This program aired on NPR's On Point on December 20, 2018.
With Meghna Chakrabarti
The joy of a no-gift Christmas. Don’t blame the Grinch. Real people are pushing back against presents and advocating for new traditions.
Joe Pinsker, staff writer at The Atlantic covering families, parenting and education. (@jpinsk)
Guinevere Higgins, director of strategic partnerships for New Dream, a non-profit dedicated to rethinking consumption. For over 13 years, New Dream’s “Simplify the Holidays” campaign has advocated for holidays with less stuff.
The Atlantic: "The Joy of No-Gift Christmas" — "This year, Heather Hund and her family will gather in West Texas on December 25 and solidify a new Christmas tradition, in which each relative is randomly assigned to give a gift to another family member and to a house pet. 'The rules are basically a regift for the human and then $10 for the pet,' Hund told me. 'And my 18-month-old son got put in [the latter] category too, so it’s small humans and small animals.'
"Hund and her family downscaled their gift-giving six years ago after considering how much work Christmas shopping was. 'I just remember coming home and being super stressed and last-minute trying to run out to the mall or looking online and seeing what I could get shipped in like three days,' said Hund, who’s 35 and works in tech in San Francisco.
"Now, with the extra time she and her family have, they paint pottery together, cook, go on runs, and play cards. Plus, they get meaningful presents through the regifting agreement, such as the Led Zeppelin record Hund received from her dad, purchased when he was in high school. The new gifting protocol has been a joy. 'The first year I thought I would be sad about it,' she said, 'and I really wasn’t.'
"Hund is one of the many holiday celebrants who have been questioning and revising their long-held gift-giving traditions—or, in some cases, scrapping them altogether. No single cause unites these opt-outers, but a few motivations regularly pop up: They want to resist consumerism, restore the religious focus of the holidays, and/or avoid harming the environment. Above all, they want to spend less money on things and more time with one another."
Washington Post: "How to pull off a no-gifts Christmas" — "It may be too late this holiday season, but you now have more than a year to prepare family and friends for your new reality — a gift-free Christmas.
"And before you call me Scrooge or the Grinch, hear me out.
"We know a lot of people are not saving enough for retirement. Parents and students are borrowing record amounts for college. Surveys continue to find that folks don't have any money stashed away to help them when hit with a financial emergency.
"But along come the holidays and the spirit of the season pushes people to overspend. Your retirement can wait, you reason. You don't want to disappoint the children, although you have nothing saved for their college education. An unexpected car repair of $400 has to be put on a credit card — one that is nearly maxed out.
"Never mind this: A poll by website Finder.com revealed that 56 percent of Americans say they have received at least one unwanted gift during the holidays, and 29 percent say they just keep unwelcome presents. Those who don’t shove these gifts in a closet exchange them (22 percent), regift them (22 percent), sell the stuff (10 percent), hand them back to the giver (8 percent) or just throw them away (6 percent)."
The Atlantic: "Why Children Get Gifts on Christmas: A History" — "During a week when so many Americans have experienced some combination of joy, rage, and frustration in seeking the perfect holiday gifts for their children, it seems appropriate to pause and ask: Where did the practice of giving Christmas gifts to children come from?
"There does not appear to be an easy answer. Gifts do not primarily serve as rewards: Commentators on the political left and right have in recent years asked parents to abandon the 'naughty and nice' paradigm that suggests such presents are prizes for good behavior, and indeed historical evidence suggests that proper conduct has not been a widespread prerequisite for young Americans to receive Christmas gifts.
"Nor do presents seem to have a clear connection to Christian faith. Some American families have established a 'three-gift' Christmas in an effort to link the practice to the generosity of the three wise men in the story of Jesus’s birth, but again no broad historical precedent exists for this link. In fact, religious leaders have long been more likely to decry the commercialization of Christmas as detracting from the true spirit of the holiday than to celebrate the delivery of purchased goods to middle-class or wealthy children. (Donating gifts to poor children is a different matter, of course, but that practice became common in the United States only after gift-giving at home became a well-established ritual.)"
ABC News: "Momtroversy: How many Christmas presents should you give your kids?" — "It's a common question this time of year: how many presents is the "right" amount to give your kids?
"On the one hand, you want them to feel the wonder of the Christmas season and most kids love receiving gifts. On the other hand, you don't want them to be greedy and not appreciate the gifts they're given.
"Not to mention you don't want to go broke in the process.
"'Good Morning America' reached out to real-life moms to see if there was any particular number of gifts that people collectively felt was the sweet spot for their kids. But like with most of parenting, what works for one family does not work for another."
Anna Bauman produced this show for broadcast.