Give The Gift Of Nothing

On a recent flight, I felt a strange compulsion to peruse the shopping magazine “conveniently located in the seat pocket in front of me”.

It was the Christmas edition, and as I flipped through it, I recalled my childhood in rural Canada. Each November, my brother and I would comb the pages of the Sears Christmas catalogue, carefully highlighting the toys that we wanted. We didn’t know it at the time, but we were subjecting ourselves–and our parents–to a huge marketing scam, founded on guilt.

I like to think I’m wiser now. And the shopping magazine served as a hilarious proxy for the non-existent in-flight entertainment system.

For what home is complete without a 21-inch, 19-pound Santa table, at the very reasonable price of $129.00?


Or, for the nature lover, nothing says “Yuletide” like this 6-foot tall, plastic pop-up poinsettia tree. Yours for just $129.99.


And for the Ukrainian in your gift-giving circle, this little gem. Please don’t confuse it with an amputated, bronzed ear…it’s actually a fake dumpling.


I’m increasingly amazed/amused/dismayed at the sheer volume of crap being relentlessly peddled. Christmas, of course, is Exhibit A of mindless consumerism. We’re subconsciously ransomed into spending our money on mass-produced plastic decorations, and on gifts purchased at the last minute when our pre-Christmas angst finally forces our hand.

To fight this tendency, my wife and I have binned or donated 99% of our accumulated Christmas junk…there’s no tree, no lights, no Santa table, and no plastic pierogis chez Gagne. We have, however, retained the important parts of Christmas: food, friends, family.

We hold a secret gift exchange each year: names are picked from a hat, everyone gets one gift, and there’s a $30 limit. It tends to work better when it’s not just the two of us. I usually give books that I think will hold meaning for the recipient. Failing that, I make sure they hold meaning for me. This year, “someone” is getting Thoreau and Seneca.

My friend Izzy, a dedicated Escapologist from the UK who quit everything a couple of years ago to travel, has taken it a step further. She wrote to me recently about the simplicity of Christmas on the road, and the lasting impact that had:

I loved the fact that I didn’t have to write 100 cards, lick all those yucky envelopes, buy all those expensive stamps, or traipse round shops looking for things in desperate hope that people might want or need them, and, best of all, not getting in return a pile of tat  (mostly) that I neither wanted or needed. So when we got home, I simply decided not to do it any more. I just send an email around saying “happy whatever you are celebrating this month” and give a donation to charity (one for the homeless).

I think Izzy nails it. We buy things for people because it’s expected, or because we’ll look bad and/or feel guilty if we don’t. If I’m honest about the gifts I’ve received over the years, I neither wanted nor needed them. Acknowledging that, I certainly wouldn’t want my loved ones to waste their time, money, and emotional energy on a gift for me.

What if everyone else feels the same way? Could it be that we’ve all been duped, and Christmas is just one big scam? It’s worth considering.

And since you’re probably well behind on your Christmas shopping, here’s a suggestion that will make life easier for you. This year, share the gift of leadership with your family and friends.

Take a stand and say NO! to gifts.

Merry Christmas.

★ If you insist on giving gifts, make them count: pre-order the New Escapologist book for your friends and family.


Lentus Ambulandus is New Escapologist's Chief Leisure Officer. He advocates doing the things worth doing (hiking, cycling, sipping coffee, reading books), and proudly accomplishes less in a month than most people do in a week. His creed is simple: Death Before Employment.

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