in excess.
Thanks for being real this Holiday season Baker!
I posted my thoughts over on my blog back on black Friday, and the absurdity that it is. I rarely spend any money on presents. I’d rather spend the time on experiences with friends and family. Traditions involve a lot of programming to overcome, but once you start opening your eyes, the ridiculousness of what the holidays has become is disgusting.
Great stuff here. I know on your last post I noted that some people find value in black Friday shopping (I dont, I just needed some new wool socks) but I’d have to agree that Christmas has gotten out of control. I realized about 3 years ago that I had just about everything that I could need, and have been trying to get people to stop buying me stuff at Christmas ever since. It hasn’t worked all that well, but I have shifted my strategy a bit (insane for gift getting, right?). I’ve either held off on buying things I truly need (sometimes for months) or asked for things that will get me what I really want out of the holidays: quality time spent with someone. After thinking about this for a while, I decided to go for it last year and ask for a few things I needed and something I wanted: a board game (ticket to ride).
I think my plan has worked out nicely so far. I’ve played the game quite a few times with my family and friends, and it was a huge hit with my cousins at thanksgiving. We probably played 10+ rounds over 3 days. I got to spend time laughing with my family, and I didn’t get some gift that I don’t need (or want).
I still tell people not to get me anything, but they look at me like I’ve just grown a 3rd head when I do, so I think about things that will bring people together and everyone can join in on to ask for.
Enjoy the holidays!
We live in a westernized first-world economy, thus, we are under constant assault from a marketing-engineered, over-stimulated, and advertisement-driven culture that encourages chasing ever-bigger piles of money to spend on more and more stuff. The endless cycle of chasing, accomplishing and possessing more and more, is something akin to a frenetic arms race –a contest we loose by winning.
One of the the things we loose is our perspective – we loose the spirit of the holiday and reason for the season.
Baker – I just came upon your blog and appreciate your thoughtful contribution!
I agree with the sentiments here. I have always had an aversion to buying gifts, partially because of anticonsumerism, but admittedly because I don’t like spending money in general. Most of the time, when I can’t think of anything to buy for someone, then the idea degenerates into “what can I give them that they won’t dislike?” rather than giving something that they actually need.
I’m a big fan of Paul Krugman’s (I believe) challenge last year to give to a charity in the name of the person you are getting a gift for, and then at Christmas, explaining to your loved one or friend what the charity does and how they’re changing the world. I can pretty much promise that no one will dislike that.
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We’ve been doing Christmas differently for a few years, thanks to something called the Advent Conspiracy (google it, it’s awesome) but this year will be the best yet. I’ve asked everyone to not buy me anything but to give to my charity of choice on my behalf if they would like. Buy me a goat for some family living in poverty in Africa. A few other members of my family have done the same. This year, thanks to Facebook, I don’t feel the need to order expensive photocards to send to people far and wide. A few thoughtful handwritten notes will be more meaningful anyway. And thanks to Financial Peace U, we have budgeted very carefully what gifts we will buy. All this has freed me up to enjoy the season so much more and worship so much more fully…with a whole heart.
Ok, I’m sorry but I am putting my foot down. I’ve had it with posts like this. You know what? Spending money is not a bad thing. This sentiment is going from one extreme to another and still misses the point of Christmas and gift-giving. This post is the straw that broke this camel’s back and I actually wrote an entire retaliation post. LOL I’m sorry but gift-giving is truly special. And you know what? Done properly it does take time, effort, energy, and even some money. But done properly, it’s also really appreciated! I just think the whole Anti-Christmas Spending/Presents thing is so lazy! Great, now you have me sounding judgmental. I don’t mean to come off that way but I think it’s wrong to be so dismissive of what gift-giving is about. There’s nothing wrong with it in it’s purest, most heartfelt form.
Thanks for this post. I find the thoughts behind it solid. Too many of the posts just say they lament how Christmas is commercialized and they long for the past so they are doing a “no giving” Christmas. Christmas has always been about giving, at least in part and for at least as long as as I, nearing 60, have experienced or heard my parents or grandparents discuss. The trick then is to slow down and take the time to give something that is truly meaningful and doesn’t clutter the recipient’s life. That is harder these days, but still can be done. And spending some money isn’t bad either and would not seem inconsistent with this blog if it doesn’t add clutter to life and doesn’t create or enhance debt.
Just giving a gift card though doesn’t really solve the gifting issue though since the recipient now must remember they have the card and think what they want and that by itself is clutter.
So, off I go to figure out what to buy the DW (Dear Wife). Maybe it will be just having some flowers delivered. Even if it costs money (that I can afford) (and doesn’t include a vase which she has more than enough of).
This article tells it, shows it and needs to be heard.
Being someone frugal and space conscious (the RV is only so big and can handle only so much weight) we have not purchased ourselves or mass gifts since 2005. We buy one for his godchild and one for my nephew. These gifts are usually something they can use for years to come and is not a throw away item.
We may not be the most popular couple but I can always go find a blog for moral support when I need it.
You had me at vomit.
Seriously though, I think your sentiment is on the money, and I think more and more people are starting to FEEL this way, if not necessarily ACT it. Hopefully, we can help get those two in sync somehow.
