On Not Celebrating Christmas

Growing up and into the first few years of adulthood I celebrated a more-or-less traditional form of Christmas with my family. I don’t observe it as a religious or secular holiday any longer for several reasons.

Christmas and Religion. I don’t celebrate Eid, Hanukkah or Yule because I’m not Muslim, Jewish or Neopagan. Why, then, continue to celebrate the religious aspects of Christmas when I no longer necessarily identify myself as a Christian?

Simple Living.  I’m content to live a fairly simple life, buying only what I genuinely need whenever it is that I need it.  A well thought out gift can mean the world to both the giver and to the receiver, of course, and I’m grateful when other people give gifts to me but it has been my experience that most gift exchanges are neither necessary nor discerning of what the receiver actually needs. There’s only so much clothing one can wear at one time, food one can eat, books one can read, gift certificates one can redeem and electronics one can enjoy in an hour or month or year. I’d rather wear out what I already own before I acquire more possessions that aren’t going to be put to good use.

Consumerism. I’m not ethically comfortable with the consumeristic and materialistic values often associated with this season. What should be a loving, joyful time of year often instead becomes busy, expensive and stressful. Showing love for family, friends and your significant other has somehow mutated into a social obligation to prove your feelings by buying them nice stuff. There’s something very wrong about that.

Giving and receiving are wonderful parts of being in a relationship or social group but neither of those things should be boxed into one event a year or limited to what is sold in stores. The best gifts I’ve ever given (and received) have been labours of time and love. Many people are comfortable both giving gifts over the winter holidays and throughout the year. This doesn’t have to be an either/or choice, of course, but giving spontaneous gifts of time, or attention, or advice, or help with a special project, or yes sometimes even actual physical objects throughout the year works better for me.

And then there are the exceptions to this rule. Technically I’m sure that my nephew doesn’t need any more stuff, but I also believe that Christmas is holiday for children. When I was little there was nothing more magical than opening up presents from the grown-ups who loved me on Christmas morning. Even the smallest gifts from them made me giddy. So I do make exceptions for young relatives. I’m slowly learning that I prefer to give special trips or other experiences over adding yet another toy or game for my brother and sister-in-law to trip over…but ultimately I’d give him almost anything that his parents approved of when Christmas or his birthday rolls around.

Occasionally I am able to spend Christmas with my family in the U.S. A few family members absolutely adore Christmas so I’m flexible when we get together during that time of year. So far we’ve had one surprisingly un-observant “Christmas” – we didn’t exchange presents or decorate but we did have home-cooked, sit-down meals together. Over that same trip I also attended a Sunday morning Christmas service at a local Mennonite church with the family. It was a gift of sorts for my grandparents and great-aunts to be surrounded by so many members of their family on one of the most family-oriented Sundays of the year.

Several years ago my grandparents organized donations from teens and adults in our extended family to send two or three care packages to a Mennonite charity in Africa that provides personal care items and some very basic medical supplies to adults who have been diagnosed with AIDS. Assembling those packages is one of my all-time favourite memories of them.  If my family wanted to exchange gifts the next time we’re all together over Christmas I might suggest that we do something charitable  again but would be willing to go along with the original plan if that was the majority decision. As much of a cliche as this is to type relationships are more important than my preference not to celebrate the commercial aspects of this holiday.

You may be wondering why I’m bringing this topic up in August, months before the average person begins to think about this sort of thing. I have two reasons for doing this. Number one: retail stores are just now or soon will be receiving their first shipments of winter-holiday-themedmerchandise which will so overflow their storage rooms that it will probably ooze onto store shelves within the next month or so. After working in that environment for so long I automatically begin thinking about these things at the end of summer. Only 125 days to go! Number two: If anyone reading decides to change their gift exchange preferences, now is the time to mention it to friends and family.


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13 Responses to On Not Celebrating Christmas

  1. Chris

    I’ve been saying to my family for the past few years that I do not want to celebrate Christmas, and to please not buy me any gifts. For some reason they refuse to understand this. I suppose the only away they know how to show affection is to buy material gifts, so they won’t give up on it. So I’ve been stuck between either looking like a Screwdge and not reciprocating, or celebrating something I don’t believe in, religiously or ethically.

    • Lydia

      That’s so frustrating.

      I completely understand that some people use gifts to express their feelings. I do not understand the thought process behind why gifts have to be physical objects.

  2. teresa stebbins

    My family has learned that I am not a person who does things because everyone else does. SO, a year ago, when I told them at the end of the year, that all Christmas, birthday, and anniversary gifts that they would receive from us would have a total cost of $0! I either gave as a gift, something that I had here at home or that I got through Freecycle or that I made from materials and supplies I had on hand. It was a bit of a challenge a few times, but we did it! It has always been our practice to keep giving to a minimum. Our kids didn’t always appreciate this because it was not unusual to go to a friends’ home and see a huge pile of gifts under the Christmas tree!
    We also have very good friends who do not participate in Christmas for the same reasons you mentioned. They don’t have kids and if the two of them want to purchase something during the year they do it, so when Christmas comes around they have everything they need and don’t go buy gifts for the sake of giving them.
    I understand Chris’s frustrations well. For whatever reason, choosing to not celebrate Christmas, or take part in the commercial excesses of gift giving, that desire ‘should’ be accepted by family members. It sometimes feels a bit uncomfortable when you have made a stand like that, and people still give you gifts, but if you’ve made it clear of your expectations and that you will not be participating, you can always make it clear that if they DO continue to give you gifts, that they can expect that you will be donating them to some charity as you don’t need them.
    This is an interesting subject, Lydia, and I am so in agreement with you. We have grandkids that we do give gifts to, but our whole family knows that we do NOT go overboard. We are very sensible and conservative in our gift giving. The ridiculous thing is that the kids enjoy a small bag of treats as much as they do some big, huge, expensive gift, so we try hard to not ‘cave in to the pressure’ that is all around us at that time of the year.
    This is something I could talk about for hours…

    • Lydia


      I hadn’t thought about homemade gifts. They don’t seem to dredge up the same ethical hesitations, especially for items that can be used up or eaten or that are needed.

  3. when we give, I like to give experiences. movie tickets, restaurant certificates, etc. The exception is children, who are growing so fast that they usually can use new clothing, and the next step in books or toys for what they are learning to do. I think our western cultural expression of Christmas is mostly for children. It makes the most sense that way.

    (FYI – Lydia – I am at your blog late at night cause I miss you! We fly back home in the morning, and we saw lots of precious friends and family this last week. But we often thought of you and Drew, and can’t wait until we see you in only a few more months. hugs!)

  4. teresa stebbins

    Lydia…I thought of you, too, during your parent’s visit…wishing you could be here with them. I know it’s hard. I’m glad to hear you are going to be seeing them soon!!
    I liked Tammy’s comment. I LOVE giving experiences, and even better, I love receiving them! They are the gifts that remain as memories…even the kids don’t remember the toy or incidental gift they got soon after Christmas…but they DO remember thoughtful gifts that create a memory. One year we gave our grandson a subscription to the Natl Geographic kids magazine..I like giving subscriptions because the gift keeps giving all year, and it’s somewhat educational and they love getting mail! (Just an idea for any grandparents who need ideas) There are lots of really great children’s magazines out there, you can find out what they are by going to any large bookstore and looking at the shelves.

    • Lydia

      What a great suggestion. My grandparents gave us a subscription to Highlights Magazine for a few years. I was so thrilled to get mail every month and I remember spending many hours reading the stories and playing the games in that magazine.

  5. You’re right. I enjoyed this post immensely!!

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