It’s entirely possible to keep Christmas in our hearts and sustainability on our minds," says the author. Art by Gica Tam
Culture Spotlight

The gift of not gifting: Why I’m not accepting presents this Christmas

I announced my non-participation in Christmas gifting on Facebook recently. So far, my holiday loot is the most satisfying it’s ever been.
Paolo Lorenzana | Dec 08 2019

At some point in the past few years, Santa Claus must have questioned his calling. With earth running a high fever, no self-respecting saint would go on the way ol’ St. Nick has. He’d reconsider the immeasurable emissions produced by his sleigh, which burns loads via jet propulsion. Not to mention the toll its annual transit takes on his reindeer, no matter Rudolph’s eagerness to please. 

And while we’re on the topic of animal cruelty, there’s no way Santa hasn’t seen a couple of polar bears looking as emaciated as Nicole Richie in 2006. All thanks to melting ice caps that have messed with the environment and left our bears with a very limited menu. Moreover, the big guy must have noticed his red suit was getting a little too toasty as a delivery uniform.

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As these realizations pile up, Santa will run a world population’s list of who’s been naughty. After all, wasn’t it humanity’s cold hard capitalism that warmed up the earth? Now, thanks to Christmas as consumerism’s seasonal marketing push, we’ve created burgeoning holiday want that results in a morbid amount of holiday waste.  

Santa needs to stand in the corner this Christmas, and re-evaluate. Photograph by Markus Spiske on Unsplash

Santa will then wonder—does tiny Tim need yet another scooter this year, its only difference from last year’s being a big red Supreme logo on the footrest? And what good will a pair of high-waist H&M jeans do for little Claudia, who’ll ditch the number for a trendy new look a hot minute later?

I, for one, know how quickly one can outgrow a gift. Even easier to forget are the ones that were picked out thoughtlessly for you. Fruitcake, for example—an acquired taste, often best as a door-stopper than a treat. Or take anything mass-produced in China with corporate branding slapped on it. Many of these gifts are impersonal items given for the sake of preserving a long-held custom, no matter how heedless or indifferent to a giftee’s character, wants, or needs. 

The thought does count, of course. Good intentions behind gifting should account for something. But if we do the math and add up how such hasty gifting affects our increasingly conscious well-being, what is supposed to be a blessing can be a real burden. 

First, there is the gift’s obstruction of space. If you give me a gift I find no use for, this becomes clutter in my home, and also, clutter in my mind. 

There is the task of communicating gratitude to the person who’s given the gift despite my negative feelings toward it; my anxiety at the aesthetic disturbance the item has caused in my carefully designed habitat; and, of course, the pressing worry of how I can responsibly remove the gift from my midst. 

There is the task of thanking the person who’s given the gift despite my negative feelings toward it; my anxiety at the aesthetic disturbance the item has caused in my carefully designed habitat

There’s also the bigger problem a thoughtless gift presents: how it affects my existence. How the gift’s production, distribution, consumption, and inevitable disposal factors into climate change. In this case, what was once a kind gesture is today wrapped in ignorance and loaded with ill will.  

What many holiday gift guides fail to mention is that it’s entirely possible to keep Christmas in our hearts and sustainability on our minds. Before we take care of the ecological shit we’re neck-deep in, we need to swim away from the materialistic values embedded in our culture, holiday gifting being one of them. Here’s a thought: instead of dropping off a gift, why not reach out to a loved one? Open a window of quality time rather than tossing them an expendable present. Time—it’s tried, it’s tested, there’s a lot you can do with it if you care enough. 

We need to swim away from the materialistic values embedded in our culture. Photograph from Freestocks on Unsplash

Otherwise, cash, if proferred earnestly, is considerate. Devise a holiday proposal that goes something like: “Earth’s resources are fast-dwindling and I want to make sure I’m not wasting a gift on something that will just end up in the garbage. Can I deposit a manageable amount into your account, to be used as you see fit? Or perhaps make a donation to a nonprofit of your choice?” 

Dear [insert name here], Earth’s resources are fast-dwindling and I want to make sure I’m not wasting a gift on something that will just end up in the garbage. 

If the giftee is worth keeping in your life, he or she will appreciate such candor and concern in the face of our climate emergency. I would know—I announced my non-participation in Christmas gifting on Facebook recently. I made my position on a tidy home and cleaner earth very clear. So far, my holiday loot is the most satisfying it’s ever been: a pottery class with a cousin; two redeemable hours with a friend I haven’t seen in a while, to be used on an all-diva videoke session; plus several deposits to PAWS, Cara Welfare, and The Turtle Conservancy. 

Without a clue what’s happening to our world, the spirit of giving can be an evil one. So let’s get into the spirit of communicating what we really want and need. Less cop-out gifts, more conversation. With our time on earth so short, and earth’s own lifetime just as well, wouldn’t sharing it with someone significant be quite valuable?

And if you’re wondering about Santa, I hear he’s checking his North Pole operations twice. Beyond modernizing elf labor practices, the guy must have decided that what kids need aren’t things. The greatest gift he could help give them, in fact, is a healthy tomorrow.