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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 last year, all hell broke loose!

christmas present

Guest Blogger Emily: OK, 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 last 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 again this year just because my brother refused to spring for a few Cheesecake Factory gift cards for the rest of us.


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23 comments so far | Post a comment now
Cathy December 11, 2010, 8:44 AM

Him and his family are there for dinner? That’s gift enough in my book.

the black sheep December 11, 2010, 8:48 AM

I am the black sheep who did that same thing by opting out of the Kris Kringle with the cousins. It got to the point that we had to take 3 names instead of one because we had 3 kids. I also felt it came to the point that my husband chooses not to assocaite with his family and then when you don’t even get acknowledgement from the family it isn’t worth it. I just buy for my kids and my nephews & niece and I put a cap on it as I expect my in laws to do the same.

As with the rest of the family we keeps a distance from them due reason as obvious as you can figure out. I will not buy what the kids like specifically just so they will like me. I get a gift card and the let them be happy

kim December 11, 2010, 8:55 AM

last year me and my extended family maternal side decided to just concentrate our gift giving for my 9 yr old daughter, the only grandchild, for xmas giving. this was due to financial reasons, time management, etc. it takes the stress off. we just concentrate on her enjoyment of her gifts, and our togetherness for dinner and fellowship. much less stress.

ang December 11, 2010, 8:57 AM

I agree with your brother. Fist of all just because they went on vacation does not mean they can afford other things and their finances are not anyone else’s business. Second Christmas should be about love and family, not what can we get? The exchange of gift cards or meaningless presents is just so commercial. I’d rather have a gift of my favorite candy or a silly item that reminded the giver of me in mid March, even if the item was only a couple of dollars, than a $40 gift card given out of resentful obligation at a Christmas party. If your family is comfortable enough that nobody truely needs anything, that is a big blessing and your brother should be applauded for leading the way to break the cycle of forced consumerism and apparant greed. Take the money you all set aside for his gifts and donate it to your favorite charity or buy yourselves an extra gift card “from brother.”

Sara December 11, 2010, 9:22 AM

I don’t get being upset because someone isn’t giving you a gift. They announced in advance so you know and you can still give something if you want to.

I think things are easier when there aren’t rules for gifting. You should give because you want to, not because you expect something in return.

KS December 11, 2010, 10:31 AM

Well maybe your family can take this opportunity to come up with a family tradition that actually means something to everyone. If none of you truly need anything maybe all of you could pool resources and take a little family trip somewhere. Or decorate cookies as a family. Or hire a photographer to come to your family dinner and capture candid moments as well as take a beautiful family portrait every year.

Lisa R. December 11, 2010, 10:37 AM

It sounds as if money isn’t the issue for your brother & his family (especially since he told you that). I can see his point that exchanging gift cards or money is pointless. However, instead of doing NOTHING, why not take that money (assuming everyone can afford it), and donate it to a charity? Either pick a charity that is meaningful to your family & make one large donation every year, or each year let someone choose the charity. That way, no one feels resentful, plus you help people who do need it, and it will make you feel good. Especially if your children are older (not little), this is an excellent way to celebrate the real meaning of the season, which is lost on so many people. Merry Christmas!

cindy s December 11, 2010, 10:38 AM

christmas is not about presents…and I can see how they would opt out…IM ready to do the same. As i have 7 kids and 8 gr’kids its getting alittle spendy. As long as everyone is health and happy thats should be all that is needed!

Kirin December 11, 2010, 11:03 AM

I hate to say it, but I’m totally okay with that. We do Christmas presents for everyone, but because none of us NEED anything, we all get each other Visa gift cards. So the money I spent on them, I end up getting right back. It’s just silly!

Instead I like the idea of the family choosing another family in need, and buying presents for THEM. Then if they want they could say that is the present to their own non-needy family member. “Congratulations brother, you just brightened the day of a single mom and her 3 children. It was done in your name. That’s my Christmas present to you.”

Anonymous December 11, 2010, 11:37 AM

Your brother can afford a vacation because he’s being smart about the extra spending at Christmas time. That’s smart on his part. Lighten up and enjoy his company. Or go volunteer at a shelter with him. Or just do an ornament or cookie exchange. You really sound petty and that’s not what Christmas is about. Your brother has lots of courage and I commend him for it.

Mom of 3 December 11, 2010, 11:53 AM

We aren’t even going to the Christmas family dinner. I will send over my one neices gift with my inlaws. They are all weekend alcoholics and do not appreciate the intentions of Christmas. My sister in law has her daughter on display. Her new stuff, her new PJ’s (when she changes her out of her lavish Christmas dress) it’s just too much drama! Count me out!

