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Why We Gave Up Christmas Presents

Photograph by Bryanne Salazar

Shopping for Christmas presents gives me anxiety. Seriously. No me gusta.

My disdain developed over the years, and finally reached its boiling point last holiday season, when, after a difficult year financially, my husband, Alvaro, and I caved and called the bank to get a loan in order to celebrate the same as we'd always done: with lots of gifts for our loved ones.

Each year the throngs of panicky, aggressive shoppers who elbowed one another to get first dibs on the newest, hottest gift of the season seemed to grow and my patience with the whole ordeal decreased. Not only were we going for broke each year, but the season of giving felt a lot more like a seasonal cold, something I wished would pass quickly.

What happened to the warm and fuzzies, to joy and goodwill toward one another? What happened to a true Feliz Navidad?

When we were younger and our kids were small, I enjoyed strolling through numerous shops, filling my basket with presents for the kids, los sobrinos, and extended family members.

Back then, a little money seemed to suffice, but each year, that number increased and before long – all the money in our savings account didn't cover the cost of buying everyone we loved the things they loved.

Christmas was getting way too expensive.

Our credit cards were maxed out by New Year's Eve, and it would take us until spring to pay off the debt we'd incurred during the holiday season. Prospero año nuevo it was not.

Sometime around 2012 the season stopped feeling festive and became more frantic. What if we couldn't send enough gifts? What if someone buys the last (insert expensive name brand item here) before I get to the store? What if we run out of cash?

By 2013, I'd had enough of keeping up with Santa Claus. It occurred to me that every present we bought on credit was a lie. It was a facade – a thin claim of an ability to give that we just didn't have.

The reality was that even while saving dutifully, we still didn't have enough extra income to buy everyone presents, especially not the high-tech, high price-tag gifts our family members wanted. Christmas did not feel like the celebration of a savior, or even a joyous reunion de familia, but rather a day to overcompensate and make-believe that things were better than they really were. I just couldn't ride that ride anymore.

The day after last Christmas, I had a glass of sangria before sitting down to figure out our bills. The burden of debt repayment felt like a 300-pound jolly fat man sitting square on my chest. It was hard to breathe.

A long, heart-felt discussion between me and my husband, and later, our teenage sons, was long overdue. My husband agreed immediately – and shared with me all the anxiety he'd felt about the same issues, but didn't want to tell me for fear he'd be ruining our holidays.

We spoke to our sons shortly after, and hoped for the best. I was proud we'd raised such understanding and good-natured young men who didn't protest once to our drastic decision to cut presents completely from our holiday tradition.

After our talk, buried under a heavy pile of debt, I felt the first sense of relief I'd had during the holidays in years.

We all agreed that our celebration should be about familia and goodwill towards others, not gifts. So, we made a pact to do things that honored each other, and didn't empty our wallets in the process. Our focus would shift to spending more time together, and to committing random acts of kindness that encouraged joy in others, and fed our spirits in a new way.

This year is our first regalo-free holiday. Even though we are done with presents, we still put up our Christmas tree this year, while listening to holiday music. I even busted out the Abuelita chocolate and made hot cocoa for the boys. None of us felt like we were missing anything.

For the first time in nearly a decade, I don't have a single worry about our finances. That is something to be merry about.

Christmas morning is almost here, and for the first time, my sons won't wake up to a tree littered with gifts. Maybe there will be a moment of sadness – a moment where the kids long for the glee of new stuff, but I believe it won't last longer than it takes to wrap our arms around each other, wish one another a Feliz Navidad, and create memories that will last long after the things we never needed anyway, have disappeared.

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