Christmas presentsHow The Grinch Stole Christmas is one of my very favorite Christmas movies, but apparently I never learned the Dr. Seuss classic’s lesson. I realize that the holiday season shouldn’t be all about presents and pretty wrapping paper and big, fancy bows. I know that there are more substantial aspects of family togetherness and shared joy that I’m supposed to be celebrating. But would I want to forgo the holiday shopping for a gift-free Christmas? No. Not at all.

Lately, I’ve been hearing lots of stories of “gift-free” Christmases. They make cool human interest stories. They make the the holidays feel more emotionally mature and less materialistic. Complaining about the commercialization of Christmas has become something of a holiday tradition in itself. One of our wonderful Facebook commenters left this message on a picture of a child’s letter to Santa Claus.

FOOD FOR THOUGHT: Christmas has really lost it’s meaning which is about family, friends and helping others. How about trying to reclaim Christmas for the true spirit and avoid gift exchange? We stopped participating in gifts for the last *THREE* years and it has REALLY felt FABULOUS!!!! Puts more emphasis on the true meaning and our family doesn’t mind. Try a new tradition….if you don’t have kids, no gifts at all, instead – just have a lovely meal, gathering and maybe some movies. Donate items to the needy. If you do have kids, help mold your children better by reducing their gifts to just one item and buying an item for someone in need that they can present personally. Imagine children and families appreciating the holiday for its true purpose and reducing financial stress, shopping stress and avoid creating little gift mongers. Its a crazy idea that can actually work!

Guys… I’m a gift monger. I love gifts. I really love buying them for people and wrapping them up and the expensive wrapping paper that I keep especially for the holidays. I make my own bows and gift tags. I spend more money than I budgeted for and I don’t feel guilty at all.

In my mother’s house, there are normally enough presents to pass around that we take literally the entire day to open gifts. Don’t get me wrong, we take plenty of breaks. There are stockings first, then a huge homemade breakfast. Then we open a couple rounds of a gifts and we break to let the kids (and dads) play with new toys that they’re excited about. There’s more opening, more breaking. At some point in there we have a huge dinner. The holiday is made to take all day long, but there are plenty of gifts in there keeping things busy.

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.

Sure, there other things to think about when it comes to the holidays. It’s not just about the presents under the tree on December 25th. Cutting down the Christmas tree together is my favorite holiday tradition. I love singing the carols and hanging the lights.

Sure, we enjoy giving out presents, but Christmas is really a month-long event. This weekend, I spent an entire day with my mother and sisters-in-law baking cookies. We made hundreds of cookies by hand, decorated them, and packaged them in festive little containers. It was a long day of hard work, but it was also so much fun. The kids all played together and tried to sneak bites of cookies. They helped decorate the sugar cookies with way too many sprinkles. It was just one day in the lead-up to Christmas, a day that has nothing to do with presents, that makes the whole season wonderful.

Next weekend, we have gingerbread decorating coming up. But you know what else happens on that day? One of my sisters-in-law gives out all of her gifts to the kids. It’s her own special day. Last year, she wrote and illustrated a story to go along with all of the gifts and read it to the children. Every kid’s gift had a theme. She put some much effort and love into that day and her gifts for the kids.

There are lots of wonderful holiday traditions. But exchanging gifts doesn’t somehow taint the festivities with materialism. It’s a single aspect that can have a lot of meaning if you choose it. It’s a part of the holiday, but it’s a part that I really enjoy.

I’m not Santa Claus, but I understand his shtick. Giving away presents is great. Seeing the joy and excitement on a family member’s face when they open the perfect present is one of my favorite parts of the year. So maybe I don’t belong in Whoville, but I still think that I can have a meaningful Christmas, even with my presents.