Why a Buy Nothing Christmas Could Be Your Best Holiday Yet

Published November 15, 2022
Happy sisters embracing by Christmas tree

If you're looking to opt out of the shopping stress bomb and Black Friday big box store camp-out this year, a buy nothing Christmas can open up a whole new world of holiday joy. Some people choose not to buy anything during the Christmas season as a way to live a little lighter on the planet, save the strain on their wallets, and make meaningful choices that reflect their values. Whether you're considering trying out this practice yourself or want to learn a little more about it before attending a buy nothing holiday event, it can be a workable and enjoyable option.

Why Some People Opt Out of Christmas Shopping

If you've been invited to a Christmas event with a no-buying requirement, it's natural to wonder how an idea like this could possibly work. After all, giving presents is just part of the holiday tradition, right? The surprising thing is, not all presents require buying, and not all Christmas celebrations need presents you can wrap.

More than a decade ago, Buy Nothing Day began as a reaction to the insanity of Black Friday. A group of Canadian Mennonites expanded this concept to a buy nothing Christmas, where people would skip the long cash register lines, piles of unwanted gifts, and extra debt - and instead spend the whole holiday season focusing on the things that really matter to them. There are a number of reasons you might consider not buying gifts for Christmas or scaling back on your holiday consumption:

  • Less waste - In the month of December, Americans throw away 25 million tons of extra trash. This includes that impossible-to-open toy packaging, wrapping paper, gift boxes, shopping bags, and more. A buy nothing holiday reduces waste.
  • Reduced clutter - You don't need another scented candle you didn't choose, and neither does your friend. Opting out of Christmas shopping this year means less clutter for you and your loved ones.
  • Healthier budget - The average American spends almost $1000 on gifts for Christmas each year, often going into debt to fund the shopping frenzy. In an era of inflation and uncertainty, you may feel healthier about your budget if you don't shop this year.
  • Less stress - Even though it might not be your primary reason for choosing not to join in with the consumerism, reduced anxiety can be an added bonus. Instead of tying yourself up in knots trying to get it all done this year, you can have a more relaxing holiday.

Ways to Make a Buy Nothing Christmas Work for You

If you want to rethink the traditional gift-giving part of Christmas, there are lots of ways to do that. You don't even have to feel bad for not buying your little cousin another electronic toy; his parents will probably thank you for it anyway. Try one of these ideas instead of shopping.

Focus on Other Christmas Traditions

women playing on acoustic guitar next to a Christmas tree

Gift-giving isn't the only tradition associated with Christmas. In fact, it's really only been a huge part of the holiday since the Victorian era. Leaning into on other customs can be even more meaningful than giving and receiving presents. Many of these involve spending quality time with those you love. Here are some ideas to make memories that don't involve gifts:

  • Make a batch of your favorite Christmas cookies together.
  • Listen to or sing Christmas carols or go caroling with friends. You can even have a Christmas karaoke party if you want to get in a little holiday torture.
  • Watch all the classic Christmas movies, such as It's a Wonderful Life or Miracle on 34th Street.
  • Have a board game night or head outside to play yard games or football.
  • Make Christmas ornaments or decorations like wreaths.
  • Get together to make and decorate a gingerbread house.

Choose and Donate to a Charity

One of the great things about giving a gift during the holidays is how it feels to be generous. This is a great impulse, and you can use it in ways besides filling a shopping cart. Consider getting together with family and choosing charities to donate to on Christmas morning. This might not work for the littles on your list, but all the grown-ups will love it.

There are many ways to make a charity donation in lieu of a Christmas gift. You can give a donation as a group or give one in someone's name. A charity gift exchange is also a fun choice. You can draw names and then donate to an organization you know the person will support. This makes the gift meaningful both to the charity and to the person you're honoring.

Hold a Gift Exchange With Things You Value

woman giving her daughter a pearl necklace

Instead of running out to buy presents for a gift exchange, have each person shop their own home. When you select an item of yours that you value, you're also showing the recipient how much you value them. It's a personal and very meaningful type of gift exchange. Give your little cousin the china tea set you used as a kid and pass along that special locket to your sister.

To make it even more special, talk about why you chose this item and what it means to you. Tell why you think the other person would like it and what you hope for them as they use it or enjoy it.

Give Your Time and Talents

Your time can be as valuable as any gift, and some of the best gifts involve sharing quality time or giving someone a much-needed few hours of help. You can also share your talents and teach someone how to do something. This is a gift that can help build bonds since the person will think of you every time they perform a task you taught them. Try these ideas:

  • Give young parents a night of free babysitting - also known as a few hours of sanity.
  • Volunteer your time at a homeless center, animal shelter, or other organization you care about. You can even volunteer together as a family.
  • Teach someone how to make one of your specialty dishes or something else you're good at.
  • Give a certificate for a book club experience where you read the same book from the library and then get together to talk about it.

Send a Letter of Gratitude

woman writing on card near Christmas tree

Ultimately, a Christmas present is about showing how much you value another person. Choosing a gift they'll love is only one way to make them feel special and seen, however. Writing a meaningful note can also show how much you care.

Think about what matters most to you about this person and write a list for them to read. Think of it as a kind of love letter, but the recipient is your dad, sister, grandma, or best friend. It may be one of the most meaningful gifts they get this year.

Make a Special Gift

A handmade gift is almost always special because of the time you put into it. Instead of buying a present, make or upcycle a great gift. There are lots of ideas for presents you can create, even if you don't have top-notch DIY skills:

  • Bake some cookies or a delicious treat.
  • Make freezer meals to give someone a break from cooking for a week.
  • Knit or sew a cozy scarf or another warm gift.
  • Have kids paint or tie dye a t-shirt for parents or grandparents.

Trade for a Gift Instead of Buying One

Community groups and classified ads can help you trade for a gift you want to give someone. The Buy Nothing Project is an organization that helps people create local groups for trading instead of buying. Freecycle is another great option.

You can also work your personal network of friends, family, and coworkers. For example, if you know someone who has kids a little older than yours, you may be able to trade outgrown clothes and toys for something else you might like to give as a gift.

Make a Christmas to Remember Without Buying a Thing

You don't have to join the line outside of the big box store to make Christmas special. With a little creativity, some innovative upcycling and trading, and a bit of outside-the-box thinking, you can have a buy nothing Christmas with gifts and memories everyone will remember for years to come.

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Why a Buy Nothing Christmas Could Be Your Best Holiday Yet