how to celebrate the holidays without gifts

As the holiday season approaches, you’re probably already tirelessly brainstorming the best gifts to purchase for everyone on your list this year. Who needs a new wallet? Which relative could use a new toaster? Who has champagne taste, desiring gifts like a new phone, smart watch, or the latest and greatest video game? It’s all stuff that I am willing to bet no one on your list actually needs.

This is a problem I have faced in my own family over the past few years. We’re all adults now, and everyone has a stable source of income that enables them to buy everything and anything they could possibly need. It’s almost silly to even bother with gift giving these days, because we can all independently purchase the items on our own lists.

I don’t know about you, but this realization has left a sinking feeling inside of me. If gifts are superfluous, what’s even the point?

5 Ways To Celebrate The Holidays Without Gifts

If you can relate, don’t fret. I still believe that the holiday season is a special time of year, as I’m sure you do too. I am here to share a list of practical ways to celebrate the holidays without physical gifts. This year, consider:

1. Hosting your own family gathering.

I know, it’s a big idea! I am not much of a chef myself, but what if instead of buying everyone on your list a physical gift, you instead put your money and time into providing a home-cooked meal for everyone? Get creative with it! Cure a ham, whip up some potatoes, and steam some veggies.

You don’t need to go crazy to make a decent meal for the people you love. You could even splurge a touch by getting decent bottles of wine for the table.

Need some inspiration? That’s what Pinterest is for! We also have an entire library dedicated to food and recipes here at GenTwenty. Make your family a dinner they’ll thoroughly enjoy and top it off with some decadent dessert.

Cooking for your tribe is a better gesture than just about anything you could buy them.

2. Volunteering as a family.

What do you do when you have just about everything you could ever hope for? Give back to those less fortunate!

Volunteering is a great way to spend the holidays and an even better activity to share with your relatives. Think about those who have no one to spend the holidays with, or those who are financially strapped and unable to afford gifts for their kids.

There are so many, too many, people who find the holiday season to actually be a time of depression and suffering. Invite your family to spend time volunteering at a soup kitchen, at a homeless shelter, or any other organization in need of extra help.

It could become an annual tradition your family values from here on out! It’s a far better gesture helping those who need it, than buying more stuff that no one needs or wants.

3. Having a silly Yankee Swap. 

You understand how a Yankee Swap works, correct? Everyone brings a gift valued at a certain amount (e.g. up to $10) and you put all of the presents in a pile.

Everyone gets a turn to randomly choose a gift, and they have the opportunity to either keep the gift they unwrapped, or switch it with someone who selected a gift before them.

While you might be wondering why this idea involves gifts, it’s actually the fun of switching presents and laughing that is most important here.

It’s not about what you get; it’s about enjoying the process! Make it a fun theme, such as “things you use in the bathroom” or “animal prints”. You’ll crack up laughing over the silly things people will buy and playfully fight over during a Yankee Swap.

4. Making a cookie decorating station. 

Whether you have a lot of children in your family or you’re just a big kid yourself, cookie decorating is a fun activity for all ages.

Turn on the Christmas music, light the tree, and sit together decorating your favorite holiday treats. There’s not much better than drinking a glass of warm cocoa, sitting with the family, and making sugar cookies on a cold winter night. Make it a family event and enjoy!

5. Watching a holiday movie marathon. 

Last year, I spent Christmas Eve with my family watching Christmas movie after Christmas movie. We ate, we laughed, we talked, and we binge-watched our favorite holiday films. It was epic. Consider imitating this activity with your own family. Sometimes doing something simple like this is all you need to feel connected to your loved ones during the holidays. It’s not about gifts or lists; it’s about family harmony and peace.


Commercials, online ads, and promotional emails from retailers filling up our inboxes target us incessantly leading up to the holidays, bribing us with discount codes and mega deals to spend our money on stuff. Sure, some of it is awesome! Who doesn’t want a new phone or tablet? I get it. But, it is important to remember that the holidays are not about things.

This is the time of year to enjoy the people in your life. Spend extra time with those you love. Don’t stress over getting anyone the best present. Make it about creating new memories, not a pile of presents. I promise you: later in life you won’t remember what you got for Christmas; you’ll remember who you spent the day with.