My quasi-minimalist Christmas


Why is that the way I’ve increasingly felt about the holidays? Because man, that’s not fucking cool. Christmas used to be awesome. There was all this anticipation and magic and specialness once upon a time, and I looked forward to that one day for the other 364, and then Christmas day arrived and it was nothing but excitement and fun times and bliss.

But then at some point, Christmas — and this is especially true if you celebrate Christmas, though the other folks definitely get plenty of shit shrapnel too — the season started to be about stress and manipulation. It became uncool.

Who stole Christmas from me, and why? What kind of a mean prick would steal Christmas, other than that green guy? (You know who I’m talking about. The Hulk, that’s who.)

But someone or something did steal it, and this year, the fact of that crime has really begun to work on me.

It all started when I noticed that this year, as in the past few years, the stores started putting up Christmas decorations and playing Musak Christmas carols over the speakers well before Halloween. That got me thinking. Why do they do that? And the answer is to get people spending earlier. Why else do they do that? Because after people spend early, they’ll then have two months to think about how they could also buy something else. And something else. And something else.

Then, around Thanksgiving, Robin and I started to make our Christmas lists — not lists of things we wanted, but lists of things we should get for other people.

We bought a few items and crossed those people off the list. Then we started asking ourselves questions: Wait… did we spend enough on this person? I mean, we spent $75 on that other person, so we should really get something else for the $50 person, right? Notice that there is no element of need or desire in this internal dialogue. It’s just about dollars. If we were to buy the $50 person a $25 item to level the scales even if it was something they didn’t need, that seemed like a sensible thing to do.

Further down the list, we got to my grandmothers, who are both in senior communities and live in small apartments. These ladies actively try to give things to me whenever I see them, because they see their days growing short and want to distribute possessions rather than accumulate them. Ditto for my “spartan artist” dad, minus the senior community and a few decades. But I’ve got to get them all something, right? Because that’s what Christmas is about?

My grandfather is hard. So is Robin’s brother. We usually end up getting gift cards for these people because they can never tell us something specific they need. Usually someone gives more than they receive. I figure we might as well make things easier, so rather than Person A giving Person B a $50 gift card and Person B giving Person A a $75 gift card, it’d be so much easier for Person B to just give Person A $25 in cash to account for the difference.

Here’s the balance I owe you from our usual transaction. Merry fucking Christmas.

For Robin’s dad Frank — and I swear I’m not kidding about this — her mother routinely takes something that Frank has bought for himself and wraps it. Then we pay her whatever that thing cost.

And hey, giving is the easy part. The hard part is when people start asking us what we want.

Hell, I don’t know. I’m 36. I make a good living. When I want stuff these days, I buy it. I don’t keep a list of things I’ve got to have and then deliberately not get it so that someone else can.

So I’m like, I don’t know… a book light for my Kindle? A new alarm clock? A few pairs of jeans? Austin has a full list, so I let his spill onto mine. I told my mom to get me Super Mario Galaxy 2, and justified it by saying that Austin and I play it together. The things we really want are huge. Does anyone want to get us a trip to Disneyworld? My car is getting old. Anyone want to buy us a new one? Other fun things that we’ve gotten in past years: tires for Robin’s car, tires for my car, money toward an iPad that wouldn’t be released until March.

You know what? The holidays used to be awesome. Parts of them still are, but parts of them are beyond idiotic. It’s like all of our hearts were in the right place, but then someone went to that place because that’s where the hearts were stored, and took them. Then that asswipe twisted our hearts and told us that nobody wants a heart as a gift. What they want is the George Foreman Grill, and you’re a jerk if you don’t buy it for them.

The problem is that it’s become about forced consumption. What we’ve been doing is essentially a con game wherein we all hoodwink each other into buying things for each other that none of us would normally bother to get for ourselves.


I don’t need a light for my Kindle. I don’t need Super Mario Galaxy 2. I don’t need The Dark Knight Rises on DVD. Sure, I’d like them and sure, I’ll take them, and sure, I’ll be pleased when I get them. But I don’t NEED them, and in a sane world, I wouldn’t buy a lot of those things because I actually have some impulse control. What our current arrangement does is to remove that impulse control by passing the impulse onto someone else.


And then I’ve got to reciprocate. Sure, I had some impulse control about my own stuff, but how can I not buy something for someone when they’re so selflessly indulging my most vague consumerist impulses for me?

A few years ago, I told Robin, “Let’s not exchange gifts.”

It’s stupid to do so just because everyone else is doing it. I mean, we share a fucking bank account. She’d be buying me something with my own money, and I’d be buying her something with her money. We’d do it because something has told us that we have to consume in preparation for one specific day, despite the fact that we get stuff for each other all the time. We’d end up with two things we wouldn’t otherwise have purchased, and be out the money for both. Why? Because someone convinced us that we’re bad, careless, mean people if we don’t?

