Before you all instantly sigh and call me a miserable Scrooge let me just state that I am not anti-Christmas. It’s extremely difficult to make blanket statements about complex things being wholly terrible. Some things are indeed absolutely shit. But most things are a mixed bag and we choose the parts that resonate with us to focus on.
Take Christmas as an example. It's important to some people because of their faith. Others use it as a time to connect with family. Others, myself included, embrace the eat, drink, and be merry side of Christmas and use it as an excellent excuse to ingest as many roast potatoes and gin and tonics as possible before having the best nap of the year.
And some people bloody love giving and receiving presents.
At no point in this post am I going to tell you, if you are one of these people, that you’re wrong. As I so often say on this blog, people have their own passions and I’ve no business telling you not to enjoy whatever it is that floats your emotional boat.
My family and I gave up buying Christmas presents quite a few years ago and it was an excellent decision for us. In this post I will tell you why I prefer this approach to Christmas and discuss how you can join me on the present-free train if it’s something you’re interested in.
Why I Don’t Buy Christmas Presents
I don’t have any actual figures in front of me but I feel very confident in saying that a metric shit-tonne of unwanted Christmas presents will end up in landfill once the turkey leftovers have been snaffled and everyone is toasting the new year. Unless you’re a master present buyer and/or only buying for people you know extremely well, you’re likely to give the odd dud gift that the receiver will be dying to part with as soon as your back is turned. Aside from creating the gift itself, there’s also the energy and materials required to pack and ship it that have gone to waste.
I admit my failings as a present purchaser. I struggle to come up with gifts for all the people I feel deserve one at Christmas time. The sheer number of people you’re expected to give to all at once overwhelms me and I simply don’t feel like I can come up with something that will delight the recipient, not cost the planet a fortune in the long term, and that I can feel truly confident won’t end up in the bin.
This is a hangover from working on pantomimes. In the run up to Christmas, for many years I was working harder than I did at any other time. Every minute of every hour of every day was tied up with rehearsals, alterations, dressing plots, and dancers’ shoe based disasters. I did not have the time to shop, wrap, and send presents to all my friends and family.
Actually, if I’m being really honest, I didn’t want to make the time for it. Many of my colleagues achieved the herculean feat of working on a pantomime and sending Christmas presents to their loved ones. Maybe if I was more enthusiastic about Christmas I would have prioritised presents over pantomimes too.
However, my cognitive capacity was at full stretch. I was physically exhausted, constantly hungry, and sick of shopping for pantomime supplies. The idea of spending my free time doing more shopping sounded unappealing to say the least.
Avoiding Stress and The Pressure of Expectations
With the build up to Christmas seemingly getting longer every year, it feels like there is a huge amount of pressure for the day to be perfect when it eventually arrives. For months I feel bombarded with adverts for the infinite number of gifts I could purchase to show my loved ones how much they mean to me.
Does this new piece of tech sufficiently show Husband how much I value his support and childish sense of humour? Is a gift voucher too impersonal a gift for a parent who has spent countless pounds and hours forming me into the human I am today? Does this ornament demonstrate to my in-laws how much I understand and appreciate them and their taste in décor?
I don’t fucking know!
As I do with many things, I drastically overthink present buying and I am almost certainly letting the perfect be the enemy of the good. The combination of the pressure to produce to a perfect Christmas, my desire to avoid feeling guilty for contributing to a capitalist consumerist bonfire of a planet, and the sheer paralysis of indecision make Christmas present buying a stressful experience that I’d rather avoid.
Focusing on the Things That Matter
Just to reinforce the point, if presents are an important part of Christmas for you then focus on them. Go forth shop, share, and have a whizzy jolly time doing it.
It just doesn’t matter to me.
If I was to suggest a very simple recipe for life it would be to fill your pot of existence with as much of what matters to you as possible and sieve out the flavourless filler ingredients whenever you can. Everybody’s casserole of life will have a different recipe because we all have different things that matter to us.
I don’t care if my pot doth not overflow with Christmas presents because it’s full of other things that matter more to me. There’s a healthy helping of tunelessly singing along to my Dad playing songs on the ukulele and a side order of obsessively spending hours on a jigsaw with my Mum. For the years I was away from home for Christmas my main course of loveliness was simply a plateful of my parents being bothered and able to travel across the country to spend the day with me. I doubt that them turning up with physical presents would have made that dish any sweeter.
