I recently came across this article titled: How 6 families went gift-free for Christmas in MSN Money. As the title suggests, the article highlights how, and why, these families decided to depart from what most of us understand to be Christmas. It struck a chord with me.
When I was a kid growing up with a single mom, Christmas was a much leaner time. Then my mother got remarried and things slowly got better. Better included a more bountiful Christmas. Soon, the family got bigger with the addition of a little brother. We kids (four of us) got older and our buying power improved, presents became more plentiful and substantial. And we added boyfriends and later husbands. And the little brother was eventually old enough to like girls and so there would be a new girlfriend every other year…and the occasional relative or foreign exchange student. And marriage, of course, normally brings in-laws of the parental and sibling variety, and the occasional niece or nephew. Somewhere along the way, Christmas became excessive. We lost focus on the importance of doing things together and became obsessed with getting everyone the right gift and spending the right amount of money.
It’s not surprising that people reach a breaking point. Whether because of the expense, or the emptiness of randomly grabbed gifts, or the stress of needing to buy so many things for so many people, my family realized that the excitement of getting together as a family for Christmas was overshadowed by the expectations of Christmas. Even when we managed to get together we would often be divided with last minute shopping and wrapping. As a family, we turned Christmas into a stressful retail face-off.
A couple of years back, my family almost unanimously agreed that we needed to change the way we did Christmas. We weren’t ready to go gift free, but we needed a change. We reached a fair and festive compromise that would revive the holiday spirit and limit the holiday frustration. Like the families and the commenters in the article mentioned above, there was some push-back and we are still tweaking to make Christmas work for the reality of my family today.