And you know what? That conditioning worked. For a few years, we kept buying things for each other, despite the idiocy of feeling that one particular day was more worthy of gift-giving than any other.

But this year, we’re not exchanging gifts. I told her, “The things I actually want from you cost nothing.” I then told her that I’m getting something, but that she shouldn’t retaliate because my idea is kind of for both of us. Then I told her that it’s nothing sexual because she gets nervous when I say things like that.

My brother and sister and I figured this out a few years ago, too. We all have good jobs. We get together for the holidays and have fun times (EX: a Christmas tree ornament at my mom’s house called “Constipated Santa” — see image at the top of this post wherein C.S. says, “Ho-ho-ho-ly shit am I fucked up”), and we could never think of anything to buy each other that we’d actually use or want. So we ditched it. They buy for my kids, and when they have kids, we’ll buy for theirs.

I told Robin that my dad would totally be into this. She wasn’t sure. I told her that my dad is the most outside-the-nine-dots motherfucker you ever did see. Then I told him what I had in mind, that we not exchange gifts, and he said, “Oh, thank God.” Then he thanked me several times during the course of the phone call that followed.

We’re not minimalists. We buy for our kids, and others buy for our kids, and we buy for others, and others will buy for us. I appreciate the sentiment behind all of it, which is, “It’s the thought that counts,” but lately I’ve been wondering something: If it truly is the thought that counts, why do we have to spend a bunch of money to buy stuff?

I haven’t tried the quasi-minimalist approach with people who I don’t think would really feel it, but maybe I will next year.

Can we just get together? Can we just enjoy each others’ company? Can we spend less time in stores and online and more time de-stressing over some egg nog?

I bought one of my grandmothers chocolate and bought the other some nice coffee. It’s all they want. They keep saying, “Don’t buy me stuff!” They don’t want more things. They want attention. They want a phone call. They want a visit. It’s like I told Robin; the things most of us want more than anything really do cost nothing.

What’s pretty cool is that my kids are apparently catching the vibe. My son, who is 8, kept insisting that he wanted to buy me something. You know, his two dollars a week versus my slightly larger income, to buy something I’d routinely buy for myself. Want to buy new tires for the van, son? So I thanked him very much for the thought, but told him that if he really wanted to get me something, I’d like one of the things he makes himself. Because it’s the thought that counts… and what kind of gift comes with more thought?

I’m not judging on any of this. It’s just something that’s been on my mind.

If you want to do the whole Christmas consumerist shebang, then bless you; go out and do it. But as with anything, just know what it is that you’re doing. Are you buying that thing for Aunt Sally because she actually wants and needs it? Or are you buying it because something or someone told you that you had to or you’re a… what’s that green guy’s name again? Oh yeah…. you’re an Oscar.

Something to think about.

Happy holidays, y’all.


  1. When you mention the bit about saying to Robin “Let’s not exchange gifts” I was sure you were going to follow it up with “This Christmas, let’s exchange orgasms”

    I actually have a birthday a few days before Christmas.. so I’m in this situation every year. Ever since I’ve been an adult and making my own money I’ve just bought whatever I want (small things) when I need it.. so what do I ask for in December when all of a sudden people want 2 lists of things?! A few years ago I started telling people to just donate the money to an animal shelter or some other good cause. People think it’s rude if they don’t do anything.. so I like to think this puts their mind at ease 🙂

  2. Sara says:

    Sums up how I feel in a nutshell, particularly this: “Sure, I’d like them and sure, I’ll take them, and sure, I’ll be pleased when I get them. But I don’t NEED them, and in a sane world, I wouldn’t buy a lot of those things because I actually have some impulse control. What our current arrangement does is to remove that impulse control by passing the impulse onto someone else.”

    I have an Amazon wishlist where I put stuff I might want to buy someday. I try to keep it well-curated on the off-chance someone in my family might actually *use* the stupid thing, but oftentimes I’d just rather they wouldn’t insist on getting me something.

  3. Dava Stewart says:

    This makes me giggle a little because my side of the family has always been “minimalist” when it comes to Christmas, but my husband’s not so much…until, of course I became part of the family. Then they were forced to accept my gifts and smile because to do otherwise would be rude.

    We make a lot of gifts. One year an aunt made everyone a basket – she went out and pulled the honeysuckle vines, soaked them and wove baskets. She had blisters on her fingers. But they were awesome little berry baskets. Another aunt baked little loaves of bread in aluminum cans. I made and froze biscuit dough and half-baked apple pies one year, and crocheted scarves another.

    It takes a lot of time to make gifts, but it sure does take the icky consumerist feeling out of the season. My guess is, that by going quasi minimalist, you will be more relaxed and have more fun this year. Plus, it’s way, way more fun to buy stuff for kids.

