Why There Won’t Be Any Gifts Under Our Tree This Christmas

pile of wrestlers from Flickr via Wylio
© 2006 romana klee, Flickr | CC-BY-SA | via Wylio

My kids love watching old home videos of our family. The older two can’t stop laughing at their small(er) selves, and the littles like to catch up on the time in our family history that came before they existed. Watching those videos is a win-win: the kids are entertained, and Maile and I get to remember some of the tough times we’ve been through: Christmases when we didn’t have money to buy each other gifts; Christmases when we were living in my parents’ basement. We get to see how the passing of years can redeem even the most difficult of times.

During our most recent video marathon, the kids broke out some old Christmas reels. Lots of shredded wrapping paper and happy squeals and proclamations of, “Hey, remember when we got that?” or “Wasn’t that a wonderful present!” But the more of these videos we watched, the more aware we became of a theme threading its way through our ghosts of Christmas past:

We have VERY FEW of those presents anymore.

And I’m not talking about minor gifts or stocking stuffers. We usually buy three gifts for each kid, with one of them being a larger gift. We realized that very few of even the largest, most desired presents had survived to the modern day era of our family.

“What ever happened to that plastic pony?” I whispered to Maile, and she shrugged.

“Where did that Spiderman-thingy ever end up?” she asked me. I didn’t know.

A few days later Maile and I talked things over. We were at a loss – gifts are fun, and we all look forward to them, but when we looked at the passing of the years, it felt like a colossal waste of money. We started brainstorming. Then we approached our kids with a pretty big ask.

“What if, instead of Christmas gifts this year, we did something fun as a family?”

Skeptical glances.

“You mean no presents?” one of them asked.

“No presents,” I said. “Instead, we drive up to New York City, spend the night, grab some dinner, and go see a show.”

The tide began to turn. We talked about it a little bit more. They had some questions. As a family, we came to the decision that, at least this year, that’s what we’re doing. No plastic presents that will disappear sometime in the next twelve to twenty-four months. Instead, we’re spending the money on an experience that will bring us closer together, an experience that can’t get lost or overlooked or thrown in the trash.

There are all kinds of ramifications for our family with this, and we still have a lot of questions about how it will work out. I know this: we’re going to have to work hard to make Christmas morning special in a new way, a way that doesn’t involve trashcan loads of spent wrapping paper. But for now I’ll leave it at that. There will be no gifts under our tree this Christmas.

I’ll let you know how it goes.

6 Replies to “Why There Won’t Be Any Gifts Under Our Tree This Christmas”

  1. Keep us posted. Right now we’re looking at “doing” ALL of Christmas (tree, food, presents) for four kids for the $200 we’ve managed to set aside over the last six months, plus whatever’s in the change jar. Yes, I am feeling sorry for myself and stressed about it. As a mother, so much of the weight of “producing Christmas” falls on me and even now I see that’s not what it’s about at all. I’m feeling like we need to have a talk with the kids – Christmas will be smaller this year, different and, maybe in some ways, wider. Oh, and a big snow Christmas eve would really help . . .

  2. That’s awesome, Shawn. Kelly, just a thought, maybe purchase one game that all four kids can enjoy and you can play as a family. A joint gift. And spend the morning playing it and commit to play it at a set time every week for the next year. I’ve been there. I even bought gifts at Goodwill one year.

  3. Last year we took the 2 oldest on a last minute cruise for their and our christmas present. It was amazing! That trip has been a highlight of their lives so far. We plan to do it again as soon as possible. That said, it was a little ouchy christmas morning when their younger sibs opened presents since they didn’t get to go on the trip. They were ok with it, though and I know they would do it again in a heartbeat.

  4. Shawn, I love this. Something to consider now before we have kids old enough to fully “get” the concept.

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