In Discussions, Life, Money, Parenting

Why and how we don’t celebrate any holiday with gifts or go all out for Christmas with Little Bun

So you’re all going to think either I am the smartest mothaf&*@er on the planet or a complete monster (general consensus thus far is half half), but we do not do two things that everyone in the world seems to do with their children.

1. Give any presents for specific events even birthdays for Little Bun

2. Go all out with Christmas or at all…

Before you commence pitchforking, let me explain a few things under each point (for those of you OG readers, you’ll know what I am about to say..)

We don’t give presents for specific events, even birthdays

Why?

Because it just teaches them that every birthday, event, or slightest holiday on the calendar, means they deserve or get a treat, or a gift.

When did it become that every event, someone has to stress about a gift, and someone is expecting to receive one?

It creates an artificial expectation that every event MUST have a gift or it isn’t true or enjoyable.

(I especially hate Valentine’s Day to be honest with you. I don’t want chocolates and lingerie one day of the year, I want you to make me food for my lunches for work throughout the year and set up a second internet connection for my work laptop!! LOL but that’s another post. And yes he does all that.)

I grew up like this with lots. My partner did not. We literally came from two extremes.

Growing up with everything

In retrospect, was I any happier getting these gifts that now, are long gone and no longer in my possession?


Yes and no.

I was happy when I first got the gift, but then the excitement faded, and the Barbie was stuffed into the back of my closet while I played with my one and only true love (a teddy bear I got when I was 7.)

Am I happier now knowing that I got lots of presents for Christmas as a kid?

No.

I just see the excess in that I would have been happier with one gift, or money to save aside for something expensive I REALLY wanted, and/or would have preferred that money to have been there when I went to school and ended up $60K in debt when I graduated.

My parents also wasted that money, frankly. They didn’t really go into credit card debt for those gifts, but that money was a waste because they couldn’t really afford it, not having saved for their own retirement or our education first before spending.

I don’t necessarily blame them but I kind of do, too you know? I taught myself financial literacy and I can’t believe that people don’t learn about it sooner on their own.

My mother however, acknowledges this and loves that I plan on making sure Little Bun is financially literate from the start.

Growing up with nothing

My partner grew up with no gifts for anything until he was 10, and the siblings all banded together to protest the injustice of not having a gift when all of their friends were getting gifts and talking about it.

So their parents instituted a birthday gift and a Christmas gift rule.

Are they happier today in that respect?

Likely so. They were in the extremes of having NOTHING AT ALL, and without those two gifts a year each, they had nothing to play with.

They aren’t as consumerist as my family is in general, and live pretty simply. They really appreciated the gifts they go (e.g. G.I. Joe with his scuba suit), and they played with them for HOURS.

His parents were a bit extreme though, as even though there we no gifts for these occasions, there was NOTHING for the rest of the year.

They weren’t poor, they were just so scared from the war and poverty that they hoarded money for only food and essentials.

Crayons, bicycles, books, toys… all that stuff was non-essential so the kids had literally nothing.

You can read more in detail about how we each grew up here.

The approach with Little Bun: A blend of the two

Little Bun, gets things throughout the year, don’t get me wrong…..

This is something my partner really wanted because he felt his parents were a little extreme in their deprivation and focus on essentials only. And I agree.

I’m horrified at not even having crayons or a stuffed animal.

He didn’t want his son to grow up like that, but he also didn’t want to reach the excessive consumerism my parents lauded on me.

So, we have a balance. Our house doesn’t look like a toy store vomited and where we are excessive is in books because of my mother (she is not a bookworm but wishes she was, so her frustrations are played out in buying books by the crate for him.)

Have you seen our bookcases??! 75% of that is my mother gifting him.

We also bought him stuffed toys, crayons, made him a dollhouse with dolls (he is not so interested in Ken and Barbie though), he has a flashlight he loves, and 4 big boxes of Megabloks (long story but we had to buy emergency Megabloks when we went to Toronto for the summer.)

We even have full “pro” soccer gear for him for him and his father to go play during the warmer months together, and he has his “own” iPad and computer (both mine, and old), and basically gets whatever he asks for within reason.

