Doing Christmas Different This Year

by Kevin on December 31, 2008

My wife and I are still on vacation, but we’re enjoying it from our own home. Two full weeks off is amazing — especially when I haven’t had much time off the rest of the year.

This year we did Christmas a little bit different. We agreed up front not to spend hundreds and hundreds of dollars on each other or for our families. We communicated to our families that we really felt like we had everything we need and most of the things we want. Getting us extra stuff just because you “have to” seems a bit silly. It is the thought that counts behind the gift, but with all of the stuff currently in our house adding more needless items is wasteful and clutters our space.

Our gift to our parents? Coming home and spending an entire week. Seriously, that never happens so it was a real treat. I guess I should say the real gift for the Moms was “we will come home and eat everything you put down before us.” Apparently clean plates and full stomachs make our mothers happy. I’m all for that!

This change in giving tactics went over surprisingly well.

We did tell our parents that if they absolutely had to get us anything we would allow it. But we pointed them in one direction — helping fund our future children’s education. We are just starting to save in this category (and yet it still terrifies me!), so every little bit counts.

Of course there were still a few small gifts here and there they still gave us. That would seem to defeat the purpose, but not really. They were small, personal, and not just more stuff.

I highly recommend trying to change your family’s Christmas expectations.

We finally settled on this idea because Christmas isn’t about spending money. Standing in line at a retailer… away from your loved ones… getting stressed out… is no way to spend a holiday. So we simply said no to it this year. And it worked out well.

Granted, I can imagine this being nearly impossible once children arrive on the scene. America is built on a consumerism mentality. We will have to fight hard nearly every day (especially every holiday) to avoid our kids having it driven into them. Imagine a Christmas scene with only a few small wrapped gifts under the tree rather than fifteen for each child.

I guess we’ll find out some day.

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Alisha December 31, 2008 at 8:39 am

I’m so impressed that you were able to talk your family into doing this! My dad is pretty good about getting people presents only because he finds something they will really like, need, or use, not because he feels obligated. My mom and my husband’s family, on the other hand, are not *at all* like that. This Christmas, I figured out why the Santa myth is so attractive. It’s not that our heart’s desire is to have a pile of crap under the tree. If you think about any of those stories, they feature Santa giving a child the _one thing_ that they have their heart set on. The gifts that are just because you have to are worse than nothing…
I’m also worried about the kid thing–I would rather my (future, as in, hopefully in a year or so) kids have higher-quality toys and fewer of them, than piles of arsenic-laden crap from China. My FIL, though, is the kind of guy who would rather give piles and piles of cheap plastic junk. He’s also one whose feelings are easily hurt. I’m a bit afraid of having to lay down the law with him…But anyway, good for you, and good for your family, for doing this.

Philip December 31, 2008 at 11:02 am

About 4 years ago our family of 7 plus significant others decided we would do christmas by drawing a name andyou buy for that one person instead of everyone and with a set limit on cost as well. We still buy too much stuff for all the kids though, and I am not sure that will change very easily.

This year I got one mid-size gift and 2 other small things that are not really much at all. I can handle this because the one thing I got was basically wanted anyway.

How do you think you are going to handle kids getting piles of stuff that they play with for a couple days and then is in the same pile as everything else? I know my neice got about 50 gifts or more!

Denise January 1, 2009 at 5:21 pm

I’m glad that you had a good Christmas. I have found that one main key to keep children from becoming consumeristic is to not allow them to watch television or severely limit it to prepicked shows. Also, pick a number of gifts and hold firm. To limit a family on gift giving to children is very hard. Ive had limited success with this. Usually, a theme gift is the best with everyone contributing. This year, my daughter desperately wanted a gym membership, she is sixteen, and everyone gave her money and gifts towards that. Good luck.

Kevin January 2, 2009 at 2:39 pm

@Alisha – good luck with the fight in the future 🙂

@Philip – Sounds like a good idea. Kind of like Secret Santa?

@Denise – How do you manage to limit television time?

Denise January 3, 2009 at 4:42 am

Just set the firm rule and that is that. Usually it was one show picked by us, in the beginning, like a PBS cartoon type show, and then one show picked by my daughter. Then the TV was off for everyone while she was awake. There were so many other things to do that it is easier that you think it is. We always had a garden, chores, finding bugs outside, going to the library….. When they get older, it is much harder. Also, she had good toys that she could occupy herself with.

DebtFreeDave January 4, 2009 at 8:14 am

It is hard with kids; my son is almost 3 and this is the first Christmas where he had some concept that something was going on. My wife and I did limit our shopping on each other to $100 a piece and know each other enough to know what the other needs/wants. We went about the same amount with our son but there were a lot more gifts as we got a lot of deals on Thomas the Tank Engine stuff, his latest obsession. The relatives thing is another story, basically a bunch of stuff that he barely touched when it was opened and stuff that was bought mainly to annoy us (like a Wonder Pets dancing Ming-Ming).

Kevin January 6, 2009 at 9:05 am

@Denise: I can imagine it getting more difficult over time. I’d like to introduce kids to a bunch of board games — they’re inexpensive, some can be educational, and all of them require them to think. For example, Yahtzee is a great game because of the math, numbers, and problem solving/strategy.

@DebtFreeDave: We did the same thing with the shopping limit. (Although as I wrote about today, my wife did surprise me with a night at a B&B). Did your relatives intentionally buy it to annoy you or is that just how it turned out? How would they feel if you sold it or gave it away instead?

DebtFreeDave January 7, 2009 at 8:00 am

I don’t think they intentionally set out to annoy me but once they found out it annoyed me, they made sure they got that gift instead of our suggestions. As far as giving it away or selling it, I’m sure we will eventually but won’t tell them; they would be pretty ticked off probably.

Kevin January 7, 2009 at 8:18 am

@DFD: “Oh yea… that? It broke… two days later…” 🙂

Philip January 7, 2009 at 10:42 am

Along those lines of annoying toys, when my nephew was still about 2-3 we found this toy train that he could sit on and if you pressed any button on it, it would go off making noises for about 5 minutes! He loved that toy and made sure that they fixed it when it quit making noise i.e. new batteries. We know that his parents hated it but we loved how much he would make it go off. I know it will come back and bite me if I ever have kids.

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