Foregoing Presents Can Help You Experience The Best Holiday Of Your Life

Unsplash/Ben White

Over the past few years, economic trends and sociological reports have highlighted an interesting truth about the millennial generation: we derive more value from experiences than from material possessions. We choose to invest in travel rather than purchase our first homes, and in the rented apartments we do have, we tend to focus more on the ambiance we can create (hello, hygge) rather than the sheer amount of stuff we can accrue.

Now, compare that relatively new value system with the age-old traditions that arrive with the holiday season. We say we don’t care as much about “stuff,” but once the Christmas tree is decorated and the menorah is lit, we are surrounded by wrapped gifts. Presents are deeply embedded in the cultural experiences of these holidays, but what would happen if we decided to challenge tradition and forego presents entirely this year?

In the past, when I made this suggestion to my close friends, I usually received reactions ranging from “No Christmas presents?! Are you kidding me?!” to “You can enjoy your holiday like that all you want, but it’s definitely not for me.” And that’s fair — to each his (or her) own. But after giving it a try multiple times now, I can safely say that skipping over material gifts has truly enriched my holiday experiences in a multitude of ways.

Unsplash/Kevin Delvecchio

For years now, my mother, father, brother and I have traded the traditional present-loaded Christmas scene for a vacation. We invite extended family members and close friends to join us for a week of relaxation, quality time and new group experiences. And each time, the same wonderful things happen.

No one stresses about shopping for everyone. There’s no need to come up with a ton of gift ideas. There’s no push to rush to a dozen different stores while balancing the rest of your obligations in a given week to get shopping done just in time. There’s no annoyance of wrapping gift after gift and figuring out how to pack them all in your suitcase or ship them off to their intended recipients. All of those to-dos just disappear.

No one worries about money. You don’t need me to tell you that holidays get pretty freaking expensive. So when you take the cost of however many presents you typically buy out of the equation, budget anxiety reduces substantially. All of a sudden, paying for that flight or train ticket home (or to your intended vacation destination) isn’t so burdensome, and you have a good chunk left over to invest with the rest of your group in a fun experience like a fancy dinner, an evening at the theatre, or even a cool new skill (we learned how to kiteboard together last year).

Everyone pays more attention to one another. It’s amazing what happens to your focal point when your hands are idle. You look up and notice the people around you, and you engage in real, uninterrupted conversation with them. For many families, the opportunity for this kind of connection only comes around a couple of times a year — mine included — so it’s a gift in itself to fully take advantage of this time. My brother and I leave our phones in our pockets and spend hours upon hours taking walks, talking about our young adult lives and joking about our childhoods. It’s a key part of how we remain close.

Everyone walks away with beautiful new memories. Spending so much time together focused on one another rather than physical things means we create stronger ties to those experiences. We all remember how funny the jokes were from our trip three years ago, how entertaining it was to learn to play cribbage together after dinner one night and how amazing the food tasted at local restaurants whose names we could barely pronounce. Those experiences and the memories they created became some of the most enduring gifts any of us had received in well over a decade.

Unsplash/Nikita Kachanovsky

So this year, I encourage you to ask yourself honestly what feels better to you — watching your material wish list become a reality or walking away from your holiday vacation feeling like it was the most intention-filled, gratifying weeks of your entire year. Even if you hesitate with your choice, imagine what testing out an alternative holiday setup for just one year would be like. If you ask me, the risk is pretty low. There could always be presents on your horizon next year, and in the meantime, you can learn an awful lot about yourself and your loved ones.