As to your question, I don’t necessarily see spending money as a problem, just spending it on the wrong things. Our family traditions for example, including a 12-course dinner, tree to decorate with our family, and others, all require money. But they all have strong meanings, whether that’s something religious, nostalgic, or simple love. Even if giving gifts has those same meanings to you, I think it’s worthwhile. But that’s not typically the case. People just want stuff, and they want other people’s positive reactions when they give it.
And so I applaud your idea of donating in other people’s names. I have a few people in my own life where this would be perfect!
My sentiments exactly!
We are not rampant consumers, we are selective about what we buy, but part of the magic of the holiday for us is finding something meaningful for each person in our family, and as parents we do share the magic of Santa Claus-which I’m sure some folks would balk at, but for our family it’s sharing the magic of childhood.
We spend very little on our kids the rest of the year, so we enjoy this time of year finding fun and creative gifts for them that still meet our budget.
And I never set foot near a store on Black Friday. I call that pajama and leftovers day!
Very meaningful and necessary post Adam. My perspective on Christmas and gift giving is very different for 2 reasons – I am originally from India, and I am raised Muslim. I have seen many parents here encourage and accomodate their children making never-ending lists of what they want for Christmas which shocks me no end. I thought the whole point of giving during this time was to be thoughtful towards others and not nurture this ‘want’ for material things. I do not celebrate Christmas therefore I do not indulge in any gift giving. I have chosen to express my thanks to close friends, colleagues and clients by mailing them handwritten thank you notes for the holidays. If I am invited to participate in festivities in someone’s home, I take along a little token of appreciation (read a bottle of wine or some dessert) and that’s that. I can understand buying little toys for the tiny tots but I do believe older kids esp. teenagers should be taught to be more thoughtful and caring to those in less fortunate circumstances. I fully second your effort to support charities and non-profits. Being Muslim, the two big festivities are Eid and Ramadhan. The events include eating home-cooked delicacies and wearing new clothes but we really have no major component dedicated to gift giving. There is a giving aspect, to the poor- you are expected to give a portion of your earnings to the less fortunate, and you also donate food so everyone can enjoy the celebration as much as you do. However, since moving to America and not having too many family members or members of the Muslim community close to us, our celebrations are really just about my husband and I being together, sharing a meal, wishing each other and thats it. No giving each other gifts, no major expenditure on clothing or food. And I believe we will continue to do so in the future.
Your comments are lovely and I “heart”ily agree with every word. It’s how I am practicing my Holiday season this year. I hope that more people will live with such intention and caring.
I love this! For the past week I have been thinking to myself “simplify, remember what Christmas is about!”. Thanks for the laugh and also the inspiration.
Baker, good stuff. Good to know I’m not the only Hoosier sickened by this. We’ve taken some steps this year to return to what Christmas truly means to us.
1. We set a limit on how much we’ll spend on our two boys, as well as what we’ll buy them. They’re 2 1/2 and 5. My oldest asked for a PSP. Um, no. You’re 5.
2. If it takes batteries, they’re not getting it from us. Grandma & Grandpa buy enough of that stuff. They both LOVE to play cook, so we bought a really nice play kitchen for them.
3. On my side, we set a limit of $10 for the adults (my sister and her husband, my parents, and my wife and I). On my wife’s side, rather than buy the adults gifts, we’re taking the money we would have spent and are donating it to charity.
4. We grabbed a couple of tags from the “Angel Tree” and are going to take the boys with us when we go shopping for those who are less fortunate. There is no greater feeling for a parent when your child wants to give away some of his toys to kids that don’t have any.
5. We’re focusing more on activities that reinforce family, togetherness, and the birth of Christ. Sure, we’re still going to drive/walk around town and look at the lights, but we’re also going to the local live Nativity (complete with camel), and our church’s Christmas Eve service. We’re also forming traditions that emphasize the same things. And once the boys get older, we’ll spend time at the local food bank volunteering to help those less fortunate.
I really hope that these things help our kids to understand that this emphasis on Stuff is destroying the true meaning of the season.
CONFESSION: About 3 months ago I had some extra cash burning a whole in my pocket when this CRAZY sale on those nifty Leatherman super tools popped up at my local Bi-Mart… for like half price. I figure — “what a fan-fuckin-tastic XMas gift. I’m sure i can find someone to give this too… how lovely, I’ll be early with my gift shopping this year…!”
Fast-fwd three months, and I’m seriously considering boycotting all gifts (except MAYBE some books and wine… especially for the kids — no not the wine) – Christmas is a MESS. Even as a kid, I remember being a bit ashamed at the display of excess in the pile of unwrapped gifts next to me and the piles of wrapping paper everywhere…
I don’t think it’s even about the spending money or not:
THE #1 reason we buy is to fill a HOLE in our SOUL. It’s a rush of feeling something akin to love and satisfaction and fulfillment… and it wears off within days or hours.
