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A Gift-Free Christmas

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.


2013 and knee deep in presents

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. 

Sad Christmas

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.


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10 Responses to A Gift-Free Christmas

  1. laura December 12, 2016 at 9:16 am #

    good for you! i so admire this and totally agree! did your kids respond to this?

    • Megan
      Megan December 15, 2016 at 6:11 pm #

      Thankfully we ‘transitioned’ when they were still young. They did have a couple things to open from my mother who didn’t listen last year haha they were happy to open the gifts but had more fun running around with their cousins after the gift opening. We also homeschool, so the pressure to conform isn’t as present.

  2. Alice December 12, 2016 at 11:24 am #

    Love this! You’re awesome! You’re so conscientious and actually practice what you preach. I admire you.

    • Megan
      Megan December 15, 2016 at 6:12 pm #

      You’re too sweet! I’ve still got ample room for improvement!

  3. Louise Golden December 14, 2016 at 5:31 pm #

    Wow. Amazing. I totally concur. I hate gift getting just as much as gift giving. I am tired of being owned by stuff.

  4. Danielle December 15, 2016 at 12:07 am #

    I am curious! How old were your children at the time? Was “Santa” still in the mix? How did they respond? Was your holiday more faith focused or was this simply a matter of realistic and minimalist needs?

    • Megan
      Megan December 15, 2016 at 6:16 pm #

      6months, 2yo &5yo . . . But we never did Santa so that wasn’t an issue for us (Santa wasn’t a part of my childhood either and all the same I still found him fun and magical for make pretend – just like my kids do now). I am not a Christian, so for us it was more about assessing out needs and environmental impact. Even as non-Christians we still take them to Christmas mass at a church every year so they can have that experience / knowledge to digest as they see fit.

  5. Jeanette Greene December 16, 2016 at 6:42 am #

    I feel the exact same way. My boys have 2 sets of parents, myself and their stepdad and their dad and stepmom. Their stepmom has 3 sisters and also divorced parents and their Nana on dad’s side, which ends up being a lot of STUFF after Christmas. Most of which they don’t remember after a few months and other things that were only played with on Christmas day. Last year we decided to try something different. I booked 1 night at a local Resort with an indoor water park and we told them they would only be getting 2 presents to open from us. They protested at first but after being at their dad’s they didn’t really care about more presents. They had 2 small gifts from us to open and it was perfect. This year we told them we would do 2 nights at the same resort and 2 presents they didn’t say anything except how excited they were to get to go to the waterpark. That is exactly what we wanted, for them to remember what they got for Christmas for a change. Next year we will go on a 3-4 day Cruise and they’ve already started asking to see pictures of the ship. I doubt we’ll ever go back to giving very many gifts.

  6. Alison December 20, 2016 at 3:55 pm #

    I have tried to ask my family to not do gifts… My mom just gets mad and tells me how ungrateful I am. Any suggestions???

  7. Lorraine December 23, 2016 at 1:12 pm #

    Maybe you could set up college funds or something so your friends and family could contribute to those throughout the years… maybe I should do that too!!!