Call Me Materialistic, But I Don’t Want A Gift-Free Christmas

I realize that there are benefits to ignoring the financial stress during the holidays. I know that the season isn’t really about my daughter’s new Lalaloopsy playhouse. But at the same time, I think it’s kind of disingenuous to act like those presents have no meaning at all.

This year, I bought my sister a large, antique bike. It has a huge front wheel, a miniature seat, and a small back wheel for balance. It’s all wire and no one could ever ride it. What’s so important about this little decorative bike? Well, when my sister and I were little, our aunt had an extremely similar little bike hanging on a wall in her home. My sister thought it was the coolest thing. When we were teenagers, our aunt moved and sold the bike, along with most of her decor. (She was moving from an enormous house in Michigan to an Upper East Side condo.)

For years, my sister has wanted a bike like our Aunt’s. She has told our Aunt time and time again that she can’t believe she sold that bike. When I bought this gift, I was literally bursting with excitement. I called my Aunt and my mom and my dad and my husband. I told them all about my amazing find. I am thrilled to be able to give my sister this bike to hang in her new home. This gift means a lot more than the money I spent on it.

It’s easy to show the meaning in a present like that. Some people like to point out that it’s the gift cards, or random presents you pick up because you can’t think of anything else, that really push the holiday materialism to an insane level. But even those gift cards serve a purpose.

Just yesterday I bought a gift card for my daughter’s gymnastics teacher. It’s a simple, inexpensive little thing to throw in her holiday card. But I’m happy to do something nice for her. This intensely patient woman has inspired my daughter and taught her to truly love a sport. I want to give her a small token of our appreciation for all the times that she convinced my nervous little girl to flip over those uneven bars.

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  • WinWin

    I love this post! It is exactly how I feel when people start harping on about materialism and commercialization of Christmas. I am not Christian, yet I believe in Christmas, the miracle and joy of the season. Just as you mentioned, I love putting up a tree and decorating the house with my son. But I also love buying the perfect gifts for him.
    Why does it seem impossible (to some people) to have a good family holiday and also exchange gifts? Just because people get excited about the gifts doesn’t mean they don’t love the people who gave them those gifts, or don’t cherish the moments spent with loved ones.
    Again, you read my mind when it comes to gift cards. I don’t think it is a lazy gift. I think it is the perfect gift for someone like you child’s teacher who you are really thankful for and would love to pamper..but then you don’t always know teachers so well as to know exactly what they would like right?
    I guess that was my long winded way of saying – I agree!

  • BigBlue

    Thanks for this post, I feel exactly the same way. I’m agnostic and so the holiday has no religious meaning for me or my family, but we still get into the joy of the season just the same. I love decorating the tree, seeing the Christmas lights, spending time with family and all the delicious food. And who doesn’t love getting time off work/school? I love buying gifts for all my loved ones, and it never feels like a hassle or an inconvenience to me. The only part i don’t like about Christmas is the part where it’s over! So relieved to hear you’re not a scrooge after your Black Friday post (haha!). Thanks Lindsay.

  • chickadee

    I totally agree. While I tell myself that I would *like* to be one of those people who find more joy in selfless giving to strangers, and while we do give to charitable organizations (that do NOT include the Salvation Army), I love buying gifts for other people and I love that the holiday is a time to spend time and thought making people that you love happy. I don’t go into debt to do it, I plan ahead, and it makes me happy to know that my purchases will be appreciated.

    And remember — the last scenes of “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” emphasize the real message of the story, which is the necessity of being part of a community. They all open the gifts that he returns, right? So watch it and don’t feel guilty. Unless you are watching the live-action version, and then you should feel terrible.

  • LiteBrite

    In our family, we do both: a gift exchange and a charitable family event. We used to exchange names and set a high dollar limit, but honestly it was just getting to be too much, particularly for those in the family who live out of state and have to fly in. So now we keep that dollar limit, but limit the amount to $30. The rest of the money goes for a joint charitable family event, mostly in the form of “adopting” a family. We get the best of both words that way, I think: gifts AND a chance to build family spirit by helping another family out.

    I too love buying gifts for people, but it IS a hassle when you have absolutely no clue what they want or need and the receiver won’t give you any ideas. (Dad, I’m looking at YOU.) That’s why I’m thankful for giftcards. I don’t think they’re lazy at all, especially if you get one that you absolutely know the other person loves. Gifts should be from the heart, and if your heart says the other person would love you forever if you got them a Starbucks giftcard, go for it. Btw, my husband is buying me a second tattoo for Christmas. Again, it comes from the heart. :)

  • Justme

    I read that comment on Facebook and it sounded like a great case of Sanctimommy….although I *get* what she was trying to convey.

    I think when you purchase gifts for one another it IS showing the spirit of Christmas (whatever that might mean to you). I don’t just buy tons of crap for my parents, husband, child and friends….I honestly put a lot of thought and effort into getting them gifts that are meaningful and have purpose.

    I give gifts because I WANT to, not because I’m buying into the materialism of Christmas.

    • justhypatia

      Exactly, it’s not about receiving the gifts, it’s about GIVING them.

  • Eileen

    I hope your sister isn’t reading this article ;)

    I love giving gifts, too, but…I do kind of wish it weren’t “December 25 or bust!” I’d rather buy something because I saw it and it was awesome and exactly what my sister, or my father, or my best friend would really love, and then giving it because I love the person (and am impatient). I guess Christmas ensures that everyone gets “thought-of,” but it’s kind of a stressful way to show love for each other.

    • LindsayCross

      She has her hands very, very full dealing with some serious morning sickness and an energetic 7-month-old, not to mention holiday craziness. I was assured by her husband that she hasn’t been reading the site in recent weeks:)

      If, by chance, she does jump on, it’s okay. She and I have been HORRIBLE about keeping our gifts secrets for years. We always tell each other early because we get too excited. This would be par for the course.

  • CW

    I do call Ms. Cross materialistic, not because of this post but because of all the numerous ones where she yammers on and on about her materialistic lifestyle (buying $200 worth of clothes for her stepdaughter’s friend comes to mind…)

    • LiteBrite

      I believe you are confusing Lindsay Cross with another Mommyish writer: Rebecca Eckler. Lindsay Cross never wrote an article about buying $200 worth of clothes for her stepdaughter’s friend; Rebecca Eckler did.

  • Flora

    Truth!! We don’t have lots of gifts, and never have, because we don’t have much to spend– but, the gifts we give are all meaningful. We also do charitable things, and were encouraged to do so year round by our parents rather than just at Christmas. There’s no reason there can’t be a “meet in the middle” solution because, let’s face it, we love opening presents just as much as we love seeing the look on someone’s face when they get that perfect gift from you!

  • duckfart

    I don’t like getting gifts. If I were the one getting the bike I would rather have just looked at an old family photo if that was available instead of having more stuff. I don’t place much value in material things unless they have some practical use.

    I like thought and action. I feel bad that someone has to be put out to get me a gift when I’d rather just share some quality time with the person. I’d much rather have a nice meal together, or conversation, or have the person lend me a hand with something.