We just don’t tie the concept of events = gifts

But all Little Bun knows of for events (all of our birthdays, holidays and events), is that there are two things coming:

A great meal that is special and one of his favourites (e.g. creamy cheesy pasta), and a cake of some sort (either a tart, a pie, or an actual cake).

Every single birthday and event on our calendars is marked off with a little cake image, and he likes to take stickers and place them on the calendar to mark off when they are happening so he can anticipate for the week beforehand that he’ll get a piece of cake this weekend.

What we do with HIS money from the government, is it goes into his RESP (Registered Education Savings Plan, like a 529 in the U.S.), every year, and we save money aside as well, to have it for when he is older and maybe wants to use it towards a car, or for us, we will use it towards his private secondary school education.

You can see all of his budget roundups here under my net worth posts…. and he is about $30K saved at the time of writing this.

If he needs something during the year, we buy it for him.

Nothing excessive usually a box of crayons or a dice to play a game, and we don’t offer him a catalog to pick things out of (some parents totally do this and let their kids circle a wish list), nor do we want to start that “tradition”.

I know kids who peruse the catalogs and circle everything they want. O_o

I don’t think Little Bun even knows what that is and I’m not about to start.

Which brings me to Christmas….

The only extra thing we do during Christmas, is we put up a cardboard Christmas tree. He loves “decorating” the tree with his father and putting the cardboard circles on the tree.

We don’t do lights, tinsel, a huge real tree or any decor aside from that for a few reasons unrelated 100% to consumerism:


1. Where would we store all of this stuff? It takes space!

Decor gets stored in big boxes.

I know this, I grew up with it. My parents never had space for it, and when we finally had space for it, it was a waste of space to use our huge basement as just junk storage.

Honestly, decorations in general are not my thing. I like seeing them, and can appreciate a beautiful piece of decoration, but I won’t buy it to bring it into my home as decoration because it is just another thing to buy, take care of, and dust.

I get no additional pleasure from it, other than just admiring it in the store. This is why I go into stores, admire pretty things, take pictures for Instagram @saverspender and then leave.

Having seen them once and in my heart appreciated them, is enough for me. I don’t need to own or buy it.

For anything I do buy, like a notebook, a laptop, clothes, whatever – I make sure to buy the nicest, most aesthetically pleasing item possible because it is coming into my home so I am conscious of it.

I am willing to pay $$$$  for a nice paper notebook if it calls for that (I don’t though, my favourite work notebooks are these ones from BlueLine as they lay flat, can have pages torn out, and the paper is not too thick or too thin).

So Christmas, needs storage. We don’t have it. Our space is 1200 square feet, plus a locker, but why add to it when we don’t have to / want to?

2. It seems excessive to us as it is an extra financial cost and eco-waste

My partner feels strongly about things like going to the zoo to see caged animals he believes should be free and wild (although I mentioned the conservation aspect of endangered species which I like), and he doesn’t like the idea of cutting down trees just for the sake of doing it to decorate a home.

If we cut down a tree, or eat an animal, it isn’t for decoration or for fun. It is for a real purpose like to use the product for paper, etc, or to eat meat.

Either of those cases, we do try not to do it or waste what we do have, and I personally try to buy secondhand for everything I can because I really don’t want to be in that mindset to begin with, but that’s my own personal struggle.

As for meat – we eat it maybe for 2-3 meals a week, the rest of the time we are vegetarian or vegan.

….Plus, it costs money.

Have you seen the cost of this tinsel that is not that great for the environment? It is expensive!

Same with lights, and you gotta pay electricity bills to leave them on? No.

We are already in the mindset of putting everything on powerbars and turning off the breakers for the oven during the night, so leaving lights on to burn energy (again environmental), just for decor and our personal pleasure seems very selfish to us.

Don’t get me wrong – I love seeing a great tree, all decorated, and I love how happy people get, but it doesn’t bring us happiness because all we can see underneath the lights is what that really costs the environment and us.

Not only that, bringing in a real tree, I hear is a mess.

Needles dropping, watering it, having to clean up, and then haul that thing out of the house? NO. THANK. YOU.

