Giving and receiving presents has become a fundamental part of the festive season.
For some people, though, the gifting culture can take the shine off what should be a relaxed and fun time of year.
What I missed most about Christmas last year was the people. I suspect I’m not alone in that.
After a year in and out of lockdown, and a festive season that was on-again-then-off-again, by the time Christmas week rolled around, I just wanted to see the faces of the people I love.
I didn’t care where, I didn’t care what we ate, or whether anyone had done any present shopping.
I wanted a cuddle with my mum and to hear my 13-year-old nephew bang out Bohemian Rhapsody on the piano (it’s quite the party piece).
It didn’t happen, and we had to make do with Zoom.
It felt rubbish at the time, but now that the most wonderful time of the year has rolled around again, the benefit of such a damp squib means this year is going to be brilliant.
It’s heralded a change about how we do the whole shebang, too. It became clear, to the adult contingent at least, that a boozy festive get together is the thing we all like best.
And while you’d have to be spectacularly Grinch-like not to feel warm and fuzzy at the sight of gifts piled high under the tree, nobody even mentioned presents.
It’s not that we don’t like them. It’s just that they turned out not to be the most important thing.
So this year, we’re not doing them.
‘Why don’t we just buy for the kids?’ asked my anti-consumerist sister-in-law, seizing her chance one summer evening as we made pacts to make it home this Christmas, come hell or high water. ‘I didn’t miss shopping at all.’
Well, no, obviously. But what about the rest of us?
When we gave it some thought, the no-gift element was a game-changer.
In that one sentence, Christmas was simplified.
To-do and to-buy lists were reduced; the mental load felt immediately lighter. Let me say now that this was in no way a Scrooge-like move on Ruth’s part.
My sis-in-law is one of the most giving people I know, generous with her time, affection and love. Her door is always open and she loves a good knees-up as much as the next person.
But the increasing commercialism and buying of ‘stuff’, just for the sake of conforming to Christmas convention, was getting too much, she explained. Plus, you know, the environment.
Mountains of wrapping and packaging, much of it not recyclable, just didn’t sit well with the values they were trying to live by.
With all that in mind, would it be possible to make a change?
We all got it. Most of us bought in.
Think about what a no-gift Christmas could mean:
- Less stress at a time of year when you’re already really busy
- Less financial pressure
- No more having to suffer the indignity of watching someone open your present, and pretend to like it, all while being publicly judged
- No more financial one-upmanship – they spent £50 to your £30, so next year you need to redress the balance and so it goes on
- Being able to enjoy Christmas for what it is – a time to kick back and relax, eat and drink too much and spend time with people you love.
If the concept feels bah-humbug, I promise you it’s anything but. It’s about doing less but having a better time, and tweaking Christmas conventions in a way that suits your clan.
As an inveterate people-pleaser, I’d have continued boosting the old Amazon coffers indefinitely, but my sis-in-law is made of sterner stuff.
Not everyone has to buy in, of course.
Buy for the kids; buy for your other half (unless they REALLY mean it when they say they’re not fussed). In a world where we’re all stressed and busy, if presents make your heart sing, do it.
For me, though, it means less anxiety and more festive fun. In other words, a happier Christmas.
I’ll definitely raise a glass to that.
How to have a no-gift Christmas
- Agree the ground rules in advance. It could be that you just buy for the children (although do define ‘children’. Do you mean under 18s? Nieces and nephews of any age? Grown-up children?), organise a Secret Santa or agree to presents bought only from charity shops
- Play by the rules. Don’t agree ‘no gifts’, then produce lavish ribbon-wrapped parcels on the day because you ‘couldn’t resist’
- Don’t transfer the festive stress. Organising experiences instead of gifts can be just as time-consuming and expensive. A family walk on Christmas morning with a flask of hot cocoa and pocket full of Quality Streets could tick that box…
- Agree to one meaningful gift per family. It could be a special-edition board game or a beautifully framed photograph, or if that feels a bit worthy, go for the most amusing and impractical gift you can find. The aim of the game is to entertain – donate said gift to charity in the new year so another family can do it all again.