This is going to sounds terrible, but in a weird way I was happy about the economic crisis and recession because I hoped it would translate to a reigned-in Christmas. I thought that people would be forced to maybe hand make presents or bake something yummy in place of the latest gadgetry out of necessity. Or maybe I thought we would all agree to not buy anything for each other this year because spending time together is all that matters anyway. No really, I know we say that every year, but it's true.
My husband and I have set $40 limits on spending for each other every Christmas we've been together. I think one particular year we bought a front door for the house in lieu of any gift at all. This Christmas we're going to refinance our house because we're merry like that. So I can tell you from experience that not having lavish gifts and even no gifts at all still makes for a very jolly day. The trick to our success is agreeing upon the terms up front...haha, ho ho ho. That sounds so business-like for someone seemingly judging how cold Christmas has become. But it's just easiest to agree beforehand as to avoid any awkwardness and guilt later on.
I think it's safe to say that most people want to match the amount they spend to the amount spent on them, but not because they only want to give exactly what they have to and no more. But because they want everyone to feel good about the exchange, both the gifter and the giftee.
Problem is setting such limits can often lead to gift giving feeling like the exchange of similar amounts of money. While that doesn't seem like a very good solution, maybe if you make that idea as extreme as possible, we could get back to the true heart of the season. For example, let's all agree to exchange $20 in cash. You give me $20, I give you $20. You give Grandma $20 and she palms you a solid Andrew Jackson right back. Then everyone watches "It's a Wonderful Life" and drinks eggnog, the end. The only exception to the rule would be those aged under twenty years. We could call the whole plan the Rule of Twenty and revolutionize the world! Simultaneously, we could destroy the economy completely! But at least this retail meltdown and final destruction of the economy would be for the right reasons and not the greedy desires that have caused our current predicament. Take that Mister Potter!