Save. Spend. Splurge.

The Minimalist Christmas: How to bring meaning back to a stressful, overabundant season

My friend who has a toddler about the same age of Baby Bun told me (laughing) the other day that she had a catalogue from some store, and her son picked it up, flipped to the Toys section and started pointing out all the toys he wanted her to buy him.

He stabbed his chubby little finger at the pages saying: Want this! BUY THIS! Want this! This!, and flipped through the page like a maniac, picking out anything with a car or a truck on it.

We both laughed at the story at the time, but I have been thinking about it ever since.

When, where and how did he learn to do that!?

I had borrowed it to peruse for myself, and one day as an experiment, I gave the same catalogue to Baby Bun the other day, and he just flipped through the pages exclaiming out over the colours, letters and numbers, saying: “ Yellow! And Daddy says? Jaune! One!And Daddy says? Un! Ninety-Nine! A! B! Y!“.

Our sons at the same age, had two completely different attitudes towards the same catalogue, and I am not saying my son is any better for doing it, but it is really clear that as parents, we have a strong influence (nurture0 over our children that cannot be dismissed.

This is by no means a slight towards my friend, and I don’t think that it says anything about her or her son either, but it did make me wonder what the whole point of Christmas is for many families.

Is it the Christmas cheer, smiles, good times and closing out the year with a big meal with family and friends? Or is it just the fact that you get the most amazing things?

My partner told me the other day he heard on the radio that if children could choose between ‘more time with their parents’ or ‘more money for gifts’, they would choose the latter.

So it seems to be everywhere, it isn’t just the gifts and toddlers precociously (and sort of adorably) shopping from catalogues, mimicking their parents, it is that I am now surrounded by harried, frenzied, stressed out parents because of it.

I’m not a martyr or a saint, but I really can’t relate.

Lately, I am hearing a lot of this stress filtering down upon me…

Parents who are now desperately trying to figure out the perfect purchase for their significant other, their family members, relatives, and rushing from one mall to another to find THAT TOY their daughter wants, and get it all wrapped. They are spending hours at the mall, literally HOURS. Their whole weekends gone.

For shopaholics like me, that is fun. For people who hate shopping, this is very stressful and the lines at the checkout don’t help. (My tip? Start 3 months earlier, or try my Holiday Gift Guides to see if anything pops.)

Parents who are biting fingernails because they have to host this year, and have to buy the turkey, trimmings, and all the decoration to make this The. Best. Christmas. Ever. Seen. On. This. Planet. Earth.

They are going into debt for it because if they were already living paycheque to paycheque before, a wild Christmas spree was most certainly not paid for or planned for ahead of time, and it will go on plastic until the New Year when all the excitement dies down and they’re left with the credit card statement, which I like to call “The Christmas Bill Hangover“.

The true gift is you.

I have strictly forbidden family members and friends to give things, and in return, I do not give anything to further discourage this practice.

I keep telling them:

Whatever you could buy us, I can already buy for myself. I do not need anything. Thank you!

Gifts do not equal love.

Seeing us and spending time with us, does.

The gift, if you want to call it that, is you. It’s the time spent with YOU together, sitting around drinking hot chocolate or coffee and that you take time out of your busy schedule to Skype with me, call me, or otherwise connect.

If you truly want to give something, I ask them to give cash so I can top up Baby Bun’s accounts or gift cards so that we can use it to buy PRACTICAL, useful things for Baby Bun.

It isn’t that I don’t want you to give him gifts and see his happy little face open them, it is that he doesn’t care or enjoy it as much as you think he does. He just wants a cardboard box to play with and some crayons.

He is even happier if you just give him a big glass of milk and some cake you made because we also don’t eat many sweets and have to limit his milk intake for his digestion.

It is also a gift you are giving the parents, by not cluttering their house up with a huge rocking horse that has no place to go in a tiny apartment, and they have to avoid going through everything to de-clutter just to make it fit.

Lastly, you don’t know what kids really want — but parents do. I know Baby Bun prefers books with flaps that rhyme right now, but as he gets older, he will no longer be fascinated by hidden animals behind a paper flap.

What we do for Christmas

We get a big meal cooked up, and we spend the day together, eating, and talking. We set up our little modest cardboard tree as well.

With friends and family, I try to Skype or connect via a telephone call rather than email, and I always send out Christmas cards for them to put on their mantle.

We don’t give any gifts for Christmas to ourselves (we don’t need anything, and I shop for myself during the holidays anyway) or Baby Bun, but as he gets older, he will be able to choose one that he really wants, and if it is very expensive, I may ask others to help fund it by chipping in cash towards it so it becomes a big, communal gift.

Some tips on how to achieve this:

  • No gifts at all to be traded on both sides, just show up with a homemade meal to contribute to the gathering, or bring the snacks
  • One gift per side of the family (e.g. entire in-law family pools together to = 1, your parents & family = 1, you = 1)
  • Suggest cash for their education fund which you can proudly tell them later their Grana contributed, and a small edible gift (chocolate for instance) or a small toy (e.g. small little toy truck or car)
  • Ask to spend time with them instead of an actual gift – How about this Saturday you take them out to the skating rink for the day? Or a “coupon” that says “Good for one fun outing with Grandpa & Grandma”
  • Remind them that gifts do not equal love and it really does cause stress – some families might not think you’re serious, but if you say it seriously and often enough, they’ll get it.

How do you do your Christmas?


  • NZ Muse

    We didn’t ever really do Christmas (or any occasions throughout the year, actually). Even birthdays, Mothers Day etc are not big occasions in our family.

    That kinda sucked growing up but I appreciate it as an adult. Takes away so much stress not to mention saves money.

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