Reducing at Christmas – how can I politely say thanks but no thanks to gifts?

christmas-present I meant to post this on Tuesday – the start of advent – but after being away, I didn’t have time to do it justice so here it is now.

I haven’t celebrated Christmas for about a decade. Because I’ve got a tiny-small family, Christmas was never a big deal in our house and my participation in it has waned as the years went on until I stopped celebrating it altogether in about 2001-2002. I’m not a Christian so all that side of things is lost on me, I see my family whenever I want to, and I give gifts when I see/make something for someone rather than waiting until a date in December. For the last few years, I’ve worked on Christmas day – a perfect low-traffic day for new introducing designs or features for websites we run. True, part of it is a somewhat cynical reaction to the huge amount of waste and excess at this time of year, but it’s not that I’m particularly bah humbug about it: I just don’t participate in it in the same way many people don’t celebrate, for example, Eid or Hanukkah.

The gifts thing though is still a bit of a problem. In previous years, we’ve had long, difficult arguments with our families over gift giving. Giving is a big part of Christmas for them and as much as we’ve tried to push them that way, giving to charities on our behalf just isn’t the same for them. We end up feeling selfish for not letting them buy stuff for us and ungrateful for not willingly accepting the stuff they inevitable do buy for us. But we spend all year trying very hard not to buy stuff we don’t need, to reduce our consumption and our waste output, and then get a selection of random unneeded things, often novelty items wrapped in one-time-use shiny paper and bows. I realise they’re gifts given out of love but it’s not just that – there is so much pressure to give commercially bought gifts at Christmas – last year, my mum said she felt she had to give me things because she’d bought stuff for my brother and it wouldn’t be fair otherwise. (I didn’t care about “fairness” but it was a big deal to her.)

Has anyone else been in a similar situation on the giving or receiving end? What strategies have you used to deal with it? I always thought Christmas lists to family as an adult were a bit snotty but I guess that would solve the unwanted/unneeded problem. I realise that the whole issue is a bit of a snotty, my-diamond-shoes-are-too-tight one but I’d love to hear your thoughts.

(Photo by Vanessa Fitzgerald)

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23 Responses to “Reducing at Christmas – how can I politely say thanks but no thanks to gifts?”

  1. Janka says:

    You could ask if they could give you “immaterial” gifts. I don’t know what you like, but I’ve gotten things like tickets to the theater, monthly access card to the local pool, etc. If you want something specific made or mended for your house, they could pay for a carpenter or other pro. That way, they get to spend the money (which for them makes it feel like a “proper gift”), and you get something you like.

  2. Angela says:

    Janka’s suggestions are good ones. If they want something they can physically hand over on Christmas day, maybe they could give edible treats – handmade biscuite, fancy preserves, etc. (bought if necessary, but at least they will be used and not contributing much clutter).

  3. Bobbie says:

    To me Christmas seems like one big orgy of gluttony excess. I do participate, for I don’t want to hurt feelings, but I try to keep it as low key as possible. Before I retired I gave my boss a gift every Christmas, but the one that really made his eyes light up was a donation to the animal shelter. Charity is a gift that some will cherish. Others will cherish something done for them. At my age I have most everything I want and then more (and I am grateful). I don’t want anymore gifts, but if someone would come and rake my leaves, or do a little shopping for me, now that would be a gift!

  4. Melissa says:

    This year someone in our family suggested instead of buying gifts that we do what she called a “white elephant.” Everyone is going to find something around their home that they no longer need and give that as a gift. So not only is this free but it is also giving new life to the things that we no longer need, plus I am sure it will give us all some good laughs!

  5. Lizzy says:

    You could drop a few hints about how much you hate the way everything gets so materialistic at chrismas and how shops profit out of emotional weaknesses just casually in conversation…if that’s possible :) lol. That probably applies more to someone like me because I’m a Christian and I can focus more on the religious side. When people ask me what I want I go for the ‘uh, just give to charity or something’ answer. It makes you (and, other people :) ) think you’re such a good person. LOL.

