Gift Giving Philosophy of a Practical Scrooge

red ribbon gift.jpg

A friend I met through work years ago has an unusual approach to gift giving at Christmas. Before there was time to ask whether we were going to draw names or do some secret Santa, he would politely decline and remind us, ”My gift to you is no gift from me.” 

At the time, I chastised him for his bah-humbug outlook on exchanging gifts, which he explained I should be happy about. I wouldn’t need to spend time or money on him, there would be no awkward moments of expectation or forced reactions, and we were all basically freed from having him on any sort of list. His philosophy applied to all adults (he did give gifts to his young nieces and nephews, reasoning that they depend on gifts because they don’t have the means of independently obtaining what they want). I’ve since come to understand the wisdom of his approach.

His objection wasn’t gifts per se, but the obligatory exchange that was unsatisfying. He thought casting about for any kind of object to give someone was ridiculous on its face. To his way of thinking, when you saw something that made you think of someone, you got it and gave it to them, no occasion required. Along the same lines, if someone was in need, he would happily share, loan, or give, but he hated any mention of reciprocity. The idea of a gift or even a favor having to be returned just took away all the fun for him. (Honestly, this consistent approach is the only way you can successfully pull off this philosophy in our Santa Claus culture; otherwise you just look plain ol’ cheap.)

I think of his “my gift from you is no gift from me” philosophy when I grow weary of the Quest for the Perfect Gift. Even creating a wish list according to requests from extended family is a pain. By the time I have included size, model number, and color, I am only one click away from ordering it already. I may even be mildly annoyed if you substitute the more practical black version for, say, the red one. And then I will suffer ricochet annoyance with myself for daring to feel put out – it is a gift, after all, and you were so nice to give me the black one in any case -. but my mind is saying, ”I went to all that trouble to tell you the exact color! Cardinal Red!”

I expect that a day will come when I move to some version of the no-gift-from-me program. I like non-reciprocal gifts so much better anyway; they are more in the spirit of a truly thoughtful gesture. My no-gift friend has passed along books he knew I would enjoy (with a great inscription inside the front cover). He’s helped people pack and move, which I have observed to be one of the most under appreciated gifts of time other than childcare. And this year for the holidays, after a few years away in another state, he invited several of us over for cocktails to reunite and to show us the historic home he is rehabbing in an ignored area west of town. 

I see how his no-gift philosophy has paid dividends. For one thing, he hasn’t wasted one minute running around the vast retail frontier, second-guessing his choices or filing gift receipts. For another, when he does give something, it’s sure to be unexpected and hence memorable. He’s not shipping packages, collecting Kohl’s bucks, or trying to get to a Doorbuster sale before 1 p.m. 

In the meantime, I have the satisfaction of knowing I have some beautifully wrapped gifts under the tree awaiting their recipients, and I admit I’m excited about giving something even if it is expected. Until I adopt his philosophy completely, I’m going to hope he will host more of his signature get- togethers for the old crew. After all, he’s got more time during the holidays, and he doesn’t expect a reciprocal invitation from me.


  • Beth

    Here here. I think that is one of the best friends. I think we are all crazy for killing ourselves running round and round. I am all for it for the kids but it has really got out of hand. Saying that I still would get our for black friday. It is too much fun. :)