3. Apparently kids think Christmas is free…

When you hype up this Santa Claus thing, kids have no idea that MOM AND DAD are the ones who are paying for those expensive gifts.

I am actually hearing complaints / panic from parents who are saying:

I just heard my kid telling his younger sister to ask for THE MOST expensive item possible from Santa Claus because it’s free and Mommy and Daddy aren’t paying. HELP!

Uh.. yeah. What? O_o

I am not going to willingly participate in this. I mean it’s fun for 10+ years but then what happens when they realize it isn’t real? That the magic is not really magic? I would feel let down as a kid, even if I had 10 fun years.

I guess I’m a downer realist because I don’t want my son thinking that these things are magical and you can ask for anything you want with prayers and hopes, dreaming for change instead of how it actually comes about — with hard work and actual change in yourself!

To dream is nice and everything but you gotta put in the work to make it happen if you believe it in. Santa Claus is not going to come by and make it all better.

I don’t want him learning that, and then being disappointed in the reality that is life.

4. We could just go to public spaces and see a massive tree with lights instead, together

I love this the best – we go to the mall and we just enjoy the decor they put up every year. We see a Santa Claus, we ride the little train, and we enjoy it as a day together seeing decoration and the Christmas cheer.

It’s enough for us.

5. He isn’t living in a bubble

Little Bun KNOWS who Santa Claus is, and Christmas and all that, but he doesn’t tie together that Santa Claus comes to him.

He just knows that Santa Claus brings gifts to little boys and girls, as per his books and his daycare teachings.

The fact that he doesn’t get anything for Christmas from Santa Claus, has never crossed his mind yet. And he hasn’t asked. It isn’t something we do, so he doesn’t ask or consider it applicable.

When it does come to pass, and if he does question it, we will tell him that it is not something we celebrate, and to not mention it to other kids at school because they will not understand (some kids grow up believing in Santa Claus until 10, and I don’t want to ruin that for them.)

How about family and friends?

They respect our wishes.

They know how crazy we are about this, and I ask for either money, a gift card, or food. That’s it.

Do not buy him or us anything. It is not necessary. We have bluntly straight up, told people this, and they are surprised but relieved I think.

We just want their company, and to share food. No gifts.

I keep repeating: Don’t buy anything without coming to me first and asking. It will VERY LIKELY get donated, sold or regifted if you don’t check with us first.

My mother is the worst for this, and we just kept sending back or returning the items and using the money for practical things, and she finally got the hint. I think. She now thinks books are her “in” and sends books often, but I am working on getting her weaned off this as well. LOL

Still, books are not loud, annoying, huge, plastic toys that take up lots of space and make me frustrated, so that’s fine by me. We just have to cull the bookshelf ever so often.

Yes. We absolutely get horrified looks about this!

This is why I am happy I am Anonymous.

When people ask us what we do and press us on it in person, I try not to say anything until I have to.

Some parents are relieved, and so incredibly interested in how to do something similar, tips and tricks. This is the general consensus online, but I suspect a lot of people are being polite and not saying troll-y things or anything mean because .. we’re doing us, and they’re doing them. If they want to do a huge Christmas, they’re going to do it, the way we are doing a low-key one with no Santa.

Other parents, are horrified that we are depriving our child of Christmas. I have half-jokingly (but for real, seriously) been called a monster for doing this to my child.

Depriving him? I don’t think so.

He starts the month talking about THE DAY he will get THE BEST MEAL EVER, and that is his gift. The anticipation is what he loves the most.

He doesn’t think about what he will get as a gift, but he has the equal anticipation of jumping around and excited about what he is going to get to enjoy and eat together.

He talks about setting up the tree with Daddy… and all of this, is enough for him because he hasn’t known anything else, and enough for us. He loves it!! And it is safe for kids.

I don’t feel the need to give my child a massive, expensive, consumerist Christmas.

He already appreciates what he has, and what he is getting, and isn’t waiting the whole year to get the ONE TOY he has wanted – I would have likely already bought him that toy around the time he asked for it.

We bring home toys randomly that we think he will enjoy, and he is always overjoyed at something new, but eventually, goes back to what he likes playing with (kids are fickle and get bored easily).

