To avoid “gifting creep,” embrace the stocking-only Christmas

Everything you need.
Everything you need.
Image: Reuters/Clodagh Kilcoyne
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Did you get exactly what you wanted last Christmas? And did you spend exactly what you intended to spend? If the answer to both those questions is yes then, well, you can stop reading.

But if, like most people I know, you found yourself stuck with a bunch of so-so stuff you don’t really have space for, and a bank statement full of charges for gifts that were above your budget, consider this: Why don’t you skip it?

Gift buying is so synonymous with Christmas, it’s almost unimaginable to be okay with the decision of largely opting out. But a few years ago, when my family realized that we were basically telling each other what we wanted for Christmas, the whole thing started to feel like a somewhat useless charade that was costing time and money. And so we stopped.

Instead, each person is now assigned with the task of assembling a stocking for one other person in the family. We all agree to a modest budget, enough to get a handful of both fun and practical gifts. (My dad’s recipient is almost always guaranteed a stocking stuffed with toothpaste, Trader Joe’s chocolate, stationary, some thoughtful books they did not know they wanted, and a kitchen gadget.) On Christmas morning, there is still the fun of opening presents while carols play in the background—but none of the capitalist hangover that accompanies getting a bunch of stuff you don’t actually need.

The alternative to this, in my experience, is the inevitable phenomenon of “gifting creep.” It goes like this: You may start out with a budget, a resolve to stick to it, and a late November optimism that you won’t enter January laden with credit card debt. But then, mid-December happens. Your brain has been fed advertisements and Christmas propaganda for weeks. You picture opening cashmere, crystal, and electronic-laden gifts from your friends and loved ones and offering them only wool socks or a book in return. You panic—and then you buy more, on the unproven theory that to do anything else would make you look cheap.

It’s true that gift giving in all its forms is a wonderful thing to do for people you love—and is something a lot of people enjoy. But lest you’ve forgotten: Consumerism is a helluva drug. The practice of picking presents amidst the frenzy of the holidays is much less the intentional act of picking out a thoughtful birthday gift for someone you love than a kind of panicked drudgery. And when you consider the sheer amount of stuff we buy is completely unnecessary when compared to what we actually need, the whole practice of acquiring more as a way to mark the end the year feels unnecessary. (Hot tip: if there is something you really need, and were hoping to receive as a gift, you can simply buy it for yourself with the money you haven’t spent on guesswork gifts.)

It’s true that, in order for this to work, the loved ones, family, or friends you spend Christmas with will have to agree. But a Christmas without consumerist pressures sounds like quite the gift to me.