Having a Cool Yule

Wow, here it is December 1, and I haven’t purchased a single Christmas gift. I didn’t leave the Thanksgiving dinner table and head to the mall. I didn’t set my alarm for o-dark-thirty the next morning so I could join the Black Friday throngs standing in line to save a few bucks. And now my Cyber Monday virtual shopping carts are empty.

Many years ago my brothers and I, along with our spouses, decided to stop buying gifts for each other. Every Thanksgiving, we’d each write our name on a slip of paper and put it in a bowl. Then we’d draw a name and that would be the only one of the six of us we bought a gift for. $50 limit. In addition to that gift, my husband and I bought presents for each other, our parents, a niece, a grandniece, and a couple of friends. Pretty simple.

This plan worked well for several years but, after awhile, even the one gift seemed silly. The $50 gift price limit soon became a gift card exchange which didn’t feel very personal… or needed. So, a few years ago, the six of us decided to stop exchanging gifts with each altogether. Now, with my parents’ passing my husband’s and my gift list has dwindled down to just a few people. For the most part, we don’t even exchange gifts with each other. Sometimes we’ll buy each other little things for fun, and we can usually identify an upcoming trip or a household need that becomes our joint “gift” to each other, but usually there’s not much under the Christmas tree… if we even have a Christmas tree.

I'm pretty sure some of these gifts under my family's 1964 Christmas tree are now on eBay.
I’m pretty sure some of these gifts under my family’s 1964 Christmas tree are now on eBay.

These decisions have helped to change the holiday season for the better. I don’t experience the stress I used to because now I no longer am focused on buying PERFECT GIFTS. My husband and I can stroll the mall and enjoy the hustle and bustle and the lovely displays, but not get wrapped up in the craziness.

Do I sound like a bah humbug? I’m really not. I love the holiday lights, decorations, music (as long as it doesn’t start before Thanksgiving) and the parties. I don’t love the crass commercialism and the media-driven expectations. I’m also not against Christmas presents; if I happen to think of the perfect gift for someone, I’ll get it. If not, I don’t spend time running around desperately trying to find something. I’ve never been particularly religious but the whole idea of Christmas gifts seems odd to me anyway. Why is the focus on buying things for each other when the “reason for the season” is supposed to be about peace and joy?

In addition to the stress relief, our move away from buying and receiving presents has been beneficial in other ways. At this stage of our lives we are actively working on getting rid of “stuff.” Thanks to thrift stores, eBay, consignment shops, and the landfill, I finally feel like we’re making progress. No gifts means no more stuff. Besides, instead of a friend or loved one spending their time searching for THE PERFECT GIFT for me, I’d much prefer they give me the gift of time spent together, enjoying each other’s company.

Author: Janis @ RetirementallyChallenged.com

My blog is about travel, relationships, photography, and whatever else pops into my head (even, sometimes, issues surrounding retirement and aging).

9 thoughts on “Having a Cool Yule”

  1. Love it! I haven’t exchange gifts (except for small children under 18) in my family in decades. I have been trying to get my husband to stop the gift giving too but with less success. Every year we come up with gifts for his kids (who are close to 50) who live across the country that I’m not sure they will like and each year we get a coffee mug or some tchotchke in return. Some traditions die hard. I will have dinner with two friends. We have exchanged gifts for 15 years (except for one year that I got us all to donate to a needy co-worker). I have done the candles, fuzzy socks, wine, ornament, etc. I’m pretty much out of ideas but I can’t get them to stop. I’m not a scrooge. Just want the holiday to be about people and not about shopping.

    1. Wine has always been my go-to gift for friends. Always in style, always appreciated. Another idea: a really good bottle of balsamic vinegar (if they cook). The scenario with your husband and his kids is such a good example of the craziness of the season. But, since it makes him feel good, I guess it’s worth it.

  2. It’s as if you read my mind! We spend all our Christmases in San Diego where most of the family is. Most of the kids are grown and the adults don’t need random gifts. Last year I was a grinch and didn’t buy anyone anything other than my nieces some swim lessons for summer. We’re all about experiences and time together. It’s nice to see more families going this route!

    1. I think your gift to your San Diego family is your visit. I still have one niece young enough to by a gift for so that’s kind of fun. It seems that each year she wants something in a different animal print (one year it was cheetah, another was leopard, this year it’s zebra).

      We should plan to meet for coffee or something when you are down here, assuming you have any free time. It would be fun to meet face-to-face.

      1. That’s nice! I think being in San Diego at Christmas is a gift to myself 🙂
        And I would love that. I will send you a personal message with my phone #. We’ll be down there starting 12/24 for a few days. Out in the bustling berg of Lemon Grove 🙂

  3. Hey Janis! I hope you already know that I COMPLETELY agree with this idea about Christmas and presents. I do think it makes a difference when you are a bit older and also have been with your husband for a while…Thom and I are approaching 38 years together and we just don’t need to buy stuff for each other any more (except as you say the occasional “joint” gift) . And I put all my family on notice years ago about no presents and they have finally gotten the idea! It makes our holiday SO-O-O much better right? Now we can celebrate it doing the things we love with the people we love and it’s definitely a cool yule! ~Kathy

    P.S. Where are you near San Diego? We live in La Quinta but pass through there all the time on our way to Rosarito. Some day we should do lunch or at least coffee if it works out!

    1. I think more and more people are paring down on the volume of presents they buy, especially when there are no children involved. It really does make a difference in stress levels and on the budget (especially since I always seemed to end up buying a lot of stuff for myself too). We just don’t need as much anymore.

      We live close to Mission Bay. I’d love to have the opportunity to get together for coffee sometime!

  4. For some reason I had you pegged as being in the Monterey Bay area, not realizing you were just one county over in San Diego. 🙂

    We likewise went through a significant retraction of material exchanges some years back. It just began to seem silly given how full our lives already are the other 364 days of the year. I had long made it a goal to finish all of my shopping prior to December 1, as there is no place I’d rather not be in December than inside of a shopping mall. Now I’m able to do most of my remaining shopping from the comfort of my home office, thanks to the increasingly voluminous offerings of pretty much every place we might ever care to do business with, including restaurants and performing arts venues, two of my favorite things to gift loved ones with.

    It has made all the difference in being able to get to the heart of what this month is, in my opinion, supposed to be about – love, kindness, serenity, joy, peace and goodwill.

    1. Gifts of experiences, including dining out and the theater, are my favorite to give and receive, and ordering gift cards online makes it so easy. When we give a gift card, my husband and I enjoy packaging it in some creative way. I’m hearing from more and more people who have either cut way back on the holiday frenzy, or are trying to figure out how to do it. There are usually one or two holdouts in most families who want to keep it going.

      Have a peaceful and lovely holiday!

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