What he has gotten out of Christmas, is the excitement and the spirit of it and that’s all we should really want, right?

Christmas sometimes is a stand-in for guilt relief

That’s all that we talk about focusing on, but the real trick is that some parents around here do Christmas… for them and their guilt – to feel better for not having done X or Y with them, to show that they’re making up for not being there and traveling so often, and throwing money at expensive, lavish gifts because I suspect, some of them feel true guilt about not really spending time with their children the way they think they should have during the year.

I’m just doing armchair psychology here, but aside from being together, having traditions and a great Christmas, why do kids need more than one, or two presents, max? Ones that count – meaningful, quality presents, not quantity?

I didn’t need 10 dollar store items, I just wanted one $10 headband that was cute when I was a little girl. Opening up 10 presents did nothing for me when the ten items at the end, were pretty much junk I couldn’t use and didn’t want.

Or, some parents do it because they feel guilty that they can’t afford anything during the year, so Christmas is ONE BIG SPLASH (into debt or credit in many cases), to make up for the rest of the 364 days in the year for feeling so POOR.

It is ironic but in our hardwired human nature to spend and go into debt/credit for a holiday, to not feel poor.

“If I spend money, I will feel rich.

Ergo if I feel rich when spending money then I am not poor.”

Sounds totally contradictory, and irrational but it is how we work.

Do either of those things sound joyful to you?

Some other parents I know, use Christmas as a way to control their children. They use the holiday and guilt trip kids into spending time.

As their kids get older, they try and hold on to the old memories of when they were young and they overdo it by clinging to their children and their 50 billion traditions even though their kids don’t care about it any more but do it out of obligation.

Stuff like this (there are families who DO ALL OF THIS):

  • Gingerbread house making
  • Cookie baking – I stan this though, bring them <3
  • House decorating
  • Caroling
  • Going to Christmas music fests or events – or worse, making you attend their events
  • Going to pick out the tree
  • Setting up the tree
  • Decorating the tree
  • Hayrides and apple cider Christmas farm visits
  • Maple sugar shack visits
  • Christmas gift shopping
  • Wearing matching Christmas sweaters or pyjamas
  • The long (insufferable to me) opening of each gift one by one by each person with the requisite ooooh and aahhh even though they may secretly regift it, exchange/return or donate it
  • The long Christmas meal – I double stan this for anyone reading this

…. the list goes on.

I don’t even know all the traditions but this is what I have gathered are considered normal Christmas activities.

It sounds exhausting to me because it is a lot of time and effort, but some people love it and parents especially in an effort to see their older children more on the pretence of a holiday “tradition” even though they could CARE LESS about decorating a gingerbread house they won’t even get to scarf down.

So, we opt out of all of that. This is how I’ve reached a No-Gift Christmas with friends and family.

I’d rather meet a friend for a meal or a coffee. I don’t want stuff.

I can buy anything I want for myself and all of my gifts when I give any are usually practical or useful things I know they use or want, like a care package of Speculoos cookie biscuit butter for a friend’s little girl who is allergic to peanuts.

What do you do?

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Sherry of Save. Spend. Splurge.

Millionaire at 36 after getting out of $60K of student debt in 18 months, a little over a decade earlier, using TheBudgetingTool.com. Since then, I have paid my $600K home in cash (my half was $300K), my $180K casr in cash, worked 50% of my career (taking 1-2 year breaks), and quadrupled my income within 2 years of graduating, going from $65K to $260K with an average lifetime savings rate of 50%. I could retire today if I wanted, but love my work-life balance as a freelancing consultant in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math). I am all about balance - between time and money, and also enjoying my money. I also post daily on Instagram @saverspender.

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8 Comments

  1. SP

    My parents are much more the “buy junk” type. They requested a wish list for LOs first birthday, and so I complied. I included about 5 wooden toys that were listed as great toys for a 1 year old, a couple books, a link to her 529 savings, and ONE plastic toy that wasn’t too annoying (a little farm that does play sounds, but only little short ones and is also is good for imaginative play). LO received the plastic farm and two plastic toys that I didn’t request (one was fine, the other one was annoying). No one put money in her 529.

