My mom got pregnant with me when she was 16. Needless to say, we weren’t rolling in cash those first years I was earthside. But Christmas? Christmas was different. Valuables were pawned, gifts were shipped across state lines from family, or donated by strangers. No matter how little we had day-to-day, we always had an over the top, present packed holiday. Christmas was magic. An escape from reality that was literally packaged with shiny ribbons and bows.
Even as we moved out of poverty, giving and receiving gifts was a cornerstone of Christmas growing up. It set the stage for how I approached the holiday as I became an adult. Spending more money than I could afford to on the people in my life I loved. Stressing that gifts I bought people didn’t make me come off “cheap” or “poor” or “less.” Over-gifting was a well-formed habit by the time I was 18. Christmas brought me so much joy growing up, and I wanted to spread that joy on to my friends and family. I had been conditioned that material possessions bring joy, so that was my joy spreading method.
Having three kids back to back is a quick way to learn how fast ‘stuff’ accumulates. And as I became more and more aware of the amount of waste we create as consumers it was painfully obvious something had to change. For years we cut back on the amount of gifts we gave. We instructed friends and most family to abstain from giving us any gifts (for birthdays and Christmas alike). But it was still too much. So last year I didn’t buy a single present. Not for my kids, my parents, my husband, not a present purchased and not a penny spent. And looking back I don’t have an ounce of regret.
My kids have plenty of toys. Toys with a lot of life left in them. Toys they usually enjoy, but seldom take care of. I do not need to donate their well loved (emotionally and physically) toys just to make room for new toys that will ultimately meet the same fate of the landfill. They also have plenty of clothes. They do not need a new outfit just because it’s cute or on sale. I can’t keep up with laundry as it is, I do not care to add to it. They live within walking distance to a library filled with more books than they will ever read. Meanwhile, most of the books they own have ripped or missing pages – why add more?
Our culture of consume, consume, consume is hurting us, more than we know. Not only are the dumpsters around the nation full of perfectly good food, but they are full of perfectly good gifts. We’re depleting natural resources to stock shelves. We demand variety, perfection, and abundance, and businesses provide. But once the seasons change and our interests shift, stores are left with tons and tons of merchandise and nothing to do with it all. Thrift stores are already busting at the seams with toys, gadgets, furniture and clothes from families who donated to make room for new goods, which means these items go straight from the factory to the landfill, only stopping briefly to sit in a retail store. Incidentally, much of what we donate never makes it’s way to a new family either. There are simply too many people trying to get rid of too much stuff. Santa and the giving of gifts becomes a lot less magical when you see the damage it’s doing to our earth.
Spending time making sure we have room for new toys. Spending time shopping, shopping, shopping. It all takes away from the time we could, and arguably should, be spending with the people we are giving gifts to. Last year was so much more enjoyable, and time with family so much more valuable, when we weren’t focused on gifts. We still created beautiful memories – they were simply not memories centered around stuff. I cannot think of a more effective way to teach my children that Christmas isn’t about presents —than to not make it about presents.
I am looking forward to another amazing, gift-free Christmas.