  6. carol says:

    A few years ago a few friends and myself decided on a five dollar gift limit, and that item had to be from a garage sale, thrift store or found by the curb on garbage day! I have got the best gifts this way and we look for stuff for each other all year.

  7. Fliss says:

    Can I suggest that you just grit your teeth this year? It will be much easier to have the conversation about really, really not wanting presents once Christmas is behind you & there isn’t so much emotion washing about. If that doesn’t work, then how about asking for items/materials that will help with your reduce/reuse/recycle ethos (contributions towards a small wind turbine/solar panels)?

  8. Vee says:

    Hi! I could have written this post. I’ve gone through… No, I’m still going through the exact same thing.
    My husband’s and my family don’t seem to “want” to understand that other choices could be made.
    We have this conversation months before Christmas, every single year, we spend hours explaining how we feel and how we got there, but nothing seems to work. Our families just HAVE TO BUY STUFF to feel good.
    Strange world we live in…

  9. Alice says:

    If you’ve explained and explained and they refuse to respect your wishes, try keeping their gifts for a whole year, then wrapping them up again and giving them back to them the following year.

  10. babs says:

    I’ve tried many ways. here are a few. let folks know that you prefer gifts be given to someone who really could use a special gift.
    Ask them to give a small donation to your favorite charity, or ask folks to buy new clothing or warm blanket or toy for a child or for a womyn living in a shelter, or if they really want to gift you ask them to sing you a song or read you a poem. that is always fun. good luck and best wishes. babs

  11. JulieG says:

    I think it helps to be persistent over the years, and when someone makes even a token effort to do things your way, be super-extra-encouraging. A lot of people hear what you’re saying, but don’t quite believe that you’d be ok with not having a gift – a lot of people say things they don’t mean, just to be polite :).

    When they see that your feelings truly aren’t hurt by having a ‘lesser’ gift than they’d like to give, they’ll feel more confident to skip the gift altogether the next time.

  12. Ann Ellis says:

    You might consider the ‘Adopt a Donkey/goat/animal of your choice’ schemes etc run by many shelters and organisations like Oxfam etc – that way you still get the pleasure of gift-giving/recieving and you are doing some good at the same time (e.g.

  13. Melinda says:

    One alternative gift we’ve seen and used is the gift of lessons in a skill that somone may want to try.
    There is also the challange of giving gifts that cannot be bought in a store- encouraging making things, including gifts of music and poetry. Imagine having a song written and sung for you!
    If someone wants to give and spend cash, I suggest cycling in the money through a micro-loan organization such as Kiva.
    The gift of time and company are often the most thoughtful, such as a board game evening, or pot-luck supper, or a series of such. It’s the imagination and thoughtfulness of the occaision, not the money involved that makes it a successful occaision.

  14. Ms Alex says:

    Hi, just pointed this way by @johnleach, I’m another opt out.

    My main problem seems to be convincing people that I would voluntarily give up potential presents. I find it sad that someone could have so few presents and need them so much that they would snatch any opportunity to receive them, even if it’s for a reason they don’t believe in. I guess it’s a mileage may vary scenario. :)

  15. Alice says:

    Maybe you could ask for gifts for other people without letting them know that’s what you’re doing. The Red Cross gives out food parcels to destitute asylum seekers in a church just across the road from me, so if I asked for anything edible I could pass it straight on to them. A big box of chocolates would be a lovely treat for them and their children. They also always need good warm jumpers and jackets, scarves and gloves.

    Another thing that annoys me is very specific wrapping paper – I try to encourage people to wrap my gifts in paper that doesn’t say “Happy Xmas” all over it, cos then I can reuse it for birthdays etc. I’ve got my mum wrapping in old brown envelopes now!