  4. Shane says:

    Love this post! For years my husband and I have been giving homemade gifts to family members. 95% of them revolve around food — which our family enjoys. We’ve given homemade Bar-b-que Sauce, Cookies, Cakes, Chicken Pies, Bread, Spice Blends, etc.

  5. Joanna says:

    This is exactly what we’re doing this year. We’re all in our 20’s and 30’s, have jobs and families. We bought for our kids (spoiled them, actually) and we bought for our nieces and nephews.

    The women in the family are getting hand-knit infinity scarves from me, and the men are getting homemade fudge or cookies. My husband and I buy a joint gift for ourselves. Something we’ve wanted, but haven’t bought due to cost. One year, we got a deluxe Scrabble set. This year we bought ourselves a Wii (the original one) and some games we can play together and with the kids.

    Everything is paid for in cash, and we don’t spend more than we make.

    Now, if I could just convince my husband’s family to do the same. We have the same problem in that we want expensive things. My mother in law isn’t going to buy us an iPad or a vacation, but goodness knows I will get another knick knack or purse this year that will eventually be donated.

    It’s nice to see more influential people bring up going simple for Christmas.

  6. Bradley says:

    Like Christophr, I suggested my love ones donate money to a good charity. None took me up on it.

    My wife and I have been trying to give folks experiences more so than things. We gave my brother and sister-in-law a night of baby sitting and gift cards for movies and dinner once. We, my wife and I, have given each other a holiday vacation for several years. It is nice to spend a week with my wife rather than get a new pair of pants and a shirt.

    Some folks are harder than others and we are constrained by our limited finances.

  7. Marsha Stopa says:

    Oh yeah. Know this well.

    Are you familiar with The White Envelope Project?

    In essence, you take the money you would spend on someone or the entire family and spend it on a project or donation that is close to that person’s heart. And the only credit you take is the white envelope tucked among the branches of the tree saying what you’ve done.

    Pretty cool.

  8. Carole Lyden says:

    Completely agree. Christmas is crazy over here in Oz.



  9. Angie says:

    I’ve been getting more and more anti-Christmas as each year goes by. I’ve got four kids and don’t mind getting them something they’d never be able to buy for themselves and have been dreaming of for months. Then it feels like a real gift that is special for them.

    But I just can’t cope with the gifts you have to buy because people expect them but don’t say what they would like or need, so you have to go out and just buy. I tried it this afternoon for my nieces. But I couldn’t get anything. I couldn’t get myself into the shops. I think I’m suffering from consumerism allergy. I came home and went on line and told myself that I could do it if I was buying Fair Trade. I fancied adopting a Reindeer in the Scottish Highlands but then feared my brother might insult me. I tried to get them an adventure experience, that could be fun and wouldn’t clutter their bedrooms , but they are way over budget. Eventually I opted for a GoGreen board game from the National Trust. At least it’d be educational and the money goes to good use. The rest of the family will be getting edible goodies. That way I know they won’t pile up unwanted in cupboards but can be enjoyed by all.

  10. Shanna says:

    My family is far away, and I won’t get home to see them this year. So we’re doing a gift exchange, but the twist is, all 8 or 9 of us draw straws and we only buy for one other person. And last year, I got an arial photo of the ranch, and it was perfect.

    I still bought some stuff for my remaining grandparents, just cuz I want them to know I’m thinking of them (and in case I don’t make it home before they die. Morbid, I know).

    But my partner and I? No gifts. Well, that’s not true. He bought us tickets to A Christmas Carol, and I found a couple books on his wish list from Paperback Swap.

    The funny thing is, people ask me what I’m planning for Christmas, and then they treat it like it’s the saddest thing in the world. But I love my partner, and let me tell you a week to do absolutely nothing in particular is heaven for us. I don’t need or want the special food, the special events, the special anything– just time together, just the two of us.

  11. John says:

    It’s common knowledge that the origins of Christmas are steeped in paganism, so our family stopped doing Christmas for religious reasons years ago. The freedom from consumerism is icing on the cake. And wonderful cake it is.

  12. That sounds like the portrait of what life’s been like my way this Christmas.

    We make a good living. We buy what we need. We share bank accounts. Everyone has everything and we’re all just making up stuff we don’t even really want, just so everyone can buy something for everyone else (with the other person’s money.)

    And my mum doesn’t want anything but family around her and smiles. And my kids are even starting to say, “I dunno… just give me love.” (She’s EIGHT, people. This is a big deal here!)

    And all I want is a day in the snow and warm fuzzies at the end of it all.

    Buuuut I’m not quite ready to give up completely this year. I think it’s the Year of Realization This is Dumb and that next year, I’ll look back and say, “Hey, that sucked. Let’s not do that again. Want to go snow tubing instead?”

