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Fun, festive and frugal: Some families opt to scale back on holiday gift-giving

Jessica Moorhouse poses for a photograph in Toronto on Friday, December 4, 2015. Moorhouse will be downsizing her Christmas and holiday season experience regarding the amount of gifts which are given.
Image Credit: THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
December 13, 2015 - 11:30 AM

TORONTO - When Jessica Moorhouse heads to Vancouver for the holidays she'll have five fewer gifts to stow in her luggage.

Rather than purchasing presents for her husband, parents, siblings and her sister's boyfriend, Moorhouse and her family have decided to make a move mindful of their budgets by organizing a Secret Santa gift exchange.

"This is the first year we're doing it, and honestly, when my mom suggested it, I was so on board," said Moorhouse, the Toronto-based personal finance blogger behind Mo' Money Mo' Houses.

"I (thought): 'Wow. This saves me spending so much of my time and hundreds of dollars on gifts that I'd love to give but I don't really need to — and those people don't really need anything.'"

Moorhouse and her husband stopped exchanging Christmas gifts with each other several years ago, opting instead to attend a show or enjoy a nice dinner out.

"I'm kind of against buying things for the sake of buying things. I think simple living is key," she said.

"I think lots of people need to embrace that a bit more. And if they don't want to spend a bunch of money but still show their friends and family that they're thinking about them, then there's lots of different ways they can do that without spending money."

Victoria-based Cait Flanders and her family adopted a more minimalist approach to Christmas last year. Gift recipients could only ask for a few things they really needed, and the sum total between the seven participants couldn't exceed $700.

"It was nice because none of us really stressed about the money aspect, everyone got something that they knew they were going to use," said Flanders, writer of the personal finance blog Blonde on a Budget, where she has documented her journey of tackling debt.

But for parents seeking to curtail costs or excess, some may find it challenging to stand their ground when kids present a lengthy list of gift requests for Santa Claus.

"Santa is this embodiment of this boundless abundance of goods without having to question where those goods come from, or their impact on the environment," said Natalie Coulter, assistant professor in the department of communication studies at York University.

While kids can get one gift from Santa, it's pivotal for parents to turn the focus towards other key themes around the holidays — including how the smallest of tokens can be prized, said Coulter, author of "Tweening the Girl: The Crystallization of the Tween Market."

"My kids always hear the story from my dad who was so thrilled to get an orange in a stocking. That was a huge deal because they didn't get them," said the mother of two.

"I think that opens up a dialogue around shifting expectations for Christmas.... Having them draw a picture around the holidays, that creates an open discussion around: 'What is (it) that makes you happy in this picture?' And trying to move that discussion away from Santa and getting the Xbox to being with (their) family."

Coulter said she has Secret Santa exchanges with her own extended family as well as her husband's — albeit with a fun twist. After purchasing an item for a predetermined amount, a gift brought to the gathering can be stolen up to three times.

"It becomes an event," she said, recalling playful tactics and strategies used during the game in a bid to snag a coveted gift.

"When it's one gift and it's stealing, everybody's interested and it becomes fun."

For Flanders, her fondest recollection from last Christmas had nothing to do with unwrapping presents.

"We spent the first two hours in the morning at the beach with our dog taking family pictures which I never really do," recalled the 30-year-old.

"I just have very clear memories of that whereas I don't really have very clear memories of Christmases before where we just sat around and opened gifts."


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News from © The Canadian Press, 2015
The Canadian Press

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