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For decades, Deborah Crevelli watched as the Christmas gifting ritual "snowballed" into a crazy, commercialized obligation of massive overspending.

What was supposed to be the season of peace and time shared with family and friends had devolved into a month-long shopping and wrapping chore. One year she simply declared, "Enough."

The Healdsburg grandmother and her husband, John, a retired history professor at Santa Rosa Junior College, both grew up during the Depression and World War II, when Christmas was simpler but sweeter.

"Gifts were not exchanged between uncles and grandparents and aunts. You didn't give gifts to cousins and nieces and nephews," she remembered. "Each family took care of their own kids and once that gifting was over in the morning, the rest of the day could be enjoyed as a celebration of the family."

Five years ago, they told their four adult children they would give only to the grandkids — money for those over 13 and one special and "truly appropriate" gift for the younger ones. They would accept no gifts except handmade items from grandchildren.

It wasn't easy at first, she said. There were some hard feelings. But time has confirmed that it was the right decision, Crevelli said. Now she makes a giant fruitcake to split between two of her offspring and gives the other two a bottle of wine. It has liberated her to enjoy the holidays again.

"All four of them have everything you could possibly want and they're running out of room," she said. "Their houses are congested and closets full of clothes."

A record 247 million people shopped stores and websites Black Friday weekend alone, beginning before their Thanksgiving feast was digested and dropping some $89 billion, according to the National Retail Federation. A lot of those consumers were already overextended. An Oxygen Media survey found 47 percent of adults saying they spent more than they could afford for the holidays and 36 percent admitted going into debt.

Even those with money to burn can be burned out from buying for an ever-expanding list that now seems to include even pets. So much stuff winds up re-gifted or sold for a buck at next year's yard sale.

The Crevellis, however, have joined a new resistance movement to tone down the gifting that, to some, threatens to choke out the true meaning of Christmas and Hanukkah. They're creating new traditions to short-circuit the pressure to shop.

Tricia Hoffman of Sebastopol was raised Jewish. And while the 65-year-old retiree no longer observes the faith, for the close relatives who do, she sends Hanukkah gelt (money) so they can use it any way they please — whether to buy, save or donate.

She spends Christmas day with a friend who invites about 15 people over for food, talk and games.

"There's never been a gift exchange," she said. "Just an appreciation of the friends we have and what we do have in life."

Diana Scott of Santa Rosa said when her children and her sister's children became adults, they decided to draw names.

"We buy one $50 present for one person and small inexpensive stocking stuffers for each person," she explained. Then they pool the money they would have spent on gifts and get a vacation rental for three days at places such as Tahoe last year, and this year at Jenner.

"Everyone agrees our trips are by far the funnest Christmases we ever had," she said. "It gives us all time to relax, enjoy wonderful easy meals, play games, go for hikes, silly dance, watch Christmas movies in our PJs and just be together."

Katherine Rinehart of Petaluma, an historian who works for the Sonoma County Library, about four years ago cooked up the idea of confining gifts to anything edible. Family members, equally weary of gifting that had gotten out of hand, quickly signed on. There are no rules except no Hickory Farms, she said with a laugh. Just so long as it's edible.

"We've exchanged everything from meatballs to cupcakes, homemade caramels to minestrone soup," said Rinehart, who plans on giving frozen crumb-topped apple pies from Santa Rosa's Criminal Baking Company this year, after discovering their deliciousness at a restaurant.

"Edible gifts are a way to keep spending down and hopefully avoid giving a gift that ends up stuffed in a closet," she said. "Plus for those in the family that are good cooks and bakers, it gives them a chance to show off their talents."

You can reach Staff Writer Meg McConahey at meg.mcconahey@pressdemocrat.com or 521-5204.