My husband Kris and I both love Christmas and are quite traditional in how we celebrate. We decorate our house simply, but festively and have Christmas music playing both in the car and in the house. We talk with Owen, our four year old, and even Sydney, our two year old, about Jesus and his birth, and why this birthday is so important. We take as much time setting up the Nativity Scene with Owen as we do decorating our tree. We explain the meaning of the Christmas music that we sing, and talk about how important our family is.
Because Kris and I are both extroverted, type “A” personalities, we typically have our family on the go. But something washes over us during this time of year that allows us to enjoy slowing down. We pluck the best qualities portrayed on TV from the 1950’s, and turn into total “suckers” for our own version of a Vintage Christmas. We go to the Santa Parade, drive around to look at Christmas lights, attend a Christmas concert or caroling, and stroll through villages and shops whose halls are decked.
The second year that we were married, Kris and I decided to have a “gift-less” Christmas. This was as foreign to both of us, as eating Caviar is to this vegetarian. But, we wanted to eliminate the stress of finding a gift that wouldn’t be returned, paying the best price for it, and hoping that it was in stock.
Kris and I appreciated this decision so much that we eagerly agreed to make this same commitment with my extended family. This means that other than a couple of small gifts for my children, there is not one single gift purchased or exchanged within my family. I come from a large family, and this decision changed our Holiday significantly. No longer are Kris and I throwing back and forth possible gift ideas via text message, or aimlessly searching for the perfect gift for a sibling.
I do not spend my time in stores and traffic, frustrated with fellow shoppers who are feeling the same pressure that I am, as we share blank stares or frantic looks instead of holiday wishes. Instead, Kris and I are sitting on the couch, enjoying a glass of wine in front of our tree, listening to Christmas music, while Owen and Sydney play together. I know, it sounds idyllic.
The first couple of Christmases without gifts were strange. It seemed that none of us really knew how to shift the focus of the day, or what to do with the time that was usually spent opening gifts. But the vacuum from the missing presents filled in quickly and more fully, and we no longer even remember that they were there. Now our Christmases are filled only with conversation, fun, food and spirits; and it is these things to which we look forward.
The further away from exchanging gifts I become, the more I realize how much it detracted from our holiday. Now when I hear people talking about how much they have left to do and they wonder aloud whether their, parent/sister/grandmother/uncle will like the gift that was purchased for them, it seems as strange to me as the thought of a Christmas without gifts once did.
It has been several years now that we have practiced gift-less Christmases with my family. As with all changes in life, we have adapted, and not surprisingly, the holiday is filled with more quality time together. The focus of the night is on family, and the birth of one very special Baby.