Buy nothing for Christmas

Gift giving was never a strength in my family. Sure, we gave gifts, we just didn’t do it well, as in “Hey, here’s your annual CD/book/cake that’s indistinguishable from what I got you last year.” Later, through friends and girlfriends, I learned what a good gift was: something personal and thoughtful that they’d enjoy or need, but probably wouldn’t think to buy for themselves.

But with the web, and the same 15 chain stores in every mall in every city, it’s harder to buy truly good gifts. There is an abundance of easily available impersonal goods people don’t want or need. And I’m loathe to buy people stuff anyway – I know few folks who complain about empty storage rooms, closets or kitchen cabinets.

So this year I made two rules:

  1. To buy only experiences. Tickets to plays, events, massages, meals, things that they’ll experience and own as a memory instead of as a thing. Perhaps I can baby or pet sit for friends, gifts that could make a difference. This also has the benefit of low environmental impact if you’re into that sort of thing.
  2. To make things for people. If I make it with my own hands then it’s impossible to get at the GAP, or amazon, and as ugly or fragile as it might be, it will be personal. Writing a letter is more personal and requires more of my precious time than any clever purchase ever could. It will will represent more of the the most precious thing i have, my time, than anything I could buy.

The problem is I don’t know how to make anything. I can give lectures and write essays, but those don’t fit the bill for a personal gift for anyone I know. So while I figure this out, if the basic idea intrigues you, you’re not alone.

bnxmasBuy nothing Christmas is an alternative approach to the holidays. There are various flavors, from simple tips for inexpensive and creative gifts, to ideas for parents and kits for simplifying the holiday season.

There are folks who take an aggressive stand: Xmas resistance offers stickers, posters and other aids to help spread the word about their boycott of the entire idea.

Perhaps my favorite is the Canadian Buy nothing Christmas group, asks the question “What would Jesus buy?” with a humorous catalog of free things to give (includes the ever popular seaweed), advocacy, and even a well written FAQ. Check it out.

13 Responses to “Buy nothing for Christmas”

  1. Mark Ashley

    Are you kidding, Scott? You can’t make anything? Come on–think outside the box.

    You make analogies, draw connections, build metaphors, tell stories, and so on. Why not do it with, about, and for the people on your “gift list”?

    Reply
  2. Scott

    Just heard on NPR that the average American spends $800 on Christmas, not including an additional $100 in purchases for themselves.

    They also mentioned that 27% of people can’t recall anything they received last year for Christmas.

    Of course they don’t say where they got either stat from (I hate that – I’d love a law that says if ever you quote a stat, you have to provide a reference).

    Anyway, they mentioned a few other resources:

    Experience gifts has mostly high end experiences for sale.

    Waste free holidays is a Seattle area program to make gift giving easier on the environment, which includes discounts on various gifts that support the program.

    Reply
  3. Ben Buchanan

    A few years back my family decided not to buy Stuff(tm) for Christmas any more (for the adults at least – children still get presents); and we’ve been doing smaller scale Christmases just with immediate family. We still do presents for birthdays.

    So now instead of going half broke and insane dealing with shopping centres at Christmas, running around desperately trying to find gifts… we save stress, money and we don’t add detritus to our lives (since any gift other than The Perfect Gift usually doesn’t add significantly to your life).

    Having saved on presents, we’re able to spend more on good food and drinks; which we consume with gusto and greatly enjoy our Christmas.

    I thoroughly recommend it :)

    Reply
  4. Fed up

    The problem with buying only for the kids is that there will be no one who will appreciate your gift(s).

    Reply
  5. Jonathan Lapointe

    That’s something I’ve been trying to do for some time with varying level of success. Even for birthdays, I tend to try to give time. It’s harder that we think. Time with my dad for his birthday. We go golfing or fishing. Time with my niece or nephew, we go at the movie, bake home made pizza where they choose ingredients, shape etc. At christmas we do a gingerbread house where they get to choose what they do and how they do it. You get the idea. Spa tickets and the like are also popular. Everyone need a good relaxing day, not another dust gathering thing made by cheap laborers…

    In this world of stress, giving time is still the best gift for me to give and get :-) (though I’d take a good book too)

    Reply
  6. Dev

    Man, I love this blog a lot. I was born and raised in India. When you mentioned $800 every year, it cracked me open. In India, especially Hindu people spend more than 100,000/- Rupees every year on various or several festivals. I don’t know much about other religions or cultures and their spendings. Honestly, it is such a waste of time and money. We can use the same amount of money to feed, educate and cultivate un-preveledged children in and around the world. I thank my self to not to associate my self with any culture, religion, image or belief system any more and I love being an authentic human being.

    Reply
  7. Dev

    Dang it, forgot to mention the big fat weddings. Even though people don’t have enough earnings, they will beg and borrow money to have a lavish wedding. What for? Man, some times I dislike to be born as a Human or being part of this society and I wished I was born as an animal or some tree in a remote forest. There are two kinds of people in this world, one who earns money and second who spends money and they are Husband and Wife.

    Reply

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