Christmas without commerce: Celebrating without shopping


For most people participating in Christmas or Hanukkah, presents are part and parcel of the season. Whole economies bank on the flurry of purchases that begin in earnest on Black Friday. Yet there are those who, for various reasons, eschew buying stuff for others. Not because they’ve adopted a “Bah! Humbug!” attitude. Rather, they find greater value in offering nontraditional gifts such as handmade presents, acts of kindness, or just spending time with friends and family. They’re forms of generosity that aren’t rooted in materialism.

In Boston, Jane Taylor’s impulse at Christmas is to give her time to those who need it most. When she isn’t volunteering at a nonprofit that helps feed low-income families, she’s baking for friends and family. When she does buy gifts, they’re handcrafted items that benefit a charity. For this Quaker, Christmas is a time to think about all mankind.

Why We Wrote This

Like the Grinch, these revelers have realized Christmas doesn’t come from a store. How they make the day mean just that little bit more.

Inspired by the story of the donkey that gave up its manger to Jesus, Ms. Taylor also opens her home to strangers.

“I have rooms in my house that are filled with people, and they are all coming from different countries and different needs,” she says. “That’s the whole Christmas story to me. It’s about giving.”

Jaiy Dickson’s family has an unorthodox Christmas tradition: no gift giving.  

For years, the Boston-based law student would pool resources with her sister and stepfather to buy her mother appliances such as a KitchenAid mixer. In turn, Ms. Dickson’s mother would buy her adult daughters a select item, such as a winter coat. But the family members began running out of ideas for bigger gifts. So, a few years ago, they collectively decided to stop giving presents altogether. As a result, her family’s outlook on what makes the Yuletide season meaningful has shifted.

“We get to spend time together and enjoy each other’s company. We’re thankful for each other,” says Ms. Dickson during a Zoom call. “My friend actually calls it ‘celebrating capitalism’ rather than ‘celebrating Christmas.’ And I’m like, ‘Yeah, I’m not celebrating capitalism this year.’” 

Why We Wrote This

Like the Grinch, these revelers have realized Christmas doesn’t come from a store. How they make the day mean just that little bit more.

For most people participating in Christmas or Hanukkah, presents are part and parcel of the season. Whole economies bank on the flurry of purchases that begin in earnest on Black Friday. Yet there are those who, for various reasons, eschew buying stuff for others. Not because they’ve adopted a “Bah! Humbug!” attitude. Rather, they find greater value in offering nontraditional gifts such as handmade presents, acts of kindness, or just spending time with friends and family. They’re forms of generosity that aren’t rooted in materialism.

“Thank you all” 

The no-gift philosophy can be hard to explain to others, says Jimmy Sapiega, a social worker in McHenry, Illinois. His young nieces’ Christmas wish lists include tablets and phones. But although Mr. Sapiega treats his sister’s family to meal outings, he tells his nieces that cooking together or playing card games is more precious than anything money can buy.



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