Nothing can replace the greatest fulfillment of all, which comes from connecting to the truth of who we TRULY are, and living a life on fire from that very truth.
xo and hope you have a fabulous xmas my friend! 🙂
(i’ll be sending you love from country’s biggest tree in Rockefeller Center)
The mall videos are just so sad
One thing I’ve noticed is that some people just don’t like going along with the whole “we’re not buying gifts” paradigm. It is so ingrained for so many of us to the point where if we don’t buy a gift for someone, that person feels slighted, and feels like you’re just trying to be cheap. It’s an interesting thing to try and handle.
Another thing I’ve noticed – be careful when giving to charity in someone’s name. Sometimes a charity you think is worthwhile might not be one that someone else would want to give to. For example, some people might not appreciate a donation given to PETA in their name, but would be ok with one to another one that feeds hungry children.. The key is to know what things people are OK with you donating to in their name.
I definitely agree that Christmas has lost its meaning. In my family, we’ve had a family rule that kids only receive gifts until they’re 18. Everyone saves money and we all have a less stressful holiday in return. This helps everyone to focus on what is truly important about the holiday season.
I couldn’t agree with you more! It’s a little crazy to think of humans acting so animalistic for gifts. No thank you.
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That video is just unreal. There is nothing out there that I want bad enough to go through that. I’m curious to read the suggested blog readings. I’m gonna have to get back to you on this. I’m still blown away by that video. It’s dangerous.
First, which do you prefer? Adam or Baker? I mean I know you reference your own last name in your signature but I want to be sure to reach out to you in the most respectful way I can. Sometimes calling someone by their last name is a little too “high school gym teacher” for me.
I’m completely in agreement with your opinion. Keep sharing it and share it often.
Speaking as the dad of a family who just sold almost everything we own, I can say that this Christmas time is definitely not one going to be spent at the malls.
I do feel that giving gifts can still be an important part of Christmas so we are giving a couple of presents to each other and the grandparents of course. The difference is that they are going to be created. The best presents I’ve ever received have been the ones that someone really put some thought and time into and made themselves.
One of my best gifts ever was a framed love note my wife wrote me and then made it all crafty like. That was a real treat because it was an awesome note but also because she is NOT crafty. So I knew that she put some real time into it.
Materialism is NOT what the Christmas spirit is all about. Giving is. There are other things to give – time, service, talents, and so forth.
I totally agree with your thoughts about Oprah. I feel she does some really good work in the world but for some reason she has this need to show off when she gives something away. I guess she has her reward right? If there is a physical gift given, it’s usually the most fun and rewarding to do it anonymously. I know from experience.
Thank you for the post and like Phil said, thank you for adding the “Society” lyrics. Love that song!
And I dare say…MERRY CHRISTMAS!!!
In our family, it’s always been about spending time together rather than money on presents quickly forgotten. I have five kids and six grandkids. For Christmas my parents have bought things as varied as savings bonds for college funds, to music lessons, swim lessons, dance classes, and museum memberships. This is a tradition that I am passing down the family. This year all of my grandkids and kids are getting memberships to our local zoo. Not only can they go as a family, but they can meet other family members out there for an afternoon of memories. This gift gives all year long plus it helps support a valuable resource for all the families in our community. Win/Win/Win situation for us.
I’m getting the wonderful Mr Jen a couple of comedy DVD;s we can watch over and over again and enjoy laughing with each other. I don’t mind having things as long as I get a lot of value out of them. For other gifts, I go for handmade gifts which I buy at art and craft fairs, which is often much cheaper than shop prices and you get an unusual item you won’t find replicated all over the place. I haven’t been to the “proper shops” at all this year as they drive me mad at the best of times.
As I watched that first video, it is almost embaressing to be part of that race. I mean, is this how humans want to be remembered? Is this how we want Christmas to be portrayed, regardless of one’s religious views on the holiday?
We will be spending on Christmas, but we are doing it in a much more planned out intentional manner this year. Our kids are young adults plus we have grandkids. We are giving the gift of either memberships to local parks/attractions and/or tools of their trade or hobby that they cannot afford for themselves. My oldest daughter is getting a list of domain names for Christmas to help her with starting her online business!
Thanks for making us think!
To date, I’ve mostly been interested in what I can, “get,” for Christmas. This included all sorts of tangible objects – computers, clothes, etc…
This year, I’m planning to turn it all around. My goal in 2-fold for this Christmas: dramatically reduce my dependence on physical objects, and create personalized gifts for the people that are important to me.
As background, I own hundreds of books, as I’ve been compulsively buying them over the past 7 years. Here’s the plan – give away each and every one of these books.
Going further, I want to gift these books to specific people, with each book getting a personalized note from me written on the inside cover. I’d also like to encourage my, “giftees,” to re-gift these when they are done.
I hate black fridays – people go nuts and end up pushing and shoving each other for stuff that they probably don’t need. I do hope anti-consumerism catches on. We definitely need to save our money and sanity
Hi Baker, good post.
Fortunately, I don’t think my life would be any different materially if I spent $0 on Christmas. I would have to endure however some discussions about it all. I do think Christmas can be a time for getting others things they need or can use. Sort of a “wealth transfer” thing. I have told all that might get me something that I have all I need materially and that it is at best a “zero sum” situation. If they give me a shirt, out one must go….and it may be the one they gave me since I like the stuff I do have now.
