It has been at least 10 years since my husband and I have exchanged Christmas or Hanukkah gifts. In those years, we have had 10 trees and 80 candles for Hanukkah. We have celebrated and bought gifts for our families and eventually for our children, but when it came to each other, we decided long ago that we would forgo gifts.
The decision came easily to us. After a couple of holidays where we gave less than stellar gifts, it finally dawned on us that what we REALLY wanted wasn't gifts at all -- anything we wanted we could buy ourselves. It was experiences.
Since then, we have always given experiences. Whether it's a trip to Istanbul (this year's gift) or to Morocco or Amsterdam, we almost always choose a trip, or we choose to get a membership somewhere -- the New York City Ballet, for instance -- where we can benefit from two things: 1) Time alone together and 2) something to look forward to. Quite frankly, diamond earrings or a tank watch just can't compare.
For many friends, Christmas is kind of an upsetting time because their husbands never get them exactly what they want, but we have eliminated that issue by choosing a couple gift. For me, it takes most of the fun out of receiving something (or giving it) when the money is coming from a joint account.
If he bought me something expensive, I would be appalled that he spent the money and vice versa. This way, we decide what we spend the money on and we are free all year to buy the things we need and want for ourselves.
I grew up in a family where "things" equalled love. My father missed a lot of my birthdays while traveling for business, but he always brought home a doll to make up for it. I always had the best clothing and handbags and generally got what I wanted, especially once I had a credit card, but you know what? Material items aren't the same thing as time together and they aren't the same thing as love.
It's not that I am not materialistic. Sadly, a relic of my childhood is that I am, indeed, a lover of shoes and handbags and watches and makeup. I can spend a whole lot of money on myself. But I don't need gifts from my husband.
From him I need time, love, patience, attention, and affection. If I have those things, I really couldn't care less whether he buys me jewelry or flowers. When he does, it's nice, but it means 100 times more when he gives me a book he's already read and asks me to read it so we can discuss it. That tells me he loves and honors me and wants to spend time together.
Even more, at this point, my children are the holiday priority. Between gifts for our families, teachers, babysitters, cleaning people, and the dozen other people we buy for, the last thing I want is the stress of buying another gift.
My only worry sometimes is that the kids don't see us giving gifts to one another and that makes them sad. But they have never said anything, and if it bothers them, I am not sure.
In the end, I think it's best to keep things the way they have been. It's worked for us for 10 years and we are still going strong. This year there's a trip to Istanbul under my tree and it's a lot better than anything else I could hope for.
Do you and your spouse exchange Christmas gifts?