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Why I’m not getting gifts this Christmas

A few days ago, Mr Namasi and I sent this message to our sons:

Dad and I don’t want you to buy gifts for us, please. It will be our great pleasure to have you home for Christmas and to be able to feed and spoil you for that time time. That will be enough for us. We’re not even buying each other gifts this year, choosing instead to do some nice things together.

They have enough expenses. Now that our sons have left the nest, seeing them is beyond any of the gifts their limited budgets could stretch to.¬†One of our sons became a student this academic year, at the age of 25. The other recently had a car accident in which his little car was totalled. That’s one part of it.

Another part is the stuff. We moved twice in a year. The first time, we shed possessions as part of the normal moving process. Then we promptly became the repository of masses of furniture as first one and then the other son moved in with us temporarily, bringing all their furniture, and then moved out into furnished places, leaving their possessions behind. The second time we moved house, we downsized significantly and shed yet more stuff. We still have more than we have space for, even after a fairly successful yard sale in the summer, and an ongoing relationship with Facebook Marketplace, local ‘for sale’ sites, Freecycle and the like.

We have reached the stage in our lives when it’s hard to choose gifts for us. Particularly if you’re on a tight budget. I mean, I’d love to attend one of Emma Mitchell’s (aka Silver Pebble) workshops, but they come with a price tag beyond the reach of pretty much everyone buying gifts for me. So the fallback tends to be gimmick gifts which raise a laugh when they are opened, and add to the general merriment of the occasion. What’s lovely about these is that they show how well a person knows you. What’s less lovely is that they tend to end up in landfill once you get past the guilt of throwing away something given to you as a gift.

Yet another part is the wrapping. Around this time of year, we begin to see articles about the environmental impact of Christmas wrapping. We are reminded to do the scrunch test, to see whether wrapping paper is recyclable.

But that doesn’t really help with the packaging the gifts come in: the boxes and plastic and tissue paper and and and.

So many aspects of Christmas can be… is unseemly the word I’m looking for? The shops become a deeply stressful place to be. The foods that no-one enjoys are served up because it’s traditional. People spend money they can ill afford on gifts for people they scarcely know. Vast quantities of alcohol are consumed to alleviate the stress of the whole business. Masses of packaging is included in the next few kerbside garbage collections.

And it needn’t be like that. Why not leave out the food no-one likes, and replace it with something you do like? Make it part of your family’s unique Christmas tapestry. Support independent shops or local makers, artisans and crafters when choosing your gifts. Explore alternative ways of wrapping gifts that don’t have a massive environmental impact.

Consider intangible gifts: indoor skydiving, a spa treatment, a tank driving experience, membership of English Heritage/National Trust.

So many posts have been written on this subject, I feel as I would just be reinventing the wheel to go on. So I’ll steer you towards this post which contains several workable suggestions.

And I’ll end with this little reminder:

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Post Christmas ruminations

For various reasons Mr Namasi and I decided to keep Christmas very low-key this year. We were content that both our sons would be joining us. Our elder son works in the hospitality industry and isn’t always able to have the time off.

Dinner was pretty much the sort of roast dinner one might serve on any Sunday or Bank Holiday when the family comes to visit.

It was lovely: warm, cosy, unspectacular.

Then…

Christmas day wasn’t even over before the emails started coming in to my inbox.

eBay, Preloved, Shpock, Gumtree, the various Freegle/Freecycle and Trash Nothing groups I belong to, charities…”Make money from your unwanted gifts.” “Regifting is the new giving.” “Don’t want it? We’ll take it!”

At the same time, everyone appears to be having a sale and I‘m being urged on every hand to take advantage of the low prices and buy more stuff. 60% off. 75% off. Free this when you buy that. Free delivery. Spend x and we’ll throw in a <something or other>. I’m not sure I can afford to save that much money! 

It’s breathtakingly mercenary, isn’t it? So unapologetically cynical.

It reminds me of a scene from Jim Carrey’s The Grinch Who Stole Christmas:

“Do you know what happens to your gifts? They all come to me… in your garbage. You see what I’m saying? In your garbage! I could hang myself with all the bad Christmas neckties I found at the dump, and the avarice… THE AVARICE NEVER ENDS! “I want golf clubs! I want diamonds! I want a pony so I can ride it twice, get bored, and sell it to make GLUE!””

I don’t really consider myself a Grinch, but as an upcycler, I also see the stuff that people throw away. It’s one thing when an item has broken or clothing has worn out or been outgrown. But I see what the Grinch sees: stuff that is still perfectly useful. Stuff that someone spent money on. Stuff that the gift giver agonised over choosing (but obviously still got it wrong).

This is the side of Christmas that I don’t like. And we can do something about it. Smaller, thoughtfully selected or home made gifts strike a chord that lavish impersonal things just don’t. Think back on the memorable gifts in your own life. Which are the standout gifts for you?

So… during the course of this year, why not learn a new skill so that you can make something for your loved ones in 2017? Here are some suggestions:

  • Attend a massage course, and give your family vouchers for massages
  • Learn to make pamper products (face masks, body lotions etc.) – there are hordes of tutorials on YouTube and Pinterest
  • Make a batch of wine/beer/cider
  • Learn to work with wood or metal and make a shoe rack, a toy box, a key rack, a table, a <something else>
  • Attend workshops on beading, sewing, knitting, crochet, calligraphy and produce something in exactly the right colour, style and size for your loved one
  • Improve your baking/cooking skills and give them a promissory note for a home cooked meal with all the trimmings (for them and a plus one)
  • Attend a creative writing workshop and write them a story (or a song)
  • Learn calligraphy and make a beautiful plaque for their wall, or write a dedication on the fly leaf of a much loved book 

Alternatively – pay for them to attend a programme to learn/improve a skill.

The possibilities are endless…and these are gifts that are unlikely to become property of the Grinch on Boxing Day.