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18 percent of Americans take pass on holiday shopping

Amy Delaney and daughter Kate, 11, baked cookies for a holiday party. The family has tired of the shopping whirl.JOSH REYNOLDS FOR THE BOSTON GLOBE

Love it or hate it, this is the time of year when most of us go shopping in earnest. But a new report reveals that nearly one in five Americans will do no holiday shopping at all this year.

According to a survey on shopping habits by market research firm NPD Group and CivicScience, a culture-trend research company, 18 percent of Americans will take a pass on holiday buying altogether. That is up from 17 percent last year, the first year the question was asked.

What's surprising, says John Dick, CEO of CivicScience, is not that there are nonshoppers out there, but "the percentage of people who don't" shop for the holidays.


Their reasons are many. Some simply let other family members handle the shopping duties. Others avoid holiday shopping for economic reasons or on religious grounds. But the last group — people who object morally to the seasonal shopping fervor — is perhaps the most passionate, said Marshal Cohen, senior retail analyst for the NPD Group.

"These are people who, honestly, seem just sick and tired of the madness — the trampling on Black Friday as people fight their way into department stores, the bickering over who gets a last item, the stress over outdoing someone else in terms of cost or quality of gift," Cohen said. "We've found that this group has a significant percentage of people who embrace crafting and homemade gifts, things they say come from the heart."

Jim Delaney, president of Boston-based Activate Sports & Entertainment marketing company, says he and his family have gotten fed up with the consumerist attitudes and atmosphere around the holidays. This year, the money usually earmarked for most of the gift buying will go to children in need. "I guess our family's primary motivator for making this change is that we don't like what the season has become," Delaney said. "We all know what it's supposed to be about, but it has become completely overwhelmed and overshadowed by shopping madness."


When he and his wife Amy told their children last month about donating to charity this holiday season, Delaney says the kids embraced the idea and began looking for items they thought other children could use.

"Don't get me wrong. My kids will do fine for Christmas," Delaney said. "If we have a goal here, it's that we sort of hit the reset button. I'd love for this to become a tradition during the holidays for our family. And I'd hope it would help us remember that the season is about giving, not spending."

Leah Koenigsberg, an office manager who lives in Newton, says she has been feeling for years that holiday shopping season has soured. Her tipping point came in late October when Hurricane Sandy slammed New Jersey and New York City.

"That was the moment, the time, that I decided people's needs were more important than scrambling to find gifts for a holiday season that has lost focus," Koenigsberg said. "It's just too much genuine need out there to justify the madness over gifts. I have a friend whose entire apartment was destroyed in Brooklyn. And the mother of someone I know lost her home in New Jersey."

Koenigsberg says that she alerted her friends via e-mail that she would be donating to the American Red Cross this year for Hurricane Sandy relief instead of giving gifts, and that all of her friends responded positively.


"Some said they'd join me in doing this," she said. "And we all agreed that instead, what we'd do is simply spend time with one another — get together for drinks or a meal and enjoy each other's company."

For Lilly Jan, director of operations of Roger A. Saunders School of Hotel & Restaurant Management at Newbury College in Brookline, gift buying has become less of a priority recently. And this year in her family, there's been no shopping.

"I wish I could say it was for some majorly principled reason," Jan said. "But it seems like the holidays are for children, at least when it comes to joy over gifts. And my family has no children in it.

"We're all fully functional adults. If we want something, we buy it for ourselves, so gift giving is pointless. We just make a point to be in each other's general vicinity around the holidays. Boring, I know."

Cohen says Jan's logic isn't boring at all, but pragmatic.

"Consumers like her are those I simply call savvy," he said. "I sort of put them hand in hand with the self-gifters."

While the percentage of nonshoppers was nearly the same this year and last, the number of "self-gifters" is on the rise. This year, 19 percent of people said they were buying for themselves during the holidays, and that number is expected to rise to 26 percent by the end of the holiday shopping season, Cohen says. That's up from 12 percent in 2011 and just 6 percent in 2008.


"Why shouldn't you take advantage for yourself, instead of forcing a gifting situation that no one wants to participate in," Cohen said. "If anything I've found the people who self-gift are also the people who put more thought into gifts for others, like making crafts for their loved ones instead of buying a gift."

Wendy Wakefield Ferrin, a children's book author, says she's skipping holiday gift shopping this year for the first time ever, because she had little time and because warm gestures mean more during the holidays than purchased goods.

"I am living temporarily in a condo on Fresh Pond in Cambridge while caring for a grandchild," said Ferrin. "This is the first time I have skipped buying Christmas presents. I will admit to becoming nauseous watching all the drama around Black Friday. I also went on a meditation retreat in Maui [early] December which used up all my time. Therefore I am so chill that I decided to gesture loved ones with either my time or my love energy this year."

James H. Burnett III can be reached at james.burnett@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @JamesBurnett.