This has been a favourite topic of mine for some time, and not only because I can't stand buying gifts.
In what I consider a seminal paper, Joel Waldfogel of Yale University examines the total value lost by giving gifts. Allow me to reprint his conclusion verbatim: (American Economic Review, 1993, vol. 83, issue 5, pages 1328-36 )
"Estimates in this paper indicate that between a tenth and a third of the value of holiday gifts is destroyed by gift-giving. Because average losses of 10% hold for all gift price ranges in the sample ... the deadweight losses arising from holiday gift-giving may be large: holiday gift expenditures in 1992 totaled $38 billion according to one estimate."
Now, adjust for inflation (2.5%) and annual increases in holiday expenditures (5%), take 15% as a cautious approximation between 10% and a third, and presto: $16 billion (US) destroyed by the 2006 holiday season.
Now, I'm not calling for an end to sentimentality. Far from it. What I would love to see, however, is the end of the social mandate for ridiculous gifting ending. My family personally receives a large array of Christmas-themed junk (fruitcake, anyone?) from people we barely know and are thus forced to reciprocate with equally useless gifts.
Sure, pick up something nice for your significant other. But most people would rather you spend some time with them over the holidays as opposed to you forcing your way into the malls on the 23rd to find them some chocolates.
Besides, if they wouldn't want to spend the time, you don't need to get them anything anyway. Regardless, I didn't buy a single Christmas present for 2006. I challenge you to if not match, approach this number. We’ll all be richer for it.