  13. This is EXACTLY how I’m feeling right now!! My husband and I haven’t even put a tree up or any decorations, and you know what, I don’t care. I don’t even feel like decorating this year. And we also said we weren’t going to exchange gifts. For us, we’d rather have an experience together, like taking a trip or going to a restaurant we haven’t tried yet. So that’s what we’ll be doing instead of exchanging gifts this year. As for everyone else on my list? They’re all getting homemade gifts. At least that has some meaning to it.

  14. jgarma says:

    Johnny B., next Christmas, make a pact w/ your giftgiverreceivers. Tell them:

    “This Christmas, we’ll only exchange gifts we make”.

    Get the feeling this will solve a few of the issues you shared. Might also have a whole lotta fun.


  15. I sooo get this–I burnt out on the whole instituation a long ways back while trying to buy everyone in my family a present when I had no money for my rent–and there was no way to talk with them about it so I maxed out a credit card and hated myself–Merry Christmas everyone. Finally my family started doing a pick-a-name thing which solved things, if the person-in-charge remembered to contact everyone to be sure we all picked and got picked lol

    While married, it was just like you’re saying–he doesn’t need or want anything, I don’t need or want anything…I still have presents I’ve never used though I’ve given most stuff away or donated (kicking my butt about that tripod I gave to my neighbor though :). What’s Christmas if you’re not Christian or religious about it in any way and not into *stuff*? I’m kinda into Hanukkah this year, at least the food 🙂 And I like the lights in my neighborhood though I don’t put any up myself.

    The day I really love is the solstice: days getting longer–yay! And Christmas day itself is sooo quiet–if you’re not doing anything. Perfect for writers 🙂

    “the things most of us want more than anything really do cost nothing.” Yeah, you got that right.

  16. I cringe when I hear Christmas carols in October. By the time December 1 arrives, I’m tired of Christmas. I agree it’s all about buying stuff.

    We’ve gone to “house gifts” for adults where we buy a small item or a gift card to a favorite store and only purchase individual gifts for the kids. It’s saved me hundreds of dollars every year and I have a lot less “stuff” that I didn’t want in the first place.

    You’re very right, Johnny. Christmas isn’t fun. It’s a chore.

  17. Great Ho ho ho laughs at parts of your story. I miss the old Christmas too and certainly relate to the abundance of stuff.

    My question is what do you do when someone really does need stuff?

    My son, just had his food stamps cut in half. The evil caregivers (who are now suspended in our state) stole from him. And the non-profit who he is renting from takes a hit every month because he is currently without a roommate. (The most recent one they proposed was an emergency placement because he burned down his house–could I make this up?)

    Any way. After Christmas dinner, how awful would it be for us to pass out envelopes for the non-profit agency he rents from? Many of our relatives give end of the year donations to some cause or another, I’m just giving them a suggestion, right?

    Of course it is embarrassing as hell to have to beg.
    But I’m not sure what else to do. My husband and I are replacing the stolen items and sneaking food in the house to make up for the cutbacks.

    We also made a moderate donation to the non-profit so they don’t kick him out while we wait for a roommate. We bring him home every weekend. We take him to all Doctor appts…. We’re doing our best–but we have a roof over our heads and have an okay life and when someone is so vulnerable… geez. Maybe just pass out antiacids instead of after-dinner mints?

    So, how would you feel if your relative passed a collection plate?

    This sucks. And I’m dreading it. I’m hoping they understand, take the envelopes and then they can do what they want. I don’t need to know.

    I guess it is better than asking them to bring a canned good. oh my.

    All advice welcome.

    • ps. All i’m looking for is advice–nothing else.

    • Johnny says:

      Yeah, that’s a tough one, Mary. I honestly love to give to people around me who genuinely need stuff; it’s the needless buying that kills me. I think that if you give thoughtful gifts that don’t feel totally like charity — i.e., making and bringing a meal vs. providing food money, or buying a needed thing rather than paying a utility bill — might be a good way to go.

  18. SM says:

    I struggled with Christmas gifts for years because when I was young, money wasn’t around that easily, so we used to have only two gifts a year, on birthdays and Christmas, and that was what made it so special. Now we buy all year not only for us but also for our kids. When a special date arrives is difficult to give something that is really meaningful to anyone, for that reason I stopped gifting people, making an exception for the kids as for them is still fun otherwise I feel that I would be stealing their Christmas.

    • Johnny says:

      One thing I should have clarified is that when I made that deal with my siblings, the way we said it was, “Let’s keep it about the kids.” That meant that it wasn’t us all deciding wholesale what NOT to do, but rather WHERE to do it… i.e., we focused attention on making it fun for the kids instead of dividing spoils and giving to each other.

