a father and daughter window shop at a holiday display


Dear Canadians: Can We Please Stop Giving Presents to Everyone?

Dec 9, 2019

This piece was written before 2020, when the world changed.

“I have to bring a gift to my work holiday party,” my husband says, while I sit at the kitchen table poring over our December budget.

“Another gift? Why?” I grumble, feeling frustrated by the ever-growing list of people we need to buy gifts for. Even $20 Secret Santa gifts add up, and when the items I’m buying feel meaningless, it can be a challenge to give them cheerfully. 

I wish we would all agree that Christmas is expensive and that a lot of gift-giving is unnecessary.

Find the holidays exhausting? You'll really appreciate this mother's perspective

As a young family with three kids and a tight budget it’s already a stretch to buy gifts for the people I love giving presents to: my husband, our three kids and our parents. Because everything adds up. And even when I make homemade gifts, or buy small thoughtful items for the adults in our lives, our bank account still takes a nosedive in December.

According to PwC’s annual holiday outlook, Canadian consumers plan to spend $1,593 this year on holiday shopping. Most of the 1,300 Canadians polled for the study say that they feel confident in their finances, but I’d argue that nearly $1,600 spent on holiday shopping is beyond the realm of possibility for most Canadian families.

I wish we would all agree that Christmas is expensive and that a lot of gift-giving is unnecessary.

So, why are we spending so much money on presents for other people? Every January I purge items in my home, many of which I have received as gifts.

One of the most frustrating new holiday trends is the pressure to give beautiful gifts to everyone who touches our lives. I interact with many wonderful people, from my thorough car mechanic to my friendly mail carrier and my close group of girlfriends and their gaggle of adorable kids.

I can’t give gifts to all of them, and if I’m being honest, I don’t have the money, energy, or desire to give gifts to any of them.

I’d rather save the money and wish them a happy holiday, and maybe go out for a dinner. No gift exchanges, just the company of people I love.

Let There Be Gifts — For Some

There are certain people that I’ll always give gifts to, even if I do so a bit reluctantly — like my children’s teachers. I value and adore their work and efforts, but I don’t really have the budget to buy something for them. And yet I still do, because I feel like I’m expected to.

This year our extended family has pulled names from a hat and will be giving a gift to just one person, and it’s been a huge relief to not have to buy for every single sibling and their spouse. The sibling's spouse gift: another gift that can feel mandatory, like my arm is being pulled.

What's the Meaning of the Holidays?

When will the holiday gift-giving pressure end? I say, give a gift if you want to, but if you can’t — or don’t want to — then don’t. Can the majority of Canadians really afford $1,600 on shopping this year? It’s unlikely.

First, I’ve got to cut the excessive spending on people that don’t really want, or need gifts.

This year instead of wasting my time feeling stressed out at the mall, I’m going to write a thoughtful card to the people who have touched my life, and I’ll enlist my children to help by drawing special pictures to include.

Because I want this year to be the year that we stop giving gifts to everyone

Article Author Brianna Bell
Brianna Bell

Read more from Brianna here.

Brianna Bell is a writer and journalist based in Guelph, Ontario. She has written for many online and print publications, including Scary Mommy, The Penny Hoarder, and The Globe and Mail.

Brianna's budget-savvy ways have attracted media attention and led to newspaper coverage in The Globe and Mail and The Guelph Mercury.

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