There was one point in our lives when we couldn't imagine skipping the grind of Christmas gift exchanges, but over the last ten years we have totally separated ourselves from the whole gift headache. We are, by no means, suggesting others shouldn't celebrate Christmas if that's what you want to do, but we're just suggesting most of our family had more than enough stuff and really didn't need or want the presents we were buying them.
We highly recommend a book, Unplug the Christmas Machine: A Complete Guide to Putting Love and Joy Back into the Season, by Jo Robinson and Jean C. Staeheli, which really helped us put our decision in perspective during the first couple years of our efforts to cut back.
Most of the reason we first decided to opt out was because family was out of town and we often didn't visit over Christmas. So, we would dutifully shop, wrap and ship, and then we would never hear anything more; no responses and no thank yous, it got old. So, we began cutting back.
We contacted our family and told them we didn't want to participate in any gift exchanges, but we still did a few presents for eachother. Of course, we always spent too much on stuff we really didn't need. Then we cut back to just doing stockings. And we found you could easily spend $200 per stocking; it was crazy. After a few years, we simply stopped gifts altogether. It kept us out of the stores and cut back on our needless spending.
When we returned to California it would have been easy to step back into the Christmas headache, but there, the garage sales were really helpful. It was at these garage sales where the stashed gifts came out and saw the light of day. I know I recognized a number of gifts. I'm not trying to give the impression I was upset the presents were sold, I wasn't. It just reinforced the waste of the gifts given in the first place. I saw plenty of $30+ items, still new in the boxes, going for $5 or less.
Now, when we celebrate the holiday, we spend our time making things like pies and cookies. We spend time with family and friends and get to enjoy our spare time. We don't stress about all the things we have to do or presents we have to find. And we don't count the shopping days until Christmas.
If you feel stress and wonder why you're celebrating the holiday, or feel the finances are a burden, read the book... We really recommend it. You don't have to buy it; many libraries loan it out.