      So yeah, my kids aren’t going to be minimalists this year. 🙂

  19. Szilvi says:

    We don’t exchange gifts since about 5-6 years. My son (so far the only kid in the family) gets store-bought presents, and he makes something for everybody himself (which means I’m a very busy momma before christmas :)).
    We started this because of financial reasons when most of us had a very tough year, but kept the tradition ever since. We buy stuff for each other at random times during the year but not for Christmas. Christmas is about being together, cooking, drinking and having fun. It’s wonderful, liberating, sincere and happy. Try it.

  20. Rene says:

    Great post. Now, if only I could convince my family: Christmas is for *kids.* Let’s make sure they have lots of fun stuff to open, and let the adults just get together and enjoy that eggnog!!

  21. Julie Boyles says:

    I’m so tired of all the hype. Why do a lot of decorating? Everywhere you look every nook and cranny is way over decorated. Even the gas station has tinsel and lights.
    Why play a lot of Christmas music at home? Everywhere you go they’re playing it, including said gas station.
    Why go to all the trouble of searching for the perfect gift when so many of those gifts will be discarded, re-gifted or returned? Best to just buy a gift card. Woo hoo!

    We’re having a truly minimalist Christmas here. Our kids are teenagers and really don’t need a thing. They have all the gadgets they need or want so the few gifts they’ll be receiving are going to be made by me like I used to do when they were little. They’ve all got big things they’ll be needing next year, drivers ed, a car, Senior year expenses, college…etc.

    BUT I don’t want them to remember this year’s Christmas as “the one when we were poor”. I hope they’ll learn that in their adult life there will be lean years and that there’s nothing wrong with just a few packages under the tree.

    I’m still working on my plan, but I want them to remember this Christmas as the one where we did things for other people as a family. We’re all going to write letters to each other and to our extended family. I think I’d also like them to pick 3 people who have made a difference in their lives like coaches, teachers or friends etc. and write letters to them too. We’ll do more than that, but you get the idea. I hope by making this Christmas about other people it will be one of the most memorable we’ve ever had.

    We’re going to the movies on Christmas day. For a family of five that’s no small expense! Oh, and the most fun we have all year is the White Elephant gift exchange we do with my family in Ohio. What does that tell you?

  22. Stacy says:

    I’m all for minimalist holidays. Thanks to the last six years of birthdays and Christmases, we have to clear a path to walk from the kids door to any given point in their room. The grandparents ask: What do they need? Nothing!! Every year, we hear “this year it’s really going to be a light Christmas” and every year we end up taking twelve trips from the car to the house after opening presents.

  23. Chelly says:

    Love this!
    I wanted to tell you our solution to the Christmas buying madness. Instead of gifts, the extended family does a book exchange. Kind of like a white elephant exchange, everybody brings a wrapped book (used is encouraged!) and the trading begins. Each person leaves with a book they haven’t read and our houses aren’t filled with a bunch of stuff we don’t need. It’s been a great sucess. Everyone enjoys it and anyone who is a guest for dinner can participate – they just need to bring a book.

  24. Cassandra says:

    I opted out of Christmas this year for exactly the reasons you cited. I am giving my son,11, a gift because I don’t want him to be scarred for life over my “festivus” hang up. I am really enjoying telling people that I opted out of Christmas and seeing their reactions. One person exclaimed, “Can you do that?!!”, like there was a form they didn’t know about. Yeah, you can totally do it, and it feels great.

  25. We did this with our family about a decade ago. Us kids started having kids, and we decided the presents were going to be about the kids. And the dinner would be a potluck, so nobody got stuck with the messy kitchen and the whole 2 days of cooking and baking. And then we could all show up, food in hand, toys for the kids, and just have a chillax day (around 70 degrees in the desert) and we could just hang out and catch up. And most of my close-but-not-really-that-close friends know I’m pagan, so they don’t buy for us, which is delightful (I know, I know, but we’re skipping that part), so it’s just the extra cookies and cakes at the office. Now that I work at home, I don’t have those, either.

    It sure does take a lot of stress out of Christmas and makes it about family again, although now that we’re spread all across the states and into China it can be a little depressing. But we make up for it in summer!

  26. It is refreshing to hear about others doing this. When our children were old enough to understand what Christmas was really about, we started to exchange personally made items or deeds for each other as gifts. We then took advantage of all the after Christmas sales to get things we needed. For birthdays, they each get a set amount and get what they really want. We give gifts throughout the year to each other for whatever reason. So far it works great.

  27. Johnny says:

    I guess I should clarify that I really do love Christmastime. What I don’t love is what it’s become in terms of the commercialism. I love doing things with my kids — all sorts of corny shit like driving around to look at lights, making cookies, making a gingerbread house, watching those dumb Christmas TV shows, etc. What I don’t love is needless gifts on both sides.

    I don’t want to abandon it… I want to reclaim it.

