In my 26th year I am finally feeling confident enough to put a long-standing idea into action. This year, I have asked my families to not get me any gifts for Christmas.
Initially this is a hard request to make, since its implication is that of course you were going to buy me a gift and of course months in advance you were already considering it! Gift-giving has always made me feel uncomfortable, and although my personality plays a part in this decision, I think it’s something worth considering for everyone.
I have an anal expulsive personality, which means I am always ready to do some deep cleaning and see what I can toss or donate. I can remember being a very little person and getting anxiety over the amount of figurines and mini tea sets my mother would give me for Christmas. “Where the hell am I going to put all this?” my six-year-old self would wonder, alarmed.
I’m not only concerned about what people give me. A big part of my stance against gift-giving stems from the stress that comes with the expectation to give other people gifts. I torture myself over what to get people, hoping they will like it, hoping I will get it to them on time. Years when I haven’t had any money, I have settled on heartfelt letters or tarot readings.
Having an already large family was stressful enough for Christmas time. For years, in my mom’s huge Catholic family, there has been a rotating gift exchange. Even one family buying for only one other family doesn’t provide much relief, since one other family might have 7 to 12 members. Once my sister and brothers started pairing off and creating families, my own family gift list grew unwieldy, too. Now I was also responsible for partners, children, stepchildren, and extended family members.
When nieces and nephews began popping up, the light and joy of receiving gifts was born again in them. I felt the tradition had been passed on to the next generation, and it was a perfect time for the adults to scale back on rabid, expensive, stressful gift-giving amongst each other, and instead give the kids the Christmases and birthdays of their fantasies. On top of all that, recently I got married and had a brand new family to also consider.
It was too much, and no one wanted to commit to a gift-giving system where you would only be responsible for one family or even just one person.
I have two polarizing examples of gift-giving. In my family, most of us are blue collar, and a lot of times we give each other homemade gifts or used books. Everything is appreciated and gift-giving is such a potent currency that often I feel we are exchanging gifts just for the joy of giving to each other.
It’s a nice sentiment, but I feel we could give to one another in a different, non-material sense, and still retain the warm feelings. My mother goes all out for Christmas, no matter what her circumstances may be from year to year. She is like a busy mother bird, bringing her open-mouthed meeping babies little treasures from the outside world. Each year, even as an adult, I leave with a magpie’s stash from her. Sometimes I don’t know what to do with it all.
My husband’s family is smaller than mine and most of them have healthy salaries and they love to go all out with gift-giving. It’s unapologetically materialistic. Each year it feels like the stakes are raised to see if you can outdo the best gift from last year, which might have been a plasma TV or a David Yurman bracelet. It’s also not considered offensive for someone to be unimpressed or even to return your expensive, well-thought out gift. Even if I had the money to compete, I have a hard time finding the meaning of playing this expensive and endless game.
With many exchanges, I often get the feeling that gift-giving is forced. I get a lot of questions about what I want and oftentimes I end up with odd, unfitting gifts that leave me wondering why the person bothered asking me what I wanted at all. One year for my birthday – I was turning 25 – my mother-in-law sent a card with seven five-dollar bills in it. It felt incredibly awkward, like a gift I might get from an old aunt who thought I was turning 12 instead of 25. I wished she had just sent the sentimental card and skipped the weird, unnecessary cash gift.
I feel I must be direct and say what many of us probably think: every year for my birthdays and Christmases, I end up with a lot of stuff that I never wanted and I spend more time figuring out how to get rid of it than actually using it. That makes me feel guilty, and I would just as soon not receive anything. Especially now as I get older, I have a decent-paying job, and I buy myself so much stuff throughout the year (and I notice most other adults do the same!). I feel like I have enough. I spoil myself enough. It feels wrong to receive more material goods from other people.
I think what I’m really against is insincere gift-giving, which occurs even among the closest of family members and friends, because gift-giving is required so frequently among us. If someone did not have a lot of money and could really use a gift, I’m happy to chip in and purchase them something special. I’m not against gift-giving completely. Throughout the year for no reason at all I send my mom and sister little things I know they’ll love, and I love to surprise my husband with a luxury item in mid-July or simply because it’s October. I could care less if no one gets me anything. As I mentioned before, I buy myself a lot.
My idea is to transcend the gifting of material goods. I would prefer for us to gather together and make a memory together. Cook a meal and make some sangria. Spend an afternoon playing old board games. Sneaking out for a fabulous dinner with just one or two other people. A memory is something I can keep forever, something I never have to sell or lose in the event that my fortunes change.
I know some people are appalled at the idea of ceasing to give gifts. Unfortunately many of those people are my relatives. I’m beginning to find it odd that more adults don’t grow out of the desire for material gifts. It seems as if it should be a more accepted and expected rite of passage.
This year I finally asked my family to honor my request of no gifts. I am looking forward to visiting them without having spent the days preceding scouring malls for just the right things. I’m looking forward to relaxing at my mom’s house, cooking and serving wine. I’m looking forward to returning home with little to no extra cargo. I’m looking forward to starting the New Year light, fresh and free of baggage (and no mandatory post-holiday trips to Goodwill). You too can be this liberated if you just give this idea a try.