I love Christmas. I mean I really, really love it. I’m one of those annoying people who starts singing Christmas songs in October, if my husband can restrain me even that long. Christmas has always been a time when I got to relax, forget about school or work, spend lots time with friends and family, and eat lots of wonderful things. Of course as a kid the presents were a big deal, but I also just enjoyed seeing all my cousins, baking cookies, playing games and having my parents home from work for a few days.
These days I don’t necessarily get to see my whole family, but I always get to spend time with either my parents or my in-laws and some subset of our ever-expanding family. I still love to bake (my family had to stage an intervention a few years ago when I baked over 300 cookies just because I was having so much fun) and play games, but gifts have become immaterial compared to the importance of family time and the chance to unwind with the people I love.
For most of the last decade I have disliked Christmas shopping. Sure, wandering around shops with a friend, surrounded by Christmas music and the scent of cinnamon and pine can be lovely, but more often than not it isn’t. At some point, finding gifts for loved ones changed from an exciting adventure to a chore – probably about the time I became an adult. I also hated the gross consumerism, greed and competition of it. Long lines, people fighting over some must-have item, and the horrendous waste of money just made me stressed and deeply sad.
Finally, last year my husband and I decided we wouldn’t do it anymore. All of our friends and family have everything they could possibly need and more, as do we. We didn’t want to spend hours traipsing around a soulless shopping centre trying to find something they didn’t already have and wouldn’t want to return immediately, and we didn’t want our families to have to do that either.
We didn’t want to look like Scrooges though – we love our families and giving gifts is a way to show that love. In the past we’ve given hampers full of homemade goodies, but with the start of my PhD, I didn’t have time to do that again. We decided to buy Oxfam Unwrapped gifts for everyone. We did break down and buy some books for the kids in the family, and I made cookies for everyone. We told people in advance what we were planning to do, and said that we didn’t want anything, but they could give something to a charity if they wanted.
So what was the reaction? Everyone was happy! Even our young nieces were bragging to their friends about how they were supporting a school now. We still ended up with a few ‘normal’ gifts, but they were mostly small, which is all we would have wanted and more than we expected.
That decided it. I’m never going Christmas shopping again. That doesn’t mean I’ll never give another traditional present, but when I do, it will be because I saw something I thought the person would really love rather than out of some sense of obligation. This year everyone will get charity gifts again, and some cookies, of course.
If you’re sick of Christmas shopping too, there are loads of charity options you could consider. I’ve given or received gifts from Oxfam and Practical Action, both development charities. A quick internet search will turn up many other charities offering gifts covering environment, health, animal welfare and more, so you can go for what’s important to you and your loved ones. For example, you can give the gift of sight through Sightsavers International or sponsor a puffin through the RSPB. Moneysavingexpert.com has a list of a few options, complete with a breakdown of how the money is used.
If you like the idea of giving a charity gift, but feel like you still want to give something tangible, you can buy gifts through a charity and support them that way. Amnesty International has some really great fair trade gifts, so you can support the charity as well as ensuring the producers get a fair cut.
If all else fails, I can definitely recommend some good cookie recipes!
Ps- Thanks to trockeneisbombe, whose post on PhD thesis gifts inspired me to write this.