  28. Kris says:

    First off, a huge thank you for this post & a few others I’ve read so far. It’s so nice to know you are on the same page with at least some stranger on the internet. I’m so over Christmas….. But realize I need to bring back the stuff that counts. I’m loving your writing style & really appreciate your use of curse words and side stories. Keep it up. I look forward to being part of the community. Cheers!-

  29. Kevin Dahlberg says:

    I wish I could have convinced my family to go no gifts this year. Last year was awesome. We didn’t do gifts. Instead we went to Mexico for a week. Best Christmas since I graduated from college.

    This is my first year working retail for the holiday season. It’s not as bad as I thought it would be, but I am definitely selling more stuff because of the season.

    I swear if I hear “Baby It’s Cold Outside” one more time I’m going to go office space on my workplace.

    Definitely hoping this is my last year of presents before I get around to starting a family.

  30. lauren says:

    i love this, it’s all so true! i wanna love christmas again 🙂

  31. Ani says:

    hahahaha… I had similar thoughts this year…
    The problem is that the people for whom the society thinks you are supposed to buy gifts expect that from you too. Unfortunately they might interpret your new attitude as you being tight-fisted.
    I want to visit someone not because it is CHristmas but because I want to. And if I want to visit that someone I don’t want to wait for Christmas for that…
    There are many valuable gifts, which are not tangible and do not have price tags.

  32. Christine paris says:

    About 4 years ago my coworkers and I started adopting a needy family –in lieu of buying each other gifts. We get together and shop for the children, wrap the gifts, and deliver them to the ARC (association for retarded children). Everyone looks forward to this event and it has helped all of us remember the ‘resason for the season’. All gifts are donated anonoymously….
    I’m with you Johnny, the commercialism is Tiring! I told my entire family—about 4 years ago that we are only buying for the children in the family.

  33. Glenn says:

    My wife and I have 10 kids. Many years we waited until 12/23 to Christmas shop cuz I’d get my Christmas bonus then…usually $200.
    I felt like slime.
    But the kids would always say, “Dad, this was a GREAT Christmas!” Yeah, with their $7 each of Dollar Store toys. (had to leave something to buy the wife a gift and get some special stuff for Christmas breakfast)
    Then, one year, I made a lot more money. I was so happy. We bought lots of gifts!
    Crappiest Christmas ever!
    When it was too late to do anything about it, we realized we had spent the entire holiday season shopping, instead of playing, baking, and watching Charlie Brown’s Christmas together all wrapped up in blankets and laying all over each other in front of the family room fireplace like we used to do when we had no money to shop and thought this was our only option to try to make the season not suck!
    Years later, guess what our adult kids want to do for Christmas? Yeah, put on footy pajamas, build a fire and watch Charlie Brown’s Christmas all wrapped up in blankets laying all over each other.
    I think we had it right when we had no money to spend.
    Hey, Merry Christmas to All!

    • Mikita says:


      That is a wonderful memory you created for your kids….time together as a family – happy, enjoying each other’s company. No fussing or stressing. Just simple.

    • Johnny says:

      Interesting point here, too, is that most kids don’t care about the price tag if you do get them something. Mine love those terrible McDonald’s toys.

  34. Fortunately, we unplugged the gift-giving machine when we first got married 25 years ago.

    We announced that we weren’t going to give gifts, and we asked our families to give us no gifts. They freaked. We held firm, and felt lousy for about 2 or 3 years as they insisted on sending us things we didn’t really want or need. But we held out, and eventually our families got used to it. Some of them began to pull back on the gift insanity themselves.

    When our kids arrived, it was another awkward time; and we decided that we wouldn’t fuss if someone wanted to send our kids gifts, but we remained (mostly) resolute. (There would be a gift or two under the tree some years when we caved under the pressure.) And we always do stockings. Those are fun!

    But overall, it worked, and we extended it to birthdays, also.

    Our kids have PLENTY! We love giving them things they enjoy and need during the year.

    And by not engaging in the Christmas/Birthday insanity, we’re free to throw wonderful parties, take trips, go see movies, and have lots of good food and fun instead. Win.

  35. Sami says:

    “I don’t need The Dark Knight Rises on DVD.”

    Sounds to me like someone needs a blu-ray player 😉 Merry Christmas Johnny!

  36. Miriam says:

    I enjoyed your post because I’m happy to see another person throw off what I think of as the “lemming mentality”. Just because “everybody” does it one way doesn’t mean you have to do it that way too. Good for you and everyone else who doesn’t succumb to crass commercialization!

