Simplifying Christmas: Rethinking gift giving

What actions do you take that transform you from serene to frenzied?’


This is the question that arrived in my inbox recently, courtesy of Beth Dargis from My Simpler Life. It really caught my attention because it arrived during the same week that people started talking about the number of Fridays until Christmas break.

You could substitute other words here to suit your personal tendencies. Like ‘from calm to overwhelmed’. What I find particularly interesting about this phrase is the order of the key words. It makes the refreshing assumption that we are mostly doing ok but that we sometimes get ourselves into a frenzied state. And it suggests that preventing the shift from a desirable to an undesirable state is within our control.

It seems that just the word ‘Christmas’ itself sadly transforms many people from whatever state they are currently in to ‘frenzied’. As the year speeds to a close and the ‘countdown to Christmas’ begins in earnest, stress levels start to increase. The pressure is on to shop for gifts, plan menus, cram in gatherings & end-of-year celebrations, and negotiate family expectations. Rather than being a time for relaxation and enjoying the company of family and friends, many people find themselves anticipating the season with dread. Then they feel exhausted when it’s all over.

It’s not just the actions we take, but often the actions we don’t take, which shift us from managing things to feeling swamped and defeated. Over the next few weeks I will share some ideas to help simplify the holiday season. This includes rethinking gift-giving, gathering and menu planning, and some ideas for simple home-made gifts. Taking action by implementing all or some of these ideas can transform your experience of the holiday season.

This week, I’d like to challenge you to rethink gift giving.

I don’t know about you but I pretty much have ‘enough’. Of course there may be things that I would like but there is not really anything that I need. It therefore seems a little excessive to be exchanging gifts with lots of people who also feel that they have ‘enough’. Gifts are sometimes given out of habit or a feeling of obligation. Some friends have told me that they continue to buy gifts even when the recipient has ceased to reciprocate or even acknowledge the gift. The recipients’ actions are probably saying what they can’t say directly – that they don’t want to exchange gifts anymore.

A few years ago I had a conversation with a friend about our tradition of exchanging gifts. Feeling a little uncertain, I said something like ‘We haven’t seen so much of each other since we moved, and I’m wondering if it would be ok with you if we didn’t buy each other Christmas gifts?’ Her reply was ‘Oh I would be relieved!’ Sometimes it just takes one person to broach the subject!

We agreed some time ago not to exchange gifts with our family, but we do buy for our grandson. As a couple, we sometimes buy for each other. But if for instance we have made a major purchase or are going away at that time of year we usually consider this enough of a gift. Either way, we always make a donation to a charity at this time of year. Buy a Bale which supports Australia’s rural communities is a favourite. We now only exchange gifts with a couple of people, and I often make home-made goodies to add to gift baskets and to take as gifts for hosts.

Having shifted my thinking about gift giving, I find planning and preparing for the holiday season just so much simpler.

Are you buying gifts for people out of habit?

Are there any conversations you could have about this in the next few weeks?

Do share your thoughts and ideas in the comments section below.



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  • Deidre says:

    I love the concept of rethinking gift giving Jo and quite often feel pressured. I have always loved when I have the time to make something – usually cooking of some description and hand wrap them to give rather than buy something. For some lucky people I might add in a bottle of wine or make a little hamper with a few prepared goods. I look forward to further posts with any suggestions… x

    • Jo says:

      It’s so lovely isn’t it Deidre to give and receive something hand-made. Suggestions coming up in a few weeks so stay tuned! Thanks so much for leaving a comment. Love Jo xxx

  • Maree says:

    I’m needing more suggestions on how to get people to agree to the no exchanging of gifts. I tried a few years ago by saying once the nieces and nephews reached 21 we should stop but that didn’t go down well. Maybe I just need to say I won’t be buying them gifts this year and leave it at that.

    • Jo says:

      It’s hard Maree when others are wanting to hang on tenaciously to tradition. You could take a really strong stand. The other idea would be to make a donation to a charity in their name and present them with a gift certificate. This could be done individually, choosing something they might be concerned about eg gorilla or elephant rescue organisations. Or you could make a donation on behalf of all of them toward a larger project eg for a well to be dug in an impoverished village. Of course there are many ‘closer to home’ charities that do gift certificates as well. This might lead to a shift in their perspective and help them realise that, like most of us, they already have ‘enough’. Good luck Maree!

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