How Did Our Christmas Experiment Go?

by Joe Plemon on January 2, 2012

Our experiment fixed this problem

After Christmas 2010, my family decided to try something different in 2011 … we agreed to fore-go our gift exchange in lieu of a family vacation.  Our logic was that creating memories was a better use of our money than buying gifts.  Why?  Because memories will pay great dividends as we watch those vacation videos, share stories of our time together and anticipate doing it again.  Gifts, on the other hand, lose their glitter on December 26 and are often forgotten within a few months.

Now that Christmas, 2011 is over, we are reflecting on how the experiment went, whether we want to try it again in 2012, and what changes we will make.

First:  the vacation

Our family vacation, which we tabbed “Christmas in June“, went extremely well.  Five families converged on a fabulous ocean front beach house last June and had a week of swimming, walking the beach, deep sea fishing and relaxed conversations.  That week helped me know my kids and grand-kids better than I ever had.

But…how did Christmas go without a gift exchange?

Was there a gift giving void that would leave us feeling somehow less Christmassy?  Not really…for two reasons:

1.   We gave gifts to the little ones.  Doing so maintained the childlike wonder which makes the season what it is.  However, because we have lots of adults, each kid still had a mound of gifts.  Next year, we might pare back and let the kids draw names.

2.  Our ten dollar challenge: we were all challenged to give at least $10 to some needy  person or cause, then share our experiences on Christmas day.  In an effort to help third world families help themselves, one of our group sent a new sewing machine while another sent funds for farm animals.  Some bought groceries or gifts for needy families in our own community.  Overall, our family experienced a Christmas blessing unlike any gift exchange in memory.  This challenge, in my mind, was the highlight of our experiment.

So what was our verdict about this Christmas experiment?  We have already reserved our vacation home for June, 2012. 

Readers:  Does your family feel overwhelmed by too many gifts at Christmas time?  Have you tried your own family experiment?  How did it go?



{ 11 comments… read them below or add one }

Dr Dean January 2, 2012 at 8:00 am

We do a similar thing with a small dollar limit gift exchange with my extended family. Fun gifts.
We have a family scholarship we fund in our parents name.
We also do a family vacation on Memorial Day weekend. This allows my siblings and their kids (the cousins) to keep in touch as they all are adults now.
Great idea!


joeplemon January 2, 2012 at 8:37 am

Dr Dean — Thanks for sharing some great Christmas ideas. A family scholarship in your parents name is an innovative way to honor your parents while helping students with their education. With a bit of thought and planning, Christmas can be so much more meaningful!


Alex Humphrey January 2, 2012 at 10:55 am

That’s awesome, Joe! Glad to hear it went well and that all the really good parts of the season were left in tact 😀


joeplemon January 2, 2012 at 6:46 pm

Thanks Alex. I only wish our family would have tried this experiment years ago. Oh well, at least the generations behind me are learning better ways to celebrate the birth of Christ.


krantcents January 2, 2012 at 12:00 pm

We generally limit our gifts to immediate family only. We purposely kept the budget rather modest (as always). This year we did a “white elephant” (max $10) gift exchange. It was a lot of fun for about an hour. Next year we will do it again.


joeplemon January 2, 2012 at 6:48 pm

Sounds like your family has been very intentional about reigning in your Christmases. Congratulations!


dojo January 3, 2012 at 10:42 am

Happy new year 😉
We didn’t exchange gifts either. We’re already in a prolonged vacation in Spain, so we just ate some good stuff and enjoyed each other’s company. The money gets saved for ‘rainy’ days, since the entire world is still in recession and there’s not pretty end in sight.


joeplemon January 3, 2012 at 5:48 pm

Dojo — Happy New Year back to you!
Eating some good stuff and enjoying each other’s company sounds like a great way to celebrate any holiday. However, frugality at Christmastime, for most Americans, simply doesn’t happen. We (I am not proud to say) convince ourselves that those ‘rainy’ days will never come.


Squirrelers January 3, 2012 at 1:57 pm

Sounds like a great way to handle gifts at Christmas. I really like that $10 experiment of yours, caused to me smile as I read it, as that spirit is a big part of the season and really great anytime.


joeplemon January 3, 2012 at 5:50 pm

Yes, the $10 challenge really captured the spirit of the season. We will definitely do that again next year!


Kris @ Everyday Tips January 3, 2012 at 10:27 pm

It actually sounds like you handled Christmas the way it should be- you enjoyed little ones in the traditional way, helped others, and had wonderful family time last summer.

Hopefully your example will motivate others to give!


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