    For me, Christmas is still has a strong religious component, and it actually helps bolster my resolve to go quietly against the mainstream. We (my husband and I) don’t decorate or put up the tree until late–December 23 or later–because the time between Thanksgiving and December 25th isn’t Christmas–it’s Advent. Here’s a news flash: Christmas STARTS on December 25, and lasts for 12 days, until January 6th. I kinda like being “counter-culture”; I feel way more relaxed about shopping for the gifts on my very short list (kids primarily) and find myself enjoying the spirit of the season: the twinkle of the neighbors’ lights on cold, clear nights; the lovely warmth of coming in from the cold; holding the door for someone laden with shopping bags and wishing them, sincerely, a merry Christmas; taking the days between Christmas and New Year’s off from work and visiting friends and relatives during what really is Christmas time. And lastly, but not leastly, finding something to gift someone with that isn’t about quid pro quo, but is something they would really get a kick out of–maybe it’s a thing that recalls a special time or memory, or maybe it’s the gift of an experience that they’ve always wanted to try, or maybe it’s something made and given from the heart.

    And to the people who look at me like I have lobsters crawling out of my ears when I say Christmas doesn’t start until 12/25, so be it for them. Do what floats your particular boat. Do it the way you’ve always done, if it makes you happy. But if it doesn’t, maybe, just maybe, think about doing it some other way. It might become “the most wonderful time of the year” for you, too.

  37. Jim Liston says:

    I agree, the stores seem to be putting out the xmas stuff earlier every year. Didn’t they wait until after thanksgiving in the past? The industry calls it “Christmas Creep” and most of the major stores are doing it. Sam’s Club puts out Christmas displays on October 1st!

    Most people are put off by the obvious ploy to get you buying early, but it must work, or they wouldn’t be doing it. It’s the same way with valentine’s day. I haven’t looked but I wouldn’t be surprised if there are valentine’s cards out already.

  38. Tom Bentley says:

    Wait, you mean I don’t actually need that radar-sensing office trashcan that moves into place when I throw crumpled paper at it? Damn. Yeah, the Christmas sickness, when you try to match and compare gifts in some pointless value scaling, and feel weirdly cheated or uncomfortable or graceless. Bah!

    It’s calmed down now in my family, where we do, as others here do as well, the draw-straws exchange, where there’s only one gift given and one got, total. It’s so much simpler, and there’s no sense of lack whatsoever–we enjoy each others’ company, and corny as that is, that’s the gift. And among my friends, there’s no expectation of gifts, but rather just exchanges of well-wishes, usually at parties with the smell of good food and the chime of laughter. And some bourbon around is good too.

    One of the weirdest Christmases I’ve had was when I lived on a tiny Micronesian island. One of the only island stores had a seven-foot Santa inside who rocked and jiggered while he sang songs. But he never sang Christmas songs; they were all weird 60s hits, like Neil Sedaka and Petula Clark. It was rather hallucinatory, in the 90-percent humidity…

    Happy Holidays to all!

  39. Carrie says:

    I know what you mean, Johnny. Christmas used to be a wonderful time when I was a kid. I didn’t care so much about the prezzies I got (well, maybe a little, I was just a kid after all), it was more about the whole feeling of the season. We didn’t have a lot of money in those days, but it really didn’t matter much. My parents always made Christmas special.

    Then I grew up. Being rather poor, my s/o and I can’t afford gifts for our friends and family. All the money we have now goes toward keeping a roof over our heads and something in our stomachs (and no cheap shots about the fact that we have internet! We live in the mountains and it’s our only contact with the “outside world”). And even that is a constant battle. We can’t even afford to visit our families over the holidays even though they’re only a few hours away. So now, I just feel bad when Christmas comes around again. Can’t afford to go to social functions, can’t afford to buy prezzies, can’t afford a turkey dinner, can’t afford Christmas full stop.

    But – lately – I have realized something. I have had a recent epiphany. My little family already has everything they need. My parents and sister’s family are safe and happy and content. Me, I really have everything I have every wanted. I have a wonderful “husband,” three healthy, happy dogs, four demanding but healthy, happy cats, a small but beautiful place in the mountains, a job that I love even though it doesn’t pay much, and a talent for painting which is not only a good creative outlet, I can make gifts for my loved ones after all.

    Christmas HAS become too commercial as has everything about life these days. But that doesn’t mean it has to be commercial for me. I’m also an atheist, so why do I try to celebrate this holiday every year? ‘Cos I want to get that feeling that I had as a kid back again. And I’m the only one preventing that by worrying about what the holiday SHOULD be instead of what it CAN be. It’s time for me to embrace what I have, which is everything. I am better off than most people because I am happy in my personal relationships. And – for me – that’s the one thing that is the most important. That, and the fact that I don’t have to listen to Christmas music for 3 months if I don’t want to.

  40. Angie says:

    This articulates my feelings about Christmas perfectly. I love buying for the kids, but I feel obligated to buy for everyone else, and I don’t really want anything for myself (other than big ticket items like a larger house) and feel put on the spot when someone asks me what I want for Christmas.

    Here are a few other words by others that also articulate our shared mindset:

    1. Right before Thanksgiving this year, a local radio personality said (paraphrased) on the air: “I love Thanksgiving. It’s what Christmas should be. You get together with family without the stress on your bank account.”

