The most common pushback to the idea of a gift-free Christmas is related to children. Adults are happy to give it up, but societal pressures make them reluctant to ask their little ones to forego presents as well. I understand, but also urge parents to at least give it some more thought. Here’s why.
My family was quite poor when I was a small child. I remember the five of us living in a one-bedroom apartment. We got Food Stamps to help buy groceries. For my 5th birthday, my mom gave me a rock as my present.
Punishment? No. It was an important life lesson. Pet rocks used to be a thing in the 20th century (yes, capitalism will sell you rocks if you let it). This was obviously a free, found rock, but she said it was my gift. She explained that she didn’t have the money to buy something for me. She demonstrated that I could draw on it with chalk and give it a name.
My reaction? I was fine with it! I played with it. I cleaned it off in my evening bath. My life inexperience was an asset in this instance. Unlike adults, who often let unconscious biases and social norms dictate their actions more than they realize, a young child’s mind is much more open. I was basically like “OK, this rock is my toy. I will play with this rock” without any sense of loss or remorse.
The youth of today are the ones most tuned in to the reality of the climate crisis. They’re much more open to both personal and political change. I’m continually amazed and impressed by the young ages I see in twitter bios of 9, 10, 11+ year old activists. The youth were out in force at COP26 in Glasgow as well.
Parents of various faiths already deal with this issue, so there are many resources online for how to talk to kids about alternative holiday celebrations. For example there are a variety of discussion boards for Jewish parents regarding how to explain Christmas and Santa to their kids and why they don’t take part in those customs. It’s a delicate balance to tell your child Santa isn’t real, but he’s real for others and how to navigate those conversations.
Jehovah’s Witnesses do not participate in most holiday observances, including Christmas and other holidays that include giving gifts. I remember in 3rd grade I had a classmate who was a Jehovah’s Witness, so he was absent from school for our Halloween and Christmas parties. I asked if it was difficult or if he wanted to join in, and he really wasn’t bothered by it. I left it at that and it wasn’t a big deal to him, me, or anyone else.
Kids are more resilient than we give them credit for. If parents of different religions and beliefs can have these talks with their kids about abstaining from Christmas gifts and celebrations, it’s something all parents should consider as well, albeit for the sake of the climate instead of religion. If you explain that the North Pole is melting because we consume too much and we need to cut back, you might be pleasantly surprised by the amount of acceptance and understanding you get in return.
Finally, think back to your holidays as a child. Do you remember the gifts you got? I don’t. I remember family games, lively dinner discussions, and spending time with extended family members I didn’t get to see often like my cousins and grandparents. As an adult I realize those experiences were the true gifts of the holiday season. The only physical gift that sticks out in my mind from my entire childhood is the birthday rock.
I understand that most won’t completely give up gifts for their kids, and I’m not here to judge. I’m here to plant the idea as a seed for further consideration. I hope you’ll meditate on it more in the months and years to come. Climate change is going to require culture change. Let’s reimagine how we want to celebrate being alive.