So this year more than ever, there seems to be a backlash against the excesses of Christmas. I’ve never seen so many low waste guides to Christmas, and this is all great to see. But before I go on I would like to celebrate at this juncture the human trait which sends us a bit crazy at this time of year. Believe it or not, I’m talking about the actual ‘good’ in all of us that wants to make one day, in particular, such a special day.
Humanity has had a rough year. And perhaps we deserve it. But I think most of us will remember 2019 as the year when we really started to acknowledge to a greater or less extent that there is an environmental crisis going on and that we all need to be aware of how we live our lives. And it is because of that I just wanted to pause a moment before we don sackcloth and ashes and huddle around a brussel sprout on Christmas Day. Because we all deserve a break right?
The truth is that the vast majority of us are in the business of wanting our loved ones to be happy. And that is of course particularly true at Christmas. Christmas is traditionally a time for families whatever your religion, or lack thereof. A festival celebrating family at its heart is important if we want to get through the tougher times in life. And that is why so many of us go to so much trouble to create a wonderful occasion that everyone will remember for years to come. For many of us, it is the bedrock of our own childhood memories, and we want to create the same for our own children.
Crucially though, I think that we also need to remember that the vast majority of us human beings actually get a lot more joy out of giving than receiving. Now this, of course, is a very good thing indeed. But it does often lead to a retail frenzy! We love to give, we love to make our loved ones happy, their dreams come true. So let’s celebrate that trait as much as anything this year, with perhaps a little bit more thought about what we are buying.
What we should remember of course is that many of the high street retailers are all too aware of human nature, and have a very good understanding of consumer psychology. And that is why they bedeck their stores with frankly an awful lot of pointless paraphernalia which once that initial smile has been generated may well be destined for the present draw for re-gifting! Not that re-gifting is a bad thing of course. Far better to regift or donate unwanted gifts than to leave them languishing in a drawer unloved. Just ask the good ladies of my daughter’s school PTA.
At our school, they run a Christmas Pop-Up shop every year which frankly strikes more joy and laughter into Christmas than most things. Tinies choosing random items from a collection of things donated by parents, things that they have often received the previous year and surreptitiously returned to stock year on year! My husband received a rather lovely Potty Putter a couple of years ago, ideal for gentlemen wishing to practice their golf putts whilst seated on the throne. This year it has magically appeared back in the pop-up shop stock for the third year in the row. I would say that particularly novelty item has probably earned its keep. And my favourite Christmas moment last year – wrapping up a hole punch up for one little girl to give to her dad! I bet it was the best hole punch he’d ever had.
I have also seen much talk of Secret Santas this year, and I am delighted to say that my own family which consists of my husband’s three siblings and their children have opted for that approach too. Apart from anything else, the nephews and nieces are now of an age where they really don’t need any more amusing boxer shorts, so we’ve all been allocated a ‘giftee’ and the theme of ‘red’! Christmas stress levels have been drastically reduced for me at least! That’s most of my present list culled!
I think I may even have managed to pass on the annual family calendar making this year! It is far and away the most loved present in my family, which also says it all really when you are considering what to buy. It generally features photos of the family across the year, and I have plugged in everybody’s birthdays on the appropriate days with a photograph. It started as a gift for Grannie, and now I have to print off 12. Unhappily though, I always leave it until the last minute and end up doing a midnight shift to get it printed in the nick of time before the Christmas Eve delivery deadline! I have had two volunteers to take it on this year though, and I feel a lot lighter on my feet!
The obvious way to avoid unwanted presents, of course, is to ask what people want. But I am a total sucker for surprises, which makes it very hard for me to ask the question in order to narrow down my options. I actually relish choosing the perfect item to a certain extent, as mind-bending as it can be at times. That often leads to disappointment when I’ve got it horribly wrong obviously, but the trick is to keep the receipt! Gift receipts are a godsend obviously.
There is also a very big part of me who is just like my own mother – Christmas was all about restocking those things we had grown out of – it was new pyjamas and slippers under the tree every time! And there was nothing wrong with that! On the odd occasion she decided to push the boat out, she invariably bought my sister and me the same thing. My sister and I are quite different so this didn’t always go well. But my daughter generally gets a lot of things she ‘needs’ and one or two things she might actually want. Santa provides the magic – she’s got free reign there, although Santa also has a budget! He’s got a lot of presents to buy and she understands that!
Now I think that most of us will agree that husbands are tricky creatures when it comes to gifting – I literally dread buying mine presents – I stress about it for months! He is very good at buying presents and I can simply never match up. I think he’s getting that goat this year. He needs nothing, and there’s a family in Ethiopia that need a goat! I don’t know anyone who hates the excess of Christmas day more than he does, so a goat is probably what he wants most in any case!
And talking of Africa, shopping ethically has to be high on the agenda this year. Part of the reason we are in the midst of a consumption crisis is because we’ve got too much and it’s being produced too cheaply. If we pay a fair price for things, we can be surer that the person who made the items, was also paid a fair price. If it is stacked too high and sold too cheap, there’s only one person benefitting, and that is probably the retailer.
Yes, Christmas is an expensive time, but that doesn’t mean that less isn’t more and clever shopping can keep things sensible. Second-hand is the new new for sure. And of course decluttering has become a major trend this year, and that’s for a reason – clutter causes stress and sometimes worse, and clutter is caused by us frankly having too much. Even charities and charity shops have too much! I think that really says it all!
So let’s try and tone it down this year – let’s just think of what people might need, what might bring them real joy, what might do some good for others, and above all else what might have been produced in the spirit in which Christmas was originally intended. I’ll be heading down to Waterstones for my favourite day of the year, points saved up ready for blowing because nothing brings me more joy than book shopping! Yay! Nothing more forever and reusable than a book. And let’s all only avail ourselves of Black Friday if there is something available that we were going to buy anyway and donate anything we have spare to those who literally have nothing at all.
And finally, and very importantly, let’s expect less of ourselves. I see mums, in particular, sagging with stress and angst at this time of year – so much to do, so little time! Nativity costumes to make/buy, shopping to be done, family visitations to be negotiated, tables to be decorated, presents wrapped, chocolate box versions of Christmas to create – we all want it to be perfect. Let’s not do it to ourselves. When my daughter was born the perfect Christmas in my mind consisted of homemade just about everything – I’ve never managed it, nobody else cares, and now I’ve accepted that I am actually looking forward to it! My mum always burnt the turkey and we loved her for it.
Next week we will be sharing our own Guides to a Resourceful Christmas – they are just extra pointers to help you navigate your way through the maze of choice at this time of year. They’ll usually be of benefit to others, light on the planet and good for the soul.
First up, Your WNWN Guide to Advent Calendars That Are Good for the Soul!