I recently read a quote about Christmas that left me thinking.
In Letters from Father Christmas, J.R.R. Tolkien says, “Here comes Christmas! That astonishing thing that no ‘commercialism’ can defile—unless we let it.”
The way we experience Christmas is our choice, Tolkien says.
And he’s right.
Christmas can be a season of simplicity, generosity, connection and peace.
Or it can be a season defined by more stuff, busyness, and stress. A season rendered insipid by a frenzied pursuit of possessions.
Our “most wonderful time of year” is also the most wonderful for marketers. According to Forbes, retailers in America expect to make $1 trillion from Christmas sales, accounting for one quarter of their yearly profits.
Consider other Christmas spending statistics:
- Parents planned to spend an average of $276 per child on Christmas gifts in 2021.
- Americans spend an average of $900 total on Christmas gifts.
- Women spend 20 hours, on average, shopping for Christmas presents (not including the time spent returning gifts afterward).
- Christmas debt statistics report 41% of Americans are willing to take on debt due to gift shopping.
Consumerism is defined as “the theory that individuals who consume goods and services in large quantities will be better off.” Our society agrees. But how often do we pause and question that assumption?
Making consumerism (a.k.a. buying more stuff) the focus of our holiday season is our choice. We can opt out of our consumer culture’s push for more this Christmas. It’s okay to do things differently.
And, when we do, we just might find the holidays become more meaningful.
Here are 6 ways to choose Christmas, not consumerism:
1. Question your purchases
To shift your focus away from consumerism at Christmas, re-examine why you’re buying things. Are you spending money because the Black Friday sale was too good to pass up? Are you buying gifts out of obligation? And is buying more toys for your child really the best thing for them? (Research suggests children demonstrate increased imagination, problem-solving skills, and attention abilities in environments with fewer toys.)
While gift giving is a way to show love, it doesn’t need to dominate the season. You don’t have to commercialize Christmas just because “everyone else” is. And you’ll likely be happier and less stressed if you don’t.
2. Practice detachment through generosity
Focusing on acquiring more stuff is often accompanied by a sense of restlessness. We’re not satisfied, so we’re looking for a newer, better possession to make us happy. But that’s not where happiness is found.
We need much less than we think to be happy. And the things that make our lives truly rich aren’t things at all.
Instead of acquiring more this Christmas, ask yourself, “What can I give?” Maybe it’s your time. Maybe it’s a possession you no longer need or love. Give a little and you might just find you gain a lot in return.
3. Focus on people, not possessions
Author Rachel Macy Stafford said, “Being fully present and active in the life of someone you love is the best gift anyone can offer.”
Your kids don’t need a lot of new stuff this Christmas. What they do need is you, fully present.
Years from now, your kids will remember the love and attention you gave them, and the memories you made as a family. Not the stuff you bought them.
4. Rethink your traditions
Our holiday traditions should bring more joy—not more stress or debt—to this season. Author Rachel Jonat said, “We don’t have to continue holiday traditions that leave us broke, overwhelmed, and tired.”
Hold onto the traditions that make the season more meaningful. Let go of the ones that involve stress and overspending.
5. Consider “no cost” gifts
The point of gift giving is often to show love and connection. You don’t have to participate in an obligatory “stuff exchange” to achieve this.
How can you meet the goal of gift giving without involving debt or spending money at all? Pick up the phone and call a loved one. Invite them on a walk. Have them over for coffee. Write them something meaningful. Giving in a way that doesn’t involve financial cost is often most rewarding.
6. Embrace silence
Silence brings clarity and simplicity to a busy season. If you’re feeling influenced by advertisements enticing you to buy more and do more, counter that noise with intentional silence.
Carve 10 minutes in the morning to sit in silence. Meditate on what truly matters to you. Or, meditate on the meaning of Christmas.
For example, at Christmas, Christians celebrate that Jesus came into the world so we could have life and have it more abundantly. But he was born into complete poverty. His birth wasn’t a sign that we need more stuff or busyness. But less.
This Christmas, let’s focus less on the material which fades and focus more on the immaterial that matters and lasts.
We can live a simple, astonishing Christmas, or a commercialized, insipid one.
As Tolkien said, the choice is up to us.
About the Author: Julia Ubbenga is a freelance journalist whose teachings on minimalism, simplicity, and intentional living have reached thousands of people worldwide through her blog Rich in What Matters. Julia practices what she preaches in her Kansas City home with her husband and four children.