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Why I'm opting out of the Christmas rat race this year

Stephanie is a writer specializing in Entertainment and parenting in the 21st century. She is a BlogHer Voice of the Year and a syndicated writer at BlogHer and Redbook Magazine. Stephanie can be found at, and on Twi...

When the holidays become nothing but presents, it's time to reevaluate

Many years ago, a little girl daydreamed about lush garland and twinkling lights, chenille teddies sporting red ribbons, the sounds of a crackling fire and softly falling snow. She dreamed of snow angels, hot cocoa and sitting around a lavishly decorated tree, exchanging gifts with her family.

The funny thing is, she never experienced that Christmas. She couldn't even remember which toys Santa brought her, or the clothes she wore, or whether or not it snowed.

The only thing she actually remembered, and fondly at that, was sitting around a table, laughing, eating cookies and dancing around with her family on New Year's Eve.

That girl is all grown up now, with a family of her own, including three children whose lives eat up the majority of her time. The demands of school, work, social events and sports give her little rest. It starts with back-to-school, then comes picture day, Halloween, then Thanksgiving - hey, wait!

As soon as the leaves begin to fall, the Christmas season elbows its way in, with its elaborate displays, flashy commercials, carols playing everywhere and the suggestion of 'giving' all around.

Before Thanksgiving, before I can even find the pumpkin for my pumpkin cake in the supermarket, I am ordering cards, choosing photos for Grandma's calendar and ticking items off my kids' lists of 'I need's, 'I want's and 'Can I have's. I'm being dragged through fall because Jolly Old Saint Nick keeps tiptoeing around my house, peeping in all the windows.

I have to be honest: It's all made me less than jolly. In fact, it makes me downright stressed.

How many times have we plowed through Christmas only to find ourselves surrounded by dirty dishes and ripped wrapping paper, exhausted and completely miserable? Come on, how many times?

Promotional emails hit my inbox every fifteen minutes, videos pop up in my face, and I see and hear ads everywhere — on my phone, on the radio and everywhere else I look. That said, I'm having real trouble understanding why a nip in the air means I have to spend the next three months shopping for one holiday.

I could be outside, playing in the leaves with my kids or having a fall picnic.

Instead of having picnics with our kids, where are we? We're wedged into lawn chairs outside Best Buy, waiting to storm the entrance for items that will be obsolete in six months. Before we're zipped up and out the door, we've forgotten the true meaning of Christmas. In lieu of enjoying the sunlight and fresh air while we can, we're cooped up in stores, fighting over $5 wrapping paper. And I fear that if we continue this way, our kids will never understand or appreciate what Christmas is truly about: joy, peace and love.

After having been there and done that, with lavish Christmas spreads that we thought we wanted and needed, and being left with nothing but exhaustion and bills, my family has decided to scale back. Way back. Like, so far back, I fear our children will disown us.

This year, my family has decided to go out on a limb and end all unnecessary shopping. See how it goes. No inflatable Santas, or giant wreaths, or penguins that sing Bing Crosby's White Christmas. And there won't be any tins full of popcorn, scented candles, or fancy gift sets from our local pharmacy. No new ones, anyway. There will just be our family, three gifts for each child from Santa (Yikes!), one gift from Mom and Dad and one gift from and for each child. And that's all.

And if you were wondering, yes, we've been met with a very lukewarm reception from the children. The response from my 5-year-old son?

"But Christmas means a lot of toys!"

Oh, no we didn't.

Oh, yes we did. And it's about time we fix it.

Whether we like it or not, this Christmas will be chock full of family, homemade treats and decorations we already own. No standing in ridiculously long lines on Black Friday, no four hours left! Cyber Monday deals, no sprinting into stores in the middle of the night and no filling our already-full houses (and those of our families) with stuff we simply don't need.

Some may say we're crazy, that we're shorting our kids of one of the greatest experiences of their young lives: waking up to hoards of presents under the tree. I don't believe that's true. If the only things I remember about my childhood holidays were family, food and music, then it's highly likely our children will remember the same.

So, it's time to buckle down, give Santa a high five and tell him we got this. It's time to make Christmas memories that aren't marred by parking lot altercations and buy-two-get-one-free sales. Our families deserve more of our time, our attention and our love.

And that's better than anything we can hope to find in a store.

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