    My in-laws are much better. They conferred with us and were happy when we agreed that their idea of wooden puzzles was fine.

    Not sure how to handle Christmas, but I definitely like many elements of your approach.

    Reply
    1. Sherry of Save. Spend. Splurge.

      I am totally into gifts and things for children especially wooden toys, or things like that…. but having been “spoiled” (not excessively mind you, but still), I would have much preferred money in my 529 / RESP instead of gifts, in hindsight. That’s what I am doing for Little Bun now for sure – he has gifts and toys, but nothing excessive and I put money aside for him for when he is older and a certain pair of jeans or shoes matters to him. Not now.

      Reply
  2. BW

    I resonate with how you celebrate Birthdays and Christmas. This is how I was taught growing up. We are not religious and my parents are excellent role models being frugal and only spend on essential things like quality food, house and others. I think the less one has, the more one appreciates and enjoys more. I remember the toys I have and play with them a lot with my imagination as I have a few but enough toys. I do the same with my son where I taught him to save his pocket money for his education fund and for things he really needs in the future. I do not get him any special gifts during Birthday and Christmas too. It is usually just a little celebration either dinner or lunch with his grandparents. I think time is the most precious gift that one could give to another.

    Reply
    1. Sherry of Save. Spend. Splurge.

      I am glad to hear I am not the only one. Little Bun is definitely more creative, and he loves making his own toys out of socks, erasers.. ANYTHING really. I did not grow up like this but I want him to be different and less spendy and so consumerist as I was when I was younger.

      Reply
  3. Gail

    When I was a child, my parents did the Santa thing. When I figured out it was my parents who had bought the gifts, I felt terrible and ashamed. We did not do SClaus with our kids!
    We do give birthday gifts–not over the top–as I like the idea of celebrating each individual.
    You are wise and strong and will figure out how to make your stance work. I admire the integrity and thought-out actions you display.

    Reply
    1. Sherry of Save. Spend. Splurge.

      He will just learn that we do not celebrate that, and it is not how we are living. As he gets older he will appreciate it.

      Reply
  4. Sense

    I grew up doing all of the above! (save the maple shack thing. what’s that? Must be Canadian :))

    It sounds like you had a tough upbringing, in the sense that the focus was always on empty material things, rather than the joy the things and traditions could bring to you and your family. In my family, it was never the things that made it special (though I loved all the food!), it was the annual tradition of DOING the things TOGETHER, as a family, that we all looked forward to. The teasing of my Mom, whose tradition it is to open each present one at a time, taking turns as a family. The decorating of the tree with ornaments we kids made, and now, looking back at when we made those ornaments. It ties and bonds us together more tightly to have those traditions. Christmas was my Grandma’s favorite holiday, and her enthusiasm for everything Christmas is also what made it special. She was German, so gingerbread making and cookie baking and all the cooking and decorating were practically in her DNA. Christmas was the only time she shared her German-ness and family traditions. and that made it even more special. For me, the gifts were extra, and let me know that someone had thought of me. It literally didn’t matter what they were, just that someone had taken care to pick something out, make it look nice with wrapping, and looked forward to seeing me open and receive it. It made me feel like I belonged to those people, that they took time to do something just for me. My favorite thing in the world, still, is watching someone I love open a gift I have carefully made or thought very hard about to pick out.

    For us, the traditions are about what makes being in your family special, and what makes you feel like you belong somewhere, and with other people. People are really the key! I think of my childhood Christmases now and how I felt very very loved and secure, enveloped in care and love and surrounded by lots and lots of people who were genuinely invested in my well-being. That is a product of all the activities that we did with each other each year, which, in turn, is a product of the love we had for each other. You can easily make up your own traditions and get all the people you care about together without all the associated things, of course, but most people are not as creative as that!

    Reply
    1. Sherry of Save. Spend. Splurge.

      I love that it focused on family and good memories — but I definitely want to be opting OUT of doing too much, gifting for the sake of gifting or overgifting, and to teach him to focus on family – which for us, is the tree, the meal, and going to the shopping center to spend the day together which he loves.

      We will see as he gets older. I’d like the cookie tradition LOL

      Reply

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