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Opting Out of Christmas

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When my brother and sister-in-law decided to opt out of the gift exchange this year, all hell broke loose!

christmas present

Guest Blogger Emily: Okay, first of all, I know we are in a recession, and times are tight. But when my brother and sister-in-law told everyone they would not be doing the gift exchange this year, the family was less than pleased.

My brother's family had just taken a very expensive cruise a month before. And now they were telling us they couldn't afford our measly $40-limit gift? How much were they really saving by not doing the gift exchange ... $150? Was it worth disrupting our family tradition just for that?

My brother said it wasn't about the money ... he told us none of his family needs anything, and he feels it's a waste of time to just exchange gift cards back and forth.

I'd love to hear from others who have opted out of Christmas. How did your families take it? What were your reasons for opting out?

Help me understand. Because I really don't want World War III to break out over Christmas dinner just because my brother refused to spring for a few gift cards to Cheesecake Factory for the rest of us.

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29 comments so far | Post a comment now
Barbara A. December 3, 2009, 11:16 PM

It is truly sad how commercial Christmas has become. Every culture has it’s traditions at this time of the year, but all we seem to hear about is buy, buy, buy. I cannot afford to buy gifts for people this year and I think he did the right thing for his family with the cruise. The rest of you need to back off and maybe take a look at what you are doing with your immediate families and not worry about what you are going to get from him. Because I am unemployed and cannot afford Christmas, MY brother and his family will not be getting a gift from us this year. On the flip side of your issue, I have been sending something to them every year for the last 12 or more and have rarely received anything in return. This whole Christmas gift “buying” thing is just getting ridiculous. The true spirit of the season is shadowed by greed.

Meg December 4, 2009, 8:05 AM

I agree with Barbara A. Christmas has become “commercial Christmas” - the family spirit of Thanksgiving with the commercialism of Halloween on steroids. Forget religion or goodwill. So, a couple of years ago I opted out of my husband’s family’s gift exchange. For me the beauty of gift exchanges is taking the time to think about someone, what they mean to you and giving them something thoughtful. And even if Aunt Bee gives you hand knit antlers, you accept the gift graciously and think of the time she put into it and how she was thinking about you when she made/bought them. My husband’s family gift exchanges involved posting a list of what you wanted and another person buying you something off the list. No one even bothered to watch you open it. When it comes down to thoughtless gift cards, (there are very thoughtful ones, like grocery gift cards for someone trying to make ends meet)opt out.

S. Wood December 4, 2009, 1:40 PM

whoa! I think people are being way too hard on you. I agree, it is hard when someone opts out. It hurts that someone doesn’t want to share in the season and recipricate your feelings. I agree that I don’t think this is at all an issue of not being able to afford to participate (proof being the cruise), but more a matter of laziness or selfishness. I give gifts because I want to say to people, “Hey, you’re important to me.” Something similar happened in our family. Someone wanted out and said they no longer wanted to exchange gifts. This was someone myself and the rest of my family cares very much about. We said fine, but we told her that she did not get to make the decision whether we gave her a gift. Every year I continue to give her a gift because I want to, not out of obligation. Some years she recipricates, some years she doesn’t. I don’t let her decision effect mine. Hope this helps, I can sympathize.

Chrissy December 4, 2009, 9:42 PM

I guess I’m going agianst the current here. Two years ago my brother and sister-in-law did the same thing.
Myself, my parents and by opted out brother are all comfortablely middle-middle calss.
My other brother has a wife who was/is a resident so roughly there combine income was/is $80,000/yr with med school and college loans of nearly $500,00 plus they bought a house (very good loan program thru the hospital) but they didn’t opt out.
Everyone in my family is thrifty (before thrifty became cool) - coupon clipping, dollar store shopping, yard saling etc.
So none of us except expensive gifts. I bake. My doctor sister-in-law crafts. And we can’t figure out why my brother decided not to send presents. We’re a smallfamily. He also stopped sending birthday presents shortly after getting married. And yet expects presents to be sent to his kids. Although his “family decided to no longer to send gifts”. Okay but his nieces and nephews get nothing from his family.

Kate December 7, 2009, 12:50 PM

How ‘bout WE do an exchange?? My family for yours.

I don’t do gifts either-instead I opt to bake cookies together as a family and then deliver them to local agencies (i.e. Fire Department, Police, people who work on Christmas) then we all go out to dinner.

I catch H- for this every year too. My entire immediate family asks me for money 2 or 3 times a year (going on about 5 years now) b/c they can’t make rent, can’t afford car payments, can’t afford food etc and yet EVERY year there is a lavish display-to include presents and decorations-and both houses w/ enough food to feed the Roman empire.

Let me know when you wanna trade.

I don’t have a brother.

Merry Christmas!

Candy December 8, 2009, 10:48 AM

I’m with Kate. It seems everyone’s got a hand out, especially during Christmas, yet no one wants to turn around and help you out when you need it. Christmas is about the time you spend with your friends and family, and the memories you make, not whether the gift you got this year was nice enough. That’s the kind of thinking that turns my stomach. It kinda makes you wonder if it’s even worth it anymore.

GiftFreeIsGreat December 12, 2009, 12:31 AM

Try not to be upset about the gifts. In the long run you’ll be happy not to have to go buy all that stuff. About 5 years ago my husband and I decided to opt out of gift-giving on both sides of the family. He’s the one that came up with the idea. Basically, he was sick of putting a lot of time and money into buying nice gifts only to get a bunch of re-gifted junk back (expired chocolates, liqueur glasses with Santa on them, DVDs that had been watched, etc). As well, we would spend about $50 each on his two teenage nieces, and they couldn’t even mutter a single “Thank-you”. The last gift-giving Christmas, I bought one of them a $50 gift-card to what I thought was a hip clothing store, and when she opened it, she complained that she didn’t shop there anymore. His sister (the mother of the teenage nieces) spent about a total of about $5 each on our two kids. She’s a single mom, so somehow $50 became the the amount that everyone was expected to spend on the nieces, and no one questioned it even though his sister has a good job. A few days after that, when my husband was throwing out the expired chocolates, he said that there was no way he was doing the give giving the next year. (The only one who didn’t like the gift-free idea was his sister who liked “making money” at Christmas time.)

On my side of the family, there are 8 kids. Once we all started getting married and having kids, the gift-giving started getting expensive. Not to mention we were all giving each other this pile of stuff that no one wanted. So one of my sisters and I decided that we would opt out, and everyone quickly followed suit. My siblings and I would never go back to having to go to the mall and buy all the stuff. It was also good for our kids. Instead of being preoccupied with opening up presents (and then crying because they didn’t get what they wanted) they spend the time playing with their cousins. It’s so much better.

John July 9, 2010, 10:15 PM

I would like to share a tip I just found about a discount gift card exchange called . You can buy sell and trade gift cards at discounted prices from all National retailers.

Buffy December 7, 2010, 7:40 AM

Your brother in law sounds like the only one in the family who knows it’s not all about a gift card to Cheesecake factory.
Why can’t you just enjoy the feasting and being together part without the materialistic aspect of it all. I mean two out of three aint bad, righ? I’m guessing the spiritual part isn’t really an issue since the lack of gift giving seems to be the most important to you and is what you fear will cause WWIII…I personally always thought religion would be the cause of it.

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