Lisa J December 11, 2010, 12:20 PM

I’m with everyone else. It’s pretty silly to be upset that someone isn’t giving you a gift, if you’re an adult. I feel like gift giving at Christmastime is most important for children, so I still give gifts to my nieces and nephews but I’ve told my siblings that we can’t afford gifts this year for them. They may still get me something, but I’d rather they didn’t. It really is just swapping money. My husband and I are going to put aside a little bit of money and do one of the gifts through the charity World Vision, where you buy a goat or a cow or some chickens for a needy family in a developing country. For much less than you would spend on pointless gift cards to restaurants, you can change a family’s life completely. Makes much more sense.

Cloud December 11, 2010, 1:36 PM

I felt similarly about our gift exchange with my cousins. We typically just exchanged gift cards, and so whats the point? We are all in different places and in different places in our life, so we dont really know each other very well any more, and gift cards were the easy out. So this year, I suggested 4 options for the cousins.

1. Continue to draw a name each
2. Stop all together
3. Donate money to a charity
4. Yankee gift exchange

We decided on the 4th option, since our cousins and their signifacant others changes a lot, and some times people think they can make it to christmas, but they end up not coming, or whatever. This way no matter who shows up, they can participate in the exchange. If they cant make it, they dont need to bring a gift. I think it solves a lot of issues we have had, and adds a little fun. However, I’m still worried that it will be all gift cards… but hopefully not! :) Its not personal by any stretch of the imagination, but the gifts in past years weren’t personal either.

Having said that, I wouldnt opt out unless everyone else agreed it was the right thing to do.

Liv December 11, 2010, 1:46 PM

I agree with your brother.When I was in college, I worked as a cashier. Trust me, there isn’t much ‘joy in giving’ when the giver feels obligated. I heard constant complaints around the holidays about how much people had to spend. Most people were actually quite bitter. What’s the point of giving eachother giftcards(how totally original! blah) because you HAVE to? Wouldn’t it be easier for everyone to just buy their own gift cards? Or not make it about material things? I’d rather someone give me a gift because they wanted to, not because they felt obligated. Where is the meaning?

Scarr December 11, 2010, 1:54 PM

I find it very Grinchy and Scroogey to opt out especially if the family is spending Christmas under the same roof. (I don’t like gift cards though) To me, Christmas isn’t about gifts, but it is about GIVING! Change the tone in your family to thoughtfulness not gift cards: make a gift, donate to a charity (Lisa R great post), make his/her favorite dessert, do a service for the other person, etc. There are endless websites and tv shows demonstrating creative Christmas efforts. Pay if forward…



Lissete December 11, 2010, 2:52 PM

I also just returned from a wonderful vacation in Hawaii. And yes, I am one of those that is “opting out”. Too much commercialism. None of us really “need” anything so we are opting to give to those that are in need. Plus, if I do choose to give someone a gift, I don’t expect anything in return. Here is my opting out post from a few days ago http://is.gd/iA4yA

Alison December 11, 2010, 5:16 PM

I think itS terrible to not exchange. My sisters and husbands sister don’t like to exchange but I wish they did. I get them something Under $20 anyway.

Shanon December 11, 2010, 9:35 PM

This year I stuck my neck out and suggested that my extended family do an ornament exchange. I really could care less if I get any gifts, and I know that not all of them have a lot of excess cash this year. Amazingly everyone loved the idea, and whoever wants to join in is more than welcome.We’ll still get gifts for the little ones. And If they wanna participate in the exchange all they have to do is bring one wrapped ornament per person. Then we’ll either play a rob your neighbor game or draw numbers. It will make the night a little more fun and interactive instead of people braking off into small groups to talk all night.

lam December 12, 2010, 7:02 AM

we don’t do traditional christmas or hannukah for our kids. the gifts are just too much, plus all the food and visitors and parties and general craziness. lots of people pressure us to just go along, even though they may agree that the consumerist aspect is so great. but the buck has to stop somewhere. we limit gifts to one per household, and we control the gift giving pace so everyone has a meaningful exchange. also, the kids give up an old toy for each new one they receive, or they can opt to give away the new gift. it’s wrong to judge people for wanting to take control of their holiday observance. being able to afford presents doesn’t necessitate participation, especially in a household with kids where the parents may be trying to instill some value for relationships and gift giving, or even just focus on their religious beliefs rather than gifts.

TCook December 12, 2010, 4:19 PM

My entire family has decided to do this, and although it makes it easier on the pocketbook, really is just takes the spirit of giving right out of the holiday. I love the $40.00 max per person and going with the gifts that give. Last year I made Hot Coco kits for several family members and soup kits for others. They may not consider that a gift because it’s home made, but I put love and time an effort into it all. I think that Christmas is about GIVING and I like doing that. Get creative!


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