  16. Stacey Trock says:

    I totally understand what you are saying. I used to get oodles of presents that were really useless to me (novelty items). However, now (at least with my mom), I ‘save up’ something I actually need until Christmas time (like running shoes, or a baking dish that broke), and then ask for it. Then, she gets to buy something, and it’s something that I needed. It takes planning to make sure you need something, though :)

  17. Steve C says:

    My family actually started a neat tradition the year I asked for cash for a trip we were taking to London. My mom combs through her copious amounts of catalogs she receives this time of year and clips out the pictures of things she WOULD have gotten us. She carefully pastes each photo on to a piece of scrap paper so she can write a note about each one. Over the years we’ve had fun finding the least likely “gifts” for each other and having a good laugh about it.
    As budgets have constricted and we’ve become more conscious about accumulating useless junk our tradition has morphed to take the place of giving actual gifts. It’s a fun way to show your family that you’ve been thinking about them without actually having to do the gift thing.

  18. BeetleBlack says:

    This is late and slightly off-topic, but if you do end up with a bunch of wrapping paper and you like how it looks, you can use it for things like journal making — instead of wrapping the cardboard cover in cloth, wrap it in the wrapping paper.

  19. sharon says:

    I am not in the mood to spend money and don’t have alot of money to spend, I know my kids are going to give me presents how do I say not to ?

  20. subduedjoy says:

    I hear you loud and strong. I’m not Christian, and I lived abroad in Taiwan while my two kids were growing up. We didn’t celebrate Christmas. We celebrated Chinese New Year.

    When I moved back to the United States, my sister kept wanting to get together for Christmas and exchange gifts. I then had to give Christmas gifts with my nearly grown children, despite the fact that I would buy things for them during the year, because it wouldn’t have been right to give gifts to my niece and nephew and not to them. I wanted to give things that people like. So I would end up spending the whole year looking for things and spending quite a bit of money on them, money I really didn’t have. In return, my sister would go to Target right before Christmas and get something cheap for me and my kids.

    Over the years, my kids had boyfriends and one of my kids got married and had kids of her own. Plus, I started dating someone who had a family of his own. More people, more gifts, more worry about getting the right gifts.

    I’ve tried exchanging immaterial gifts, card gifts, jar gifts, please donate instead gifts, … Nothing has worked. It seems that the very people who give the worst gifts are the people who want to exchange gifts. For example, everyone knows I have a digestive disease, yet one year I got a box of chocolates from my boyfriend’s cousin’s family. I let them know that I couldn’t eat the chocolate due to my digestive disease. Another year, the year I was giving out jar gifts, I got a jar of honey ganola from the same family when I had told them I can’t eat foods high in fructose due to my digestive disease. This year, the year I said no gifts and if you already got me something please donate it to someone in need, I got a small box of See’s chocolate from them. Do you really think I can eat this? Finally, after my boyfriend’s cousin’s wife told me I should accept the gift as a kind gesture, I told her straight out that my boyfriend hoards and she gives bad gifts. Well, she defriended me from Facebook.

  21. notjewish says:

    I am trying this this year with my family. If anyone else try this, let me now how well it works for you. Hopefully just the threat of not traveling will cut down some gifts.

    Just want to let you know that we have recently converted to Jewism*, and Jewism people are offended by any christmas celebration for us. So please, do not give us any gifts for Christmas.
    Also, we might not travel for Christmas break this year, and we are really trying to cut down on owning things.
    As an alternative, If you happen to see something that we might like, just send us the URL, or catalog clipping, and we will enjoy that, and will thank you for introducing us to something new.
    *intentionally not a real word. My apologies to real Jewish people.

  22. subduedjoy says:

    Christmas isn’t so bad anymore. Each year, I visit relatives during Halloween, Thanksgiving, and New Years and tell them I’m skipping Christmas; so I won’t be exchanging gifts. They don’t mind not exchanging gifts if I don’t visit for Christmas. And they don’t pressure me to visit since they just saw me at Halloween and Thanksgiving and will see me again at New Years. I give money to the kids. It turns out they like money more than gifts.

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