Some pre-holiday “food” for thought from Whole30 Headmistress Melissa Hartwig Urban
‘Tis the season… of online gift-guides, braving the malls, internet shopping, and wondering what you get the people in your life who already have everything they need. Twelve years ago, I decided the commercialism of the holiday season wasn’t serving me, so I told everyone that I would no longer be giving or receiving gifts at Christmas.*
You can imagine how well that went over.
My parents were confused, my sister was a little angry (at first), and I knew people thought I was just being Grinch-y or selfish. You know what? It was selfish. Every holiday season, I ran around like a crazy person trying to find something to buy people who didn’t really need anything, wondering if I was spending enough or getting them a significant enough gift. It was expensive, it was stressful, and it was time-consuming. And in exchange, I also ended up with a pile of gifts (that cost other people time and money) that I didn’t really need either.
My mom had the hardest time with the concept, so I told her if she really wanted to give me something, she could make a donation to charity in my name. (She’s been doing that every year.) And it’s not like I went full-Scrooge; I employed giving or sharing in the “gift” of a special meal, taking a weekend trip, doing a spa day, or some other kind of event where I actually spend quality time with people I love.
More than anything, however, this practice reminded me of what was really important during the holiday season; spending time with family and friends, creating new memories and traditions, and being grateful for all of the blessings in our lives. Without the pressure of purchasing gifts, I was able to fully enjoy all the trappings of the season; the social occasions, decorating the tree (without thinking about what I was going to stuff underneath it), and taking time away from work to play outside, travel, and see friends.
*Now I have an almost 6-year-old son, and I do buy gifts for him… but not many, and they’re all special (chosen throughout the year and hidden under my bed). They’re usually things we can do together, like a LEGO set or board game. And we make the day about way more than just gifts; last year presents were almost an afterthought, because we spent the day tubing in Park City.
Melissa’s Holiday Gift Guide
This approach isn’t for everyone. There is certainly pleasure in finding something special for the people you love, and seeing the expression of joy in their eyes when they open it. If picking out just the right present is your jam, then by all means, enjoy the experience! But if you’re feeling a little stressed about the time, money, and energy spent on all the gift-giving you’ll be doing this holiday season, here are a few suggestions:
- Institute a price limit; something reasonable like $10-$25. This will force people to be creative while being respectful of your budgets.
- Give the gift of your time. Cook dinner for your parents, go snowshoeing with your best friend, offer babysit for your sibling, or take a road trip with your significant other.
- Combine a physical present with your time. Give your coffee-loving friend a cute mug with a note that says, “Let’s have a coffee date every Sunday morning in January.”
- If you’re crafty, hand-make the same gift (bone broth or jam, soap or candles, or photo books) for everyone on your list.
- Limit your gift-giving circle; exchange only with immediate family or just the kids, and send cards to everyone else.
- Set up a “White Elephant” or “Secret Santa” where you’re only expected to purchase one gift, but you still get to watch everyone open their presents.
- Buy something you know they can use, like a Thrive Market membership or Amazon gift card.
- Combine your funds to take a trip together, either during the holidays or in the future.
- Skip the gifts in lieu of volunteering as a group at your local soup kitchen, shelter, or nursing home.
Whatever your gift-giving strategy this holiday season, it’s best to have these discussions well ahead of the season; much like you don’t discuss food at the dinner table, you should probably not discuss your lack of gifts on Christmas morning. Keep your reasons for altering your family’s traditions personal, letting them know why you need to scale down your purchases this year. Offer suggestions that still feel good for those who can’t imagine not getting you anything this year, as I’ve done with my mom.
And remember most of all, the best things about this (and every) holiday season are free; the laughter, traditions, and memories you make with those you love.
Melissa Hartwig Urban is a Certified Sports Nutritionist, and a 6-time New York Times bestselling author. She has been featured in the Wall Street Journal, New York Times, Forbes, and CNBC as the co-founder and CEO of the Whole30 program. Melissa lives in Salt Lake City, UT. You can find her on Instagram.
Photo credit: Mario Vega
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