How to stop giving gifts for Christmas

By Angus Woodman
Photo by Ryan Boren (

I’m not sure what I like most about Christmas shopping.

Perhaps it’s dodging traffic in the busy streets. Perhaps it’s squeezing my car into the only open parking spot between two poorly-parked SUVs. Perhaps it’s strong-arming my way through a store, dodging holiday displays whose invasion of the aisles gives me war flashbacks.

Or maybe, just maybe, I don’t like any of it at all. Yes, that sounds right. Luckily, I’m not under an obligation to put myself through it this year, because a few years ago, I gave up exchanging presents. Completely.

Before you call me a grinch, or something unprintable, let me explain. There are plenty of reasons to give up giving on the holidays.

I once watched my then-27-year-old brother receive a Dallas Cowboys blanket from a member of his step-family. My brother doesn’t watch football. I doubt my brother knows what a football even looks like. I once heard him call it “footsball.”

Watching him pretend to like this blanket was one of the funniest things I’ve ever seen.

Also, I don’t want anyone worrying themselves over what to get me. And I don’t want them feeling like they failed when they don’t do it before the Christmas timer buzzes.

Now let’s drag some economics into this. Christmas creates what is called a deadweight loss. (Stay with me for a second.) This happens when a good is purchased for more than its utility. That is to say, someone giving a gift will pay more—in one 2006 study, 16 per cent more—than the person receiving it would have paid to buy that same item for herself.

This is wasteful and challenges a free market. Some stores depend on the Christmas spending surge to stay afloat. Ever think, “how is that place still open?” Christmas over-spending. That’s how.

There are many other reasons (the economic downturn, the enviroment, etc.) but let’s assume you’re completely convinced already. You’ve decided you no longer want to participate. So how do you extricate yourself from the mass hysteria? It seems impossible.

Tell anyone and everyone
That’s right. You have to sit and have a semi-serious conversation with anyone you think might give you a gift. Tell them you aren’t accepting or giving gifts. Tell them why. If they argue, lay on as much guilt as you need. Then when it’s over give them a cookie. Repeat until you run out of friends or cookies.

Start with a small group
If you can’t give up gifting completely, try to convince a smaller group of friends first. Maybe start with a group that’s hard up for cash.

The charity beard
Two things here: First, if someone is completely uneasy with the idea of not giving you something, tell them to give to a charity in your name. Your friend would never argue that. Because that’d make him a bad person.

Next, tell everyone that if you do end up with a gift, you’re going to give it to charity. Or if you can’t because you’ve already eaten it, donate the equivalent amount to charity.

Alternate gifts
Bake each other cakes, clean each others’ shoes, trade significant others for a night. There are lots of things you can do for someone besides buying things that will embarrass people and erode the economy.

Whatever your reason for doing it, removing the traditional gift-giving from Christmas will have one effect: it will make the season fun again. If you don’t believe me, try pouring all the money you would’ve spent on gifts into alcohol.

Now you’re with me.


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11 February 2008

  1. Samwise · February 11, 2008

    Another well written article Angus. I can’t say i’ll be stopping my Christmas present purchasing anytime soon, but it has definitely become too commercialized and taking the stress out of finding gifts is definitely a good idea. Not sure i’m down with the wife swapping though…

  2. Shawn · February 11, 2008

    Well done, Angus. There’s _way_ too much emphasis on the gifts. Our family has decided on a “second-hand” Christmas. The only gifts given have to be homemade or, if bought, bought second-hand. So any money spent is going to the charity thrift stores. Everyone’s having a blast with it, and there’s bottles upon bottles of fresh jams and jellies in the basement waiting to be passed along.

  3. Kerri · February 11, 2008

    I don’t know if I’m ready to give up gift giving, but I’m doing my best to take the commercialism out of Christmas. I’ve been making dish cloths, scarves, mix tapes, and jewelery. It’s cheap, and it’s fun. :)

  4. rod · February 11, 2008

    LOVE IT! I have also started this trend…beginning with the charity bit…so far so good. Here’s to a FUN holiday for a change.

  5. Rhonda · February 11, 2008

    I also have stoppe with gift giving within teh last few years! It feels great to just meet with friends and family and feel no pressure to amuse them with anything other than my humour! I also never feel the pains of overspending in January! Before this article I felt lonely in my quest, but now I am happy to know others think like me. Maybe not many people, but hey…

  6. kim · February 11, 2008

    I think we should all wait until the after christmas sales and buy one thing we have wanted all year for ourselves and say it’s from santa and call it a day!

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