I have wonderful memories of Christmas growing up.
My family spent weeks preparing, shopping, and leaving no corner of the home undecorated. Holiday tins were carefully lined along our window sills and dozens of cookies were baked.
We always looked forward to Christmas morning. Many times, I opened gifts I had been eyeing for months, and it was always evident my sister and I were very, very lucky.
As I've grown older, I still appreciate the holiday season — strands of lights outlining homes, festive cocktails and, yes, the incessant Christmas music.
It's a time of reconnecting with friends and family back home near Boston. I look forward to winding down, reflecting, and celebrating this special time every year.
However, over the past few years I've developed a distaste for the excessive amounts of spending that is expected. Between traveling home and gifts for family members, I've found myself dropping close to $1,000 for the holiday. $1000!
And it turns out I'm not alone.
Last year, the average American spent $882 on the holidays.
Everywhere we look, we're inundated by budgeting pointers, flash sales, and holiday gift guides. But what if none of it mattered?
Last summer, I fantasized about a gift-free Christmas — no rush shipping, fussing with wrapping paper, attempting to curl ribbon, or anything under the tree other than dry pine needles.
I finally dropped that bomb on my family during a vacation in Santa Fe. There wasn't immediate approval, but the consensus changed once I focused on a few key things. Here's how I got the buy-in for a gift-free Christmas from my family.
Highlight experiences rather than material things
Celebrating my mother's 60th birthday together in Santa Fe was amazing.
We loved exploring the art galleries, exploring the farmers' market, cooking a meal with local ingredients, gazing at stars through a massive telescope, driving out into the desert, and watching the sunset across the mountains every evening.
There is no gift that could possibly replace that time together.
When we discussed the option of saving for a future family trip instead of buying Christmas gifts, the decision was easy.
Plan an alternative Christmas morning
My father worried about eliminating the ritual of opening gifts on Christmas morning. Because it's exactly how he had celebrated the holiday for 62 years. But once we talked about planning a several course brunch, his uneasiness went away.
Once Christmas morning arrived, we were so distracted by delicious breakfast foods we barely thought about presents. It was the slow, peaceful morning we all craved in an otherwise hectic holiday season.
Focus on what really matters
Because we live in different places, spending time together around the holidays has become especially important. My sister and I typically visit for a couple of weeks.
Now that my sister and I are both self-employed and my father is retired, it's more important than ever to be intentional with our spending. We realized exchanging gifts just wasn't a priority.
The gift-free Christmas exceptions
I know what you're thinking. I'm a total Grinch, right?
Here are a few exceptions to my gift-free Christmas rules:
- Children If you have them or you are related to them, the gift-free Christmas is going to be an incredibly hard sell. But watching children open gifts at Christmas is pretty incredible, so it's probably not worth skipping.
- Holiday parties I don't feel comfortable showing up empty handed to any party and a holiday gathering is no exception. I typically arrive with at least a bottle of wine or some tasty snacks.
- Yankee Swaps Yankee Swaps are the South's version of Dirty Santa. If you're attending, you are required to bring a gift. But luckily, the spending limits are usually pretty low.
Even if a gift-free Christmas isn't right for your family, it may be worth looking at how much spending is really necessary. Many times I found myself trying to match another person's gifts, even when it exceeded my personal budget. By reeling in our holiday spending, we set ourselves up for a strong financial start to the New Year.
Readers: Would you be willing to try a gift-free Christmas?