A no-gift Christmas? No, thanks 

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It seems that more and more people are examining their gift-giving habits this holiday season.

For many, Christmas has become too commercial, co-opted by corporations bent on selling us things we don't need. Others simply see all the gift giving as a distraction from the true spirit of the holiday.

A recent article in The Atlantic, "The joy of no-gift Christmas," observed that many holiday celebrants are foregoing gift giving all together and finding joy in new traditions.

"When we remove material purchasing and consumption from the table, we are forced to question what we are bringing to (the holiday)—individually and collectively," relays a 26-year old educator and social-justice advocate who has formed a "no-gifts pact" with her family. "After our family reflection on this, the answer has been clear: Ourselves, we bring more of ourselves."

Since 2001, a group of Canadian Mennonites has been inspiring parishioners across the country to downsize their Christmas giving. The group even has a website, www.buynothingchristmas.com, with ideas for handmade gifts.

"When it comes to Christmas and consumer spending, my faith in God compels me to think of my brothers and sisters all over the globe," explains Aiden Enns, one of the group's coordinators.

"In the case of the Mennonite church in Canada, the majority of its members, including me, has benefited from the current economic arrangement (free-market capitalism). But our affluence has come with some expense to others.

"I think it's a great way to challenge our own consumer mindset, to put our faith into action, to offer a prophetic 'no' to unfettered free-­market consumer capitalism."

It's important food for thought, especially given our growing understanding of the dire consequences of the astonishing amount of waste that each and every one of us produces.

Moreover, for many people, preparing for the holiday can lead to increased stress, maxed-out credit cards, and agonizing over that perfect gift.

But while I appreciate (and in some ways, agree) with the ideas behind a no-gift Christmas, I won't be trying it anytime soon. For better or for worse, giving gifts—the material ones (i.e. things purchased at The Bay)—is a cherished element of my family's Christmas celebrations.

For my nanny—who has the entire family over every year—Christmas is preceded by weeks of baking, decorating, and letter writing. She gets into Christmas—as in used-to-call-us-up-pretending-to-be-Santa-Claus into Christmas.

"I have been sitting in my chair for three or four days, from morning until night, writing away and enjoying it so much," she texted me last week. "I start off wanting to write a note and end up with around four pages!"

As kids, mounds of presents would surround her tree, beautifully wrapped. We'd pick them up and give them a shake, trying to intuit what's inside.

And it's not as though she's flush with money. Like many in her generation, she makes sacrifices throughout the year in order to give generously.

When the big day hits, I'm always touched with the thoughtfulness of her gifts, whether it be a Lego I didn't know I wanted or a video game I'd mentioned offhand.

I think she is as excited to give as I am to receive.

For years, she was my chief stylist, with the wardrobe I acquired carrying me through the entire year. (That's stopped, recently.)

A lot of the traditions that have emerged in my family would, I imagine, strike some people as off-putting—symptomatic of our "material culture" run amok.

For example, my nanny has three daughters, and they invariably give each other clothes; each present is accompanied by a long explanation of how the items look fabulous and they should definitely "keep it, keep it."

Not sure where it started—or for that matter, if this happens in other families—but presents often get taken back, exchanged for different things or items. I cringe a bit—but it is what it is.

Like many, I tend to leave my Christmas shopping to the very last minute, when the malls are jammed and sales staff is exhausted.

While I imagine it's a nightmare scenario for some—particularly the no-gift Christmas types—I enjoy it. As I watch people clutching gifts, I like to imagine the joy that each gift will set off.


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