Gifting pleasant consumables such as wine and cheese or other edibles also can be good. Putting together a homemade soap or a cake mix in a jar or bread in a jar or a beer making kit that yields cost effective and productive leisure time is a good gift that shifts the focus to a usable item that will be used in lieu of the recipient’s expense for something with the same general purpose. It also avoids the no gift giving discussion and helps lead by example.
Now if your gift is truly going to just sit there and never be used, then the gift fails both by gifting standards and the reduced consumerism goal.
For my kids, I ask them to take the time they would have spent shopping and just write me a note about their hopes, dreams, plans, etc. and how I can help. It sort of worked. Then again I think they are all older than you are Mr. Baker.
Again, good luck in your endeavors. (Maybe I will give one of your guides to one of my children.)
I’m right there with you when it comes to spending money on sh#t we don’t need. My wife thinks I’m anti-Christmas, bute really I’m just against the expectation and pressure put on us to spend money in order to show we care. Most of us reach a point in life where we don’t really need anything else and just end up accumulating instead. I love the idea of not buying stuff, but it is pretty hard to pull off these days!
My favourite character in Willy Wonka is Veruca Salt – The original Veruca circa 1971. But as the Oompa Loompa’s so eloquently sing it ‘ Who do you blame when your kid is a brat?, Pampered and spoiled like a Siamese cat, Blaming the kids is a lie and a shame, You know exactly who’s to blame, The Mother and the Father’ – I believe that exchanging gifts is still an important Christmas Tradition – who want’s to see Santa laid off? It can be done responsibly, it doesn’t have to be all or nothing. Like most things in life everything has it’s place in moderation – if you don’t live your life day in day out shopping and consuming, then to exchange appropriate and well thought out gifts a couple of times a year (we can’t forget Birthdays – but we do forget anniversaries!) is okay in my book – particularly when the recipients are children – Have a lovely Christmas – Jo (simplybeingmum – ‘family life simply done’)
Adam, thanks! I’ll be heading into my 3rd Christmas without spending anything but my time. My food budget increases a bit in December to help hosts of parties, but mostly I give my time where it’s needed, and I give creative gifts.
Climbing out of debt over the past 2 years has been the primary focus and reason for this.
Great post to help people realise we don’t need stuff for Christmas and other holidays but rather time and fun to create memories.
If you want to buy a gift then make it one that is useful or comes with the promise of time. One nephew is getting his first tackle box this year and although he will be excited about this present on Christmas day despite how small it is and that it is only one present, the real gift is that he will get his Uncle’s undivided attention for many afternoons to come while he learns to fish. And the thought of that one on one attention will be what creates the excitement, not the physical present he unwraps.
I try to avoid North America at Christmas time because it really is madness. People go crazy for things. Unfortunately that competitiveness isn’t limited to physical possessions. So many lifestyle design and travel bloggers have switched from consumption of material goods to experiences. Chasing down items on a bucket list or focusing on getting stamps in a passport is no better than Christmas shopping sprees. They are just another from of status seeking and personal indulgence.
I just wrote about post over on my site about what I’m doing for Christmas. I decided to send out an email to all of my family and friends stating that if there were planning on getting something for me than please add to my travel paypal fund and if they weren’t comfortable doing that then to please donate whatever they were planing on spending on me to a charity. So far, the email hasn’t had the warmest welcome which makes me sad on many different levels.
I was only able to get through about 1 minute of the Oprah video before I was disgusted with people. I will admit I would have liked to had been given the Nikon D7000 to replace my old D70 but I’m not going to jump up and down and cry over some shoes or a handbag.
Christmas, like Thanksgiving should be about family and spending time together. Not buying toys for you kids that are going to over stimulate them and meaningless stuff for your family that is going to be put in the closet or regifted.
My year would be only a little different. Through the years I have learned to lean down Xmas. As a child I received 1 big gift, usually a wish list item. Candy in the stocking and a few cute chotchkes, like coloring books, parts to a toys I already had, etc. No more than $75 usually. That compared to my husband who’s mother bought a gift each month for each kid so she could explode on them each year. Literally, its scary going to their home for Xmas. The extravagance, the expense. It’s a bit sickening.
This year my sister in law and I elected not to have a family gift exchange this year. My mom (who does all her shopping minutes after July 4th holiday) wanted to know what was wrong and why we were acting so strange if this meant we weren’t getting together this year.
We elected not to get gifts due to finances, even though we usually make crafty type gifts, but this year felt it was more about family and getting together than making all the crazy connections with the kids through gift buying. Simple. Eating. Together as a family.
Now the idea is to hang out and do something “fun” like go bowling, an entertainment/kids center, indoor golf. Something in that area. To me this sounds like a better memory for the future than any gift. My 10 yr old daughter still talks about the times we’ve all gotten together as a group than gifts from years ago. Those memories she will treasure forever – better than any material gift that could have been bought at the mall.
Last year my husbands gift was exactly $12+ – shipping only. I did an t-shirt exchange with another group, sent them one of his, they shipped back one of theirs (fire station customary shirt exchange). My husband is more proud of that single item than anything else I have gotten him in 12 years of marriage. He wears it weekly.