    2. Last year I was standing in line at WalMart (ironic) and talking to another customer about how I don’t mind spending money on people if I feel like I’m getting something they really want or need, but I never know what people want or need so I end up getting everyone gift cards, and I love getting gift cards, but I feel like we’re just exchanging gift cards out of obligation. The other customer said (again paraphrased), “I know what you mean. Last year I gave my sister a $25 Applebee’s gift card and she gave me a $25 99 gift card, and I said to her, we should just got out to dinner.”

  41. Great thought!!! I actually thought about this when I was in high school…lol. Then, I had the idea that I wouldn’t celebrate holidays (only acknowledge them but not expect anything like presents) anymore, including my birthday. I had really begun to observe people’s behavior around these times which wasn’t on the true meaning or reason for these special days. No, in fact some was quite ugly. People getting upset if they don’t get anything, getting angry and all stressed. So, I decided I would not participate or contribute to the type of behavior that just to me as a teenager was not right. Lol…some refused to honor my requests to not give me anything for my birthday or holidays though. Now, I do a little and am thankful if someone does something but in no way expect it and most of the time would rather they not. Sometimes, I’d rather they give it to someone who is in need. Thanks for sharing!!

  42. Megan says:

    I hear what you’re saying on this, Johnny. And so well echoed by your readers!

    But, I’ve got to say I love the Christmas season. I enjoy, all year long, finding little things my parents or husband will enjoy or appreciate, and we all spend a lot of time handcrafting gifts. (all time favourites have been t-shirt quilts, herb and spice rubs, and naughty cross-stiches) We’ve never really gone in for buying expensive things – generally one sort of “bigger” gift, like a board game or a dish or a nice piece of clothing, and then smaller or handmade stuff, lots of food – maybe that’s why I still like it so much. Christmas preparation starts in February and gives everyone pleasure planning and making things for the whole year.

    I guess another thing that makes a big difference for us is the secret Santa my extended family does. I’ve got 13 first cousins, and all of the associated aunts and uncles – so we just draw names, and get one gift for one person outside of our immediate families. Then we feast until we can hold no more, and drink an embarrassment of wine, competing to see who received the most socks. (The ultimately prized boughten gift!)

  43. Jock says:

    Amen brother. I’ve been experimenting with a similar approach in recent years. This year I’m going to write a haiku for all of my family members, and my brothers are going to chip for a day at the spa for my mom. There’s something to be said for buying experiences vs buying things. Happy Holidays

  44. Mikita says:

    1. This is why I forever LOVE Thanksgiving more – good food, good people, good times.
    2. I started a gift exchange for my mom’s side of the family where we draw names and only have to get 1 gift instead of 10, 15, 20
    3. My dad has elected the past 2 years to celebrate Solstice instead and we have a big dinner with 20-30 friends and write our wishes for the new year on sticks of wood and then burn them in a bonfire (okay it’s a chiminea) sending the wishes out to the universe.
    4. All my friends and I agreed to stop gift exchanges with each other and instead get together one night for drinks and apps at one of our homes and just relish the time together sans kiddos.

  45. Carlos Ramos says:

    I guess a lot of people agree with you on this one, I know I do. The idea of buying things to people you maybe not even really like because, hey, is an special date and you have to… Nah, I do not really like that idea. Thanks for the awesome post.

  46. Ellie Di says:

    THANK YOU. I think that the more people do this, the better. We definitely don’t need more crap in our houses; we need more experiences, love (soppy, I know), and interaction. My mom kicked this off in our family a couple of years ago, and we’re testing it out on my husband’s family this year. Everyone’s getting charitable donations made in their name to causes THEY support (and that we can also feel good about). Here’s hoping they don’t get pissed because they’re getting a card and a chocolate rocking horse instead of another gift card to Best Buy.

  47. Bruce L. says:

    Johnny, I just discovered you on Amazon through your books. After reading “The Universe Doesn’t Give a Flying Fuck About You” I tracked you down on the internet.
    Man! Do I ever agree with what you’re saying, in general and specifically about Christmas. We as consumers, have completely hosed the season. No wonder everybody on the “left” wants to remove the words from everyday vocabulary. It really doesn’t mean anything to the populous at large anymore.
    Well, screw that!! I still say Merry Christmas, not any of the bullshit stuf like “happy winter celebration.” What total crap!!
    Keep speaking the truth. We are listening.


  48. We put our gift money towards a short trip. I’d rather have good times and memories than crap. Oh, I did get him a sexy DVD for us both to watch. Okay, that will be my gift too. Great post and comments!

  49. we only get one nice thing for each child, and it’s often from craigslist or goodwill. we shop together for one another, so that we spend time together and enjoy the presents exchanged!


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