Now we’ve covered my reasoning behind why I don’t buy Christmas presents, let’s look at how I try to not be a total shit about it!
Explain Your Reasoning
I get very mixed responses when I tell people I don’t buy Christmas presents. Some people accuse me of being cheap/grumpy/lazy/lacking in Christmas spirit. Others tell me they wish they could do the same. It really is a mixed bag. However, once the conversation develops and I explain the reasoning behind my decision the naysayers tend to soften their initial position.
If, like me, you find that gift giving detracts from your enjoyment of the festive season, try talking to those you give gifts to and see if they feel the same way. You might be surprised.
People, on the whole, are an understanding bunch. If you’re anxious about your contribution to the collective Christmas rubbish dump or feel too mentally frazzled to put in the effort giving gifts deserves, speak to those around you. They may feel the same and be delighted that you spoke up. You’ll have given them one less gift to worry about buying. At the very least, if they’re important enough for you to contemplate giving a gift to, they’ll care about you enough to hear you out and take your feelings on board.
Luckily, my family are equally as unbothered as I am about exchanging gifts at Christmas time. We just enjoy being in each other’s company and eating and drinking too much. This made abandoning the whole present giving charade pretty straight forward for us. In the interest of full disclosure, having enough money to generally buy what we need/want throughout the year also made this a lot easier.
Give Money to Charity
Each year, I take roughly the same amount of the money I would have spent on Christmas presents and spread it across a handful of charities. It changes every year but I pick the causes that matter most to me. I usually donate to one animal charity, a feminist charity, an environmental charity, and a local charity that supports homeless people.
I believe these organisations can make far better use of this money than I can and it will have a far greater long-term impact than any physical Christmas present I could give.
From a selfish perspective, this is also an excellent come back to die hard Christmas fanatics who tell me I’m a miserable git for not giving presents. It’s hard to call someone a heartless old grinch for giving money to charity. Though this is absolutely not the main motivation behind the donations, it’s certainly a handy side effect.
Send Thoughtful Gifts and Be Generous at Other Times of the Year
Opting out of Christmas presents doesn’t mean being a tight git all year round. I am a privileged person with enough financial stability to spread this privilege around.
I love stumbling across something that I think a friend or family member will adore at a totally random time of the year and sending it to them with no specific occasion in mind. If I finish reading a book that I know someone else will enjoy, I’ll pass it along. And I’m a big fan of birthdays. Birthdays feel more fun to me than Christmas because you have more time focus on one individual person and really consider what they’d appreciate receiving at that time in their life.
It’s not just the generosity of gift giving that I think is worth investing in. As a somewhat socially awkward introvert I know I can be accused of not putting enough time and effort into my relationships, especially since so many of my friends are scattered across the country and the world.
I am so grateful for the generosity people show me by sending me texts to ask how I’m doing, telling me their thinking about me, or letting me know they enjoyed my latest post. Especially since the pandemic, I’m astounded by my friends’ enthusiasm for spending time with me in public places rather than huddling safely at home away from my potentially disease transporting cardiovascular system.
This wasn’t meant to be a post about new year’s resolutions, but I think I’ve stumbled upon one. I like to think I’m generous with my time when it comes to my friends and that I show my appreciation for them in other ways than material objects. But right now, I’m not entirely convinced that this is the case.
It feels like I’ve been worrying about my own problems a lot lately and not giving much thought to what the other people in my life are going through. I’ve been giving myself permission to hunker down and deal with the anxiety that moving house and returning to a life outside of lockdown has been causing me. Although this has felt reasonable and necessary, life is beginning to feel settled enough to venture a little further out of my introvert cave.
Despite the fact they won’t be getting a Christmas card or present from me, as per bloody usual, I do promise to be generous to the people in my life in other ways with a bit more vim and vigour than I’ve exhibited over the last few months. The world has felt a little overwhelming lately but I know that, although Christmas presents don’t matter to me, the support of those nearest and dearest to me does. I will do my best to focus on this over the festive season and keep the spirit of generosity and camaraderie going throughout the year.
However you choose to spend the next few weeks of your life, I hope you have opportunity to focus on whatever it is that matters most to you. I wish you effortless present shopping, delicious roasted food products, comforting times with family and friends, and a festive season embracing whatever it is you love about your life.