Christmas time isn’t as stressful as it used to be.
Just last year i might be found shopping last minute, despising the consumerist nature of the holidays. But this year my close family agreed not to exchange gifts this year. We’re putting the cash aside to travel together this winter. Prompted by yours truly.
So i won’t be spending money on presents. I may be cooking dinner for my friends however. And that’s how i want to celebrate the holidays, forever (with conversation and my favorite people at my side).
Thank you for saying what I have been feeling for many years!
Also, I wish people would not call it Xmas. We are celebrating the birth of CHRIST, not the birth of X. If people must abbreviate, at least call it Cmas!!!!!
Several years ago I was gifted a book called ‘The Sacred Santa’ that totally helped me see the consumeristic cycle, and made a compelling argument as it being today’s cosmological religion. With Santa being the worshipped deity. It was a very empowering book for me.
That holiday season (and many after), I did exactly what you two are – I researched out charities for each person on my list, made a donation in their honor and wrote them a special certificate explaining the gift and why they inspired me to give it.
After years of exchanging ‘things’ those holiday seasons donations are still the most touching and talked about gifts with my loved ones.
And the lasting result? I have almost completely broke the cycle of gift exchange with all who were on my list those years. Now we (including my parents and brother) may exchange a meaningful trinket – but most importantly, we give quality time to each other.
I hope your experiment is as successful 🙂
While watching the Oprah frenzy all I could keep thinking/hoping was, “I wonder how much they are paying these people to act like that? Surely they are paying these people!” What I remember most about christmas’ when I was a kid, back in the 70’s and 80’s, is not the presents but the feeling i got from being around my family. I’m from Vancouver, BC and so we didn’t always have snow on christmas, but when we did we had the best snowball fights! We’d sing carols, eat wonderful food, and truly enjoy this time when we were all together at the same time. We are all scattered now, but those memories are more dear to me than any present I could ever get!
I wonder if the audience members know how much taxes they’ll have to pay for all those gifts! I read that some people couldn’t go on the cruise because they couldn’t pay the taxes.
And the twits (sorry, I’m namecalling)who race into a store, with no regard for the safety of others – I mean really – is the stuff going to run away from them? Will their life be forever damaged if they missed out on a $50 stereo – or whatever the “deals” are – I have no idea. I wonder if the rest of the developed world has “evolved” into this behavior as well. Will have to look that up.
Happy Holidays – Kirsten
Oh… my… god…
That Oprah video is TERRIFYING! With some creative marketing, I think it could become a highly-profitable independent horror movie a la Paranormal Activity or The Blair Witch Project.
As an only child, I think I was grossly over-gifted during holidays and birthdays as a child. As a teen, I started to get really turned off on the idea of getting all this stuff that I never used and begged my mother to go easy, but still no dice.
I’ve never been a big gifter as a result. I’d rather give people an experience than more stuff. Even now, I’ll generally make a nice big dinner for my parents, and perhaps buy them a small gift, but no more.
Great links here, too! Glad to hear I’m not the only one who feels this way.
We have a simple Christmas at our house.
Our kids get one “Wish” item, and then some smaller items (clothes, books, etc) as well as their stocking with a few candies, some fruit, and maybe a couple of small toys etc.
We buy a couple of board games or something that we can do together as a family, and that is our family gift from Santa, and we have a family night once a week, so those gifts definitely get their fair share of use, and we normally don’t spend more than about $40-$50 on that.
From there, my husband and I don’t really exchange gifts. We will buy small things (like a book or cothing items) to wrap up under the tree. But usually things that are necessities, and we only do that because our kids are still young enough that they both believe in Santa Claus, and we don’t want to rob them of that.
The rest of our holiday season is spent volunteering at local food banks and Christmas programmes, donating our time and spirt to those in need. We also get together with family and friends and enjoy their company and relationships rather than gifts.
The one thing we do, which could be considered a gfit is simply this. I go out and buy a bunch of baking supplies (which is no big change, there’s always some form of baking going on in our home). And my son, daughter, step-daughter and I spend a week baking up squares and cookies and treats which we arrange on simple but pretty glass plates or trays we purchase from the dollar store. We give these to all of our friends/family, and we’ve found they love that as much, if not more than receiving a gift card or commercial item.
Like I said, we keep things simple, and I like to think we’re passing along the proper message to our children, family and friends.
The less we spend, the more peace we feel! So I guess we’d feel perfectly peaceful if we spent $0. We spent very little though (and love that), and will cut it down further as the kids get older. Today they could only think of 3 things they even wanted to put on their list. Loved that!
With regard to the clips from the store shoppers, I’m scared to think what they would do to get their hands on perhaps the last available course of antibiotics for some major epidemic
or bread in a food shortage.
As for Christmas, why save it at all? Eliminate it. We are not instructed by God to celebrate Christ’s birth.
I cannot even believe it. I am disgusted by this.
Adam also I just want to say thank you for the fantastic content you post in your blog. I initially found you because I was starting to work on reducing my debt.
