Several Christmases ago, Mike Catania and his brother were sitting in the kitchen unpacking a pile of christmas gifts. “Doesn’t that look like a job?” asked his brother.
“We laughed about it,” says Catania, who is chief technology officer at Promotion Code, a coupon site. But the conversation quickly turned serious.
“We were trying to think of ways to reach or surpass some sort of [familial] together without having to buy crap,” he says. From this conversation came the idea of skipping the classic Christmas and traveling together as a family each winter. And so, a new family tradition from Catania was born.
Since 2013, Catania and her family have swapped the Christmas party for a family trip. One year they went on a coach tour through Europe. Another year involved a drive along the California coast. This year’s vacation is a Scandinavian cruise, which will include girlfriend, brother, sister-in-law and parents from Catania. Even better: the cruise, scheduled for February, will cost Catania about what a traditional Christmas would have cost.
“It’s right in the middle of what we used to spend,” Catania says.
Between crowded malls, overworked consumerism and stressful travel days, it’s no wonder some Americans choose to avoid Christmas altogether. Some people, like observant Jews, do not celebrate the holiday for religious reasons. Others prefer to disengage from family drama and stress. And some seek to save silver.
“Christmas traditions can be expensive, and if you’re currently saving up for a big purchase or trying to pay off debt, the holidays can be a major disruption,” says Shannyn Allan, blogger at FrugalBeautiful.com to San Antonio in an email.
Those who skip Christmas happily avoid the crazy holiday shopping season and start pocketing the nearly $600 Americans will spend on Christmas gifts in 2016. Moreover, they can take advantage of the opportunity to travel wherever they want, because flying on Christmas Day itself offers rock bottom prices, according to cheap air. And with their wallets still full after the holidays, Christmas scammers can take advantage of post-Christmas sales, when malls are less crowded and where the big deals really are.
Another Christmas con artist is Kim Palacios, executive director of The Give Black Foundation, who chose to avoid the holidays last year. She estimates she saved thousands of dollars by choosing not to fly from San Francisco to the East Coast. These savings included $3,000 in airfare for herself, her husband and two children, $700 saved on a rental car and $500 saved on other travel-related expenses.
“My kids have enough stuff already. And they don’t need more,” Palacios wrote in an email. “Children like to open lots of presents, but in the end they are happy playing with very few very simple toys.”
Skipping Christmas, however, didn’t mean the children of Palacios were waking up on Christmas morning with a lump of coal on their pillows. “Christmas morning there were no presents under the tree – there was a note from Santa thanking the children for being good listeners and telling them he had packed the car and they could go to Disneyland.” The family then drove to Southern California for the holidays.
So, if Christmas makes you mumble “Bah bullshit”, here’s how to avoid Santa Claus.
Start small. If consumerism is what gets you down Christmas, talk to your friends and family about the possibility of simply reducing the gifts. This way, you can keep your expenses down without forgetting the holiday traditions.
“This year, my best friend and I agreed to skip our Christmas presents (which can be expensive!) and instead opted for a trip to see each other,” wrote Allan of FrugalBeautiful.com. “We live thousands of miles apart and already look forward to a hike when airfare is cheaper and we don’t have to split our time with everyone who needs make up for it during the holidays!”
Talk about it with your family. “Some people have families that wouldn’t even care,” says Sarah Dale, who is traveling to Thailand this year with her husband instead of celebrating Christmas with her family. “Others would think you’re ruining Christmas. You have to decide how to work with your own family.”
For Christmas, Dale and her husband, who is a disabled veteran and struggles to sleep, take time to relax, recharge and reset. “We have to make decisions to be the healthiest people possible, and that’s the top priority before pleasing our family members,” says Dale.
Just do it. When Christmas blows your budget and pisses you off, it’s up to you to start your new holiday traditions.
Says Catania: “A lot of roadblocks are the ones we impose on ourselves.”