Around this time, people start complaining about how stressful it is to shop for Christmas gifts. I just nod and pretend I have any idea what it’s like. I am fortunate not to have the stress of figuring out “perfect gifts” for my family, because my family has never exchanged Christmas gifts. This wouldn’t be strange if we didn’t celebrate Christmas, but we are Christian, my siblings and I grew up in American consumerist culture, and we were not poor. The idea of not giving gifts at Christmas is catching on, but so is the backlash. People talk about the trend as cruel or selfish. Though I knew our family was different for not giving gifts, iin the end, I’m grateful for the experience and all the money and stress my parents saved. Here’s how a Christmas without gifts changed my life.
1. The Kids, We Turned Out Alright (But We Aren’t Wunderkinds)
My parents aren’t minimalists. We had plenty of toys growing up – likely not as many as other kids, but it’s not like we played with sticks and cardboard boxes (I mean, we did, but we also had regular toys). We didn’t feel deprived and it wasn’t treated as a punishment. It never really seemed like anything my parents deliberately did. My mother would take us shopping for clothes in the beginning of December. Sometimes she got clever and wrapped these clothes and put them under the tree. But we always expected to just watch movies on Christmas Day. That’s just how we celebrated. Wake up, have breakfast, go for a walk, watch movies. Presents weren’t a given on Christmas morning.
Getting rid of Christmas gifts isn’t a magic bullet for parenting. My siblings and I aren’t superhuman wonderful or superhuman grateful. We are perfectly normal adults who didn’t have gifts growing up. It didn’t ruin us or make us angels.
2. I Got Used to Being Weird.
Immigrant kids often talk about feeling embarrassed because of the food they brought to school or the clothes they wore. For me, the most awkward time of the year was coming back after winter break when everyone was talking about their Christmas gifts. When I was younger, I just got tongue-tied. The only time I really missed not having gifts was this awkward moment when I got scared I would be found out as a weirdo. Then, I learned I could just make stuff up. I would look at catalogs and pick something that I could tell the other kids. The other kids wouldn’t remember what I said or ever ask to see the gifts anyway.
I know a lot of people want to shield their children from any discomfort, but these awkward situations teach us that we are resilient. In the future, we are freer to live on our own terms and withstand the judgment of our peers (or make innocent white lies).
3. We Saved a Ton of Money (and Stress).
I see people spending a fortune and ruining their Decembers with stress trying to find perfect gifts. There are a lot of pluses to not exchanging Christmas gifts such as:
- my parents must have saved a few hundred dollars a year for 30-some years not buying gifts for their three kids – that could easily be invested to equal $50,000;
- my siblings and I have saved hundreds or thousands not buying gifts for our parents;
- we saved a ton of storage and plastic and packaging – it’s better for the environment, saved time shopping, saved a lot of stress
- our energy was focused on Christmas festivities and limited gifts to significant others and friends.
4. We Didn’t Have the Mythology
Obviously, us kids never believed in Santa Claus, because then we would have started asking questions. There was a brief moment when I thought this was all an elaborate scam by my parents to keep Santa away from us (I was a weird, suspicious, stupid kind of child), but those theories dissipated.
We also didn’t believe in the tooth fairy or the Easter bunny. To me now, I think it’s weird to lie to your kids. And I also would have been freaked out that a fairy or a weird old man would enter my bedroom or the house when I was sleeping (I was and still scared of night intruders). In the end, it was probably good for me not to believe in these mythologies because I would have never been able to sleep properly.
5. We Have Everything We Need.
When I was younger, I read one of those “You know you’re Asian when” lists and it really helped me understand why my family did certain things differently than other families. After that, I assumed that not giving gifts was an Asian thing. Of course, when I talked to other Asian people, they were just as surprised about our family traditions as anyone. Then I realized I had no idea why we adopted this tradition.
One day I asked my mother why we never got gifts for Christmas. Her face flashed surprised and a little indignation, before responding, “You already had everything you needed.” The reason we never got gifts as children was because for over 20-some years, my parents had just never thought about it.
That year she felt guilty and said she would buy us gifts. But what she said initially was completely true. We always had a roof over our heads, food to eat, and clothes to wear. Our parents paid for our college educations and I had very expensive piano lessons. My parents’ love language is food, and we always had the best food, prepared from scratch, every damn night of the week.
My parents never got us gifts because they didn’t think about it. They looked to see if we needed anything, if we lacked for anything, and honestly we didn’t. It made me feel a little bit bad asking my mother, because it seemed a little ungrateful, but when I think back about it now, but I was honestly just curious. I wouldn’t be a modicum happier in my life getting gifts over the course of my childhood than living the childhood I did.
I think about this conversation now when I’m shopping. I have enough and that’s a great lesson to learn when you’re young.
Conclusion – A Christmas Without Gifts
Christmas movies always make it seem like Christmas is this magical day that can make up for everything else that happened over the other 364 days. But Christmas is just one day of the year. I know my parents worked hard to provide for us all 365 days of the year and I wanted for nothing. I celebrate the Christmas season by listening to Mariah Carey, eating candy canes, and watching the chaos of shopping from my own little low-stress no-gift world. It’s not a bad vantage point.