Baker, Baker. You’ve done it again. 🙂 I’m glad I met you in Vegas, and glad to participate in y’alls AWESOME sale, which did so much good!
You may already be doing something similar…
Hmm…you are a big inspiration for the huge idea. I wouldn’t mind the opportunity to present it to you and see what you think. 🙂 I need to go collect my thoughts, because this is a huge project. Will you mind if I email you the platform when I get it coherent? I won’t if you don’t give permission. 🙂
Step one: Stop stop saying “Happy Holidays”
Step Two: Say “Merry Christmas”
Step Three: Reflect on Friends and Family and what is truly valuable to you and yours.
Step Four: Stop judging people who like to spend money on Christmas gifts.
Step Five: Smile….Life is awesome….
Great Post Baker. Really makes you think.
Preaching to the choir on this one. I hear ya! So glad I’m not the only one who blanches at Oprah’s favorite things.
I’m in the wedding industry. When we can get brides to embrace less consumerism in planning their weddings, THEN we’ll have accomplished something. In the meantime, I’m focusing on Christmas. (And don’t forget all the other Christmas excesses such as food and drink!)
Thanks for another thought-provoking post.
Thanks for the timely article. I’ve opted out of the secret santa this year, even after we picked names (sorry friends and family). I’m tired of placating, and fearing what others would think.
I have always been averse to the consumerism during this season, and instead of going against my principles, this year I am taking the $0 challenge.
BTW, that 72hr sale was HUGE, was worth every penny, and a win-win-win for all. (How weird to mention the $0 challenge and a sale in the same comment).
Ah, Christmas… or, should I say, Giftmas.
I actually tried to go against the buying mentality that my mother has, and told her a few months ago that “hey, we’re trying to pay off our debts ASAP and don’t need more stuff – in fact, I’m downsizing a lot of it – and it’d be great if, instead of stuff we don’t need, you could give us gifts like gift cards for groceries, gas, or just plain cash that we could put towards the debt if you insist on giving us something at all – but really, I’d prefer not getting anything.” She seemed to understand, but in a few short weeks I’m pretty sure I’ll be unwrapping tons of crap that we don’t need. And my sister… she kept asking for Christmas gift ideas for my husband and stepson and refused to be OK with the idea of getting them gift cards. She was bound and determined to buy a freaking gift, rather than giving them something they could choose what they actually wanted. I had to tell her FIVE TIMES to get a gift card before finally giving her a few movie ideas (which we really don’t even need).
I’m really not sure how else to go about it. I have a feeling that if I just didn’t get gifts for my family, despite telling them my feelings on it, they’d still be upset and hurt that I didn’t get them a gift, too. Of all of us in the family, I’m the only one that seems to go against the grain and be total opposite of what everyone else does. So, naturally, my opinions and ideas don’t exactly ‘fit’ with everyone else.
Totally agree with Mike Sholar, I’ve told my family that I don’t want anything this year, I have all I need (I’ve just become a dad), if people want to get me anything, they can get things for my girl.
A great post Baker, glad to see you’re a fan of “Into the Wild” too, not sure about quoting the lyrics though to Society, for me it’s never going to top seeing the film or hearing the song.
This is a great post, reflects my sentiments exactly. I am proud to say we will not be spending a single $ on Christmas presents this year, and my little family has come to a mutual agreement about it. We’ll just get together a few times. I’ll have food, wine, and decent coffee on hand in case of guests or going to gatherings, but that’s just fellowship stuff, normal stuff, not shopping and anxiety and pile on the crap stuff. The Oprah gift thing disgusted me years ago and I can’t abide it. It’s gluttony of the worst sort.
Happy Holidays to the Baker clan from a fellow Hoosier 🙂
Well put Baker. My Christmas would be no different. And just because you spend $0 doesn’t mean you can’t gift!
I recently wrote a blog post about this “I think the best gift is “the gift of quality service”. I define this as: a significant amount of time that you sacrifice in service of another. It could be an hour massage or a manicure/pedicure/facial or doing their income taxes or setting up a website or cooking a 4-course meal from scratch or walking their dog for a week or cleaning their apartment or laundry or any one of a plethora of chores.” –http://cruisesurfing.blogspot.com/2010/12/best-gift-you-can-give-minimalist-and.html
Now, how to we change people??
I was just thinking about this the other day. I took my oldest daughter to the store with me, and at the last minute I decided to let her pick out something small to put in her sisters Christmas stocking.
She said, “No Daddy, I want to make Stella something.” At first I thought it was very sweet and cute, but then it started to settle in.
When did I loose that why of thinking? At what point in my life did I decide that finding the right deal and quickly handing over a $20 bill or two meant more than putting genuine thought and care into a gift that expressed my gratitude and love for another person?
I love how much my girls have taught me. Seems like it should be the other way around, huh?
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I couldn’t agree with you more that I wish those Oprah responses could have been about things of value – as you say, helping people that really need it.
Perhaps w/ enough of us supporting non-consumerist methods, we’ll gain some traction in a more minimalist, less stuff focused world.
Kyle and I also don’t buy each other gifts – we focus our resources instead on great experiences – travel, nights out together, classes. After all, these are the things that truly add value to our lives so why allocate our resources there.
Thanks for writing.
The video just sickened and scared me. Sickened me that people can be so greedy and selfish and scared that this is the way people will behave in a major crisis, like Connie said above. It’s like they are in a panic! Maybe those people have blogs writing about “Extreme Greed”. I’m so glad to know there are so many of us that are living differently.
Our family is not exchanging gifts. My son is coming from out of state (paying enough for a ticket), and we’re all going to visit my daughter out of town. She wants to take us out to dinner one night, and we will cook and visit on Christmas Day. To us, just being together and enjoying each other is the best gift ever! The hard part of the season is that I work at a friends shop trying to sell stuff! It’s very strange, me not liking senseless stuff, but she needs to sell senseless stuff to live!
Love your blog, Adam, and your family is precious!
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Gift giving is a wonderful thing. But Christmas is not about gift giving anymore, but has become another thing to cross off one’s to-do list. We are trying to teach our children differently, but it is hard with the constant message of consumerism. I especially hate Acura’s new ad (see below) which basically calls you to buy one of their cars to “oversave” and as a way to fight the overspending and overindulging of the holidays. I don’t know about you, but spending 40 grand on a car isn’t my idea of oversaving.
You know what we can do about it? Surprise people. To me that is what gifts are all about – something unexpected. Next time you’re in line at the coffee shop or Taco Bell, quietly offer to pay for the next person’s drink or food and tell the cashier to wish them a Merry Christmas.
Interesting… I’m not advocating Xmas or getting into debt but what would happen if consumerism stopped tomorrow…. would it solve the worlds problems…. I’m not sure that it would.
Maybe instead of all or nothing we could treed the middle path.
We haven’t spent money on Christmas for about 11 years now, and not planning to start anytime soon. But we still get together with extended family or friends when close enough in proximity, and this year will be having some over for dinner and games.
I sometimes feel like others disapprove because we don’t decorate the house, etc, and it looks ‘dull’ compared to their Decked Out Halls, but then I figure if they don’t like to come to our place because of a lack of ‘Christmas Spirit’ (decorations/gifts) then I suppose they don’t have to accept our invitation. The balls in their court.
We’ve been thrilled to not be caught in the Christmas trap, and not incurring extra debt.
Great timing on the article and relevant to the minimalist mission. Our family is avoiding the television and the crazy mall scene and I have found this makes a big difference in our shopping habits. We still buy on the internet but we already know what we want and makes it without the store pressure and marketing.
In addition, I am focusing on spending quality time with family and friends which means less time for shopping.
Can’t fault this article, very hard to disagree with anything that was said.
The best presents I have ever received are ones which people create themselves, not a present which costs a week salary.
People are definitely addicted to spending, and I guess it’s exacerbated due to the extra advertising/propoganda etc leading up to christmas
It’s almost as if we are pre-programmed to shop whenever the holidays come. We lose focus on the real meaning of these occasions.
To answer this post and your previous one – I think the difference between the shopping videos shown and you as an individual selling stuff, coupled with the way you conduct your Christmas is that you are doing it mindfully. You are thinking and examining your actions and remaining in charge of what you eventually decide. Unlike the people seen above.
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Great post! Growing up in a limited income (aka poor) family, Christmas was about family and the holiday itself, not mass gift giving. We would usually get one gift we wanted, and then clothes, school supplies, and things we needed.
When my son was young, we limited gift giving between the three of us to one from each of us, always something useful or something we REALLY wanted. Gift giving to the extended family or friends was exclusive to homemade gifts based on our hobbies or skills. We would bake goodies for teachers, neighbors; I’d crochet/knit items for in-laws and friends; or my son (who was an avid fisherman) would tie handmade flies for his uncles and cousins.
While it can be hard to complete eliminate gift giving for the holidays, it is possible to limit the amount of gifts, reduce the cost by making your own gifts, or purchasing only “insanely useful” gifts.
Thank you for this post.
Every year around January, with all the stuff I don’t need and a huge credit card bill, I wondered why we do this thing in the first place.
This year I did exactly what you mentioned in the post.
I asked my family to donate my gift exchange portion to be donated to a charity.
I opted out from friends gift exchanges and got only one gift for my oldest and for the youngest I’m making a fabric book.
But I won’t lie… It was tough to speak up!
In this society, it takes courage to live and act differently.
When everyone has a cell phone and cable TV, it was tough not to get either for me (I don’t want them but the society makes me feel out of place for not having one).
Also it takes self-discipline to ignore and make an effort not to listen to advertisement.
It’s everywhere. I want to listen to Christmas songs on the radio but I can’t escape the ads unless I turn it off every 10 mins or so.
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We would have an extra $900 to pay off more debt…since we budget $75 each month for Christmas.
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Adam, this is right on the money man! I think this is my most favorite post from you. Like you, we have really dialed down on the gift part of Christmas. My wife and I don’t usually buy ourselves presents. Generally we buy a few things for our kids and the kids in our family.
I really like your charity idea about donating to someone’s favorite charity! Awesome!
Around about Thanksgiving every year I start to have feelings of disgust for the way people act on Black Friday. Ironically it’s the very day after they supposedly give thanks for their life, their family, what they have etc. I think that says it all really. I too had a balck friday rant but this post made me wish I had been more candid!!
I don’t hate Christmas, I love it! Great job Baker!
I agree with Deb… if you grew up in a family with not a lot of money that spent more time hanging out on Christmas and less time shopping then you likely came away from the whole thing with a pretty clear head. Good luck to people that grew up in the consumer crazed homes… I can’t say I would ever trade my experiences (or Christmases) for theirs!
We can save Christmas by taking it out of the stores and putting it back in church.
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I’m a middle-of-the-roader. I enjoy making things for family and friends, or buying them locally made items or books and music. I’m not opposed to chipping in $$$ for a big present if my brother-in-law wants a new drill, or my sister wants a dock and speakers for her Ipod. I’ve given $$$ to charites in people’s names. But all my nieces and nephews (grown and mostly married, thinking about starting families) have requested only gift cards for Christmas. And all (except one) from big chain stores which I prefer not to support. To me, that’s not much of a gift, it’s an exchange only of cash.
The gift card thing was starting to stick in my craw after a few years, too. It ends up something like “keeping it in the family.” If there is money to spend, the spirit of Christmas would suggest an exchange of time (like babysitting or errand-running) rather than goods, or charitable donations. It will take a lot of persistence to change the habits of an extended family. Good luck, and happy holidays 🙂
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I try to give gifts that have some meaning. To the adults at least. 🙂 I usually try to make the gift myself or get them something I know they really want to show I care.
I dated a guy once who’s mother would open a new credit card for Christmas and max it out, so everyone could have a ton of gifts. For their family it was all about quantity rather than quality.
To me, it’s more important to spend time with my family and our little traditions.
I’m right there wanting to vomit too. I’ve worked in customer service for years now, and I’ll tell you from experience that people are at their worst during the Christmas season. It’s the time of year when they think that everything is about them!! Somepeople need to U-turn their thinking about Christmas. Until then.. I’ll avoid the stores in the month of December.
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My girlfriend has been teaching me to knit this year, so we decided to knit each other scarves for christmas, and even though it takes the secret out of it, the appreciation and love that each of us has put into it will make them among the most cherished gifts that we give or receive this year.
We are also giving her mother, who works too hard and still has to cook when she comes home, the gift of making her dinner by proxy. We have made some fresh home made ravioli and accouterments that she can keep in the freezer until she is ready to warm and serve.
I find that these types of gifts are much more greatly appreciated.
My life wouldn’t change one iota if I spent $0.00 on gifts. What a silly question! The person who normally gives the gifts wouldn’t suffer one bit if they decided not to spend anything. But their normal recipients might feel hurt. Not a very nice thing and certainly not very gracious.
As for the crazy shoppers: To them, it’s a game. That’s all. Most of them aren’t rabid or angry…they think it’s FUN. Did you see the utter glee in their faces? It’s one big game to them, much like a sport. And like any sports game, sometimes fights break out. And like any sports game, a death or two is possible. Sad, and very accidental. I’m not condoning these rabid shopper’s actions, and I certainly would NEVER take part in their game. But I do think you’re making their motives more malevolent than they really are in the broad sense.
All that said, Christmas is too commercial. But I’m not sure that gift-giving is entirely the problem. The Magi brought Jesus gifts and everyone was cool with it, because the focus was on Jesus. I’m not sure that giving $0.00 is the answer (especially in an economy where the employed poor RELY on good retail sales at their places of work, so they do not get laid off), but rather, shifting one’s entire focus to where presents are well in the background, and the real reason for Christmas (Christ) and one’s family/friends is in the foreground.
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Hello, This article has actually helped me chose a path to follow. Thanks for the great info and keep up the good work!
Thanks for this post, someone had to say and you did well. I used to do a very large elaborate Christmas every year until I realized very little of what I was doing actually reflected what I believed. No one loved me more because of it. The only thing I seemed to accomplish was debt. If I could skip the whole season I’d be ok. We are commanded to show love to one another EVERYDAY not just on a commercial driven, ego trippin day. We are commanded to show love to EVERYONE- not just the ones that can give something in return.
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I have been saying this for years. I get sick when I go to family for Christmas and the gifts are overflowing and it takes over an hour or longer to watch the grand kids open gifts. Why do they feel they have to make up for losses in their life by buying tons of gifts? They struggle financially and barely make their bills and drive a crap of a car that breaks down and looks horrible. but the kids have tablets, computers and game players from nintendo to xbox the best of this and that. The newest of everything. I have tried to talk to them and they act as if I am the freak, they say this is normal and even suggest that I am cheap in a round about way because I only buy one nice gift and one small inexpensive gift. This year I bought my grand kids outdoor gifts, soccer ball, jump ropes etc.
I have elected not to spend Christmas with them this year for that reason, I find no joy in being a part of bringing up children to think that THINGS ARE SO IMPORTANT. I plan on taking a few meals to some seniors that I know are alone and will have no family or turkey dinner this year.
That’s my idea of a good Christmas.