Call me the Grinch, but Christmas fills me with dread. Don’t get me wrong, it’s nice to be together as a family (for the day, at least). It’s the gifts I hate – disposable gadgets, plastic, non-recyclable packaging, the likelihood of unwanted items and the likelihood of them ending up in the landfill. Honestly, the whole charade gives me anxiety.
This year it’s supposed to be even more of a problem, with reports of truck driver shortages, cargo being turned back and warnings to start buying gifts even sooner. Frankly, when I see these images of container stacks in our ports, I find myself shouting inside: “Stop! Enough stuff already! Instead of joining in the Black Friday frenzy, I’ll be celebrating the now global Buy Nothing Day, which will also take place on November 26. Even Buy Nothing Christmas has become something of a movement, so I’m not the only one.
My extended family – about 20 of us – have been dealing with the stress of tit-for-tat donations for years (I mean, haven’t we all?). We already operate a fairly superficial gift exchange, where everyone says exactly what they want, