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No, Ho, Ho

How to gracefully give the gift of nothing

By Sara Bir

QUITE SOME time ago, I quit giving my family Christmas presents. We are just not a fun clan to shop for. Dad always wants computer accessories, but none of us understands exactly what. My brother likes to shop for camping gear nearly as much as he enjoys using it, and my aunt's condo is too small to house knickknacks. Mom always says, "I just want to see my kids and have world peace."

So, a few Christmases ago, we made it official: no presents. No stress, no shopping, no returns, no exchanges, no wading through novelty shops at the mall. Just pure, unmitigated holiday dee-lite. It's very liberating. But it does take work. Here are some tips for a truly listless (as in, no gift list!) Christmas:

1.) Get everyone in on it. A Christmas without gifts will only work if everyone in your family--not just you, obviously--participates. If there's a sole dissenter, point out that since everyone else is not buying presents, they will accordingly get none. That'll get 'em on your side right quick.

2.) Go somewhere cool and new. How many Christmases have you spent holed up in the house, eating too many crackers with port-wine cheese spread and growing testier with every passing minute? There's a whole world out there to explore, so why not do it on Christmas? Visit people who you know don't have many guests and are as fed up with boring Christmases as you are. Camp out at a national park. Go on a day hike (warning: on Christmas day, every family in the world decides to go to Muir Woods). Play exciting and different board games.

3.) Overcompensate with food. No one said you have to save money by not buying gifts. Splurge on a really, really nice dinner at an elegant restaurant you've always wanted to try--better yet, make something at home, perhaps with foie gras in it. And don't forget: Christmas cookies are better than gifts!

4.) Keep the grog (moderately) flowing. While self-medicating with wines and spirits is, frankly, a depressing method for overcoming holiday woes, it does not mean that celebrating a virgin eggnog will make the troops merry. Go for the good stuff and drink it--it's Christmas.

5.) Don't renege on the whole idea. Last year, I saw this Spanish soap that my mother has always liked but has never been able to find. So I bought a bar (all of $5) and gave it to her. She was scandalized, claiming I had ruptured the purity of our new family tradition. So I learned my lesson: Next time I see something for Mom, I'm saving it for her birthday.

6.) Have kids? It won't work. The main reason Christmas was ever fun in the first place--outside of Christmas break, animated Christmas specials on television and the sudden proliferation of sweets--is toys. Piles and piles of new toys. Wait until everyone is grown up, just to be fair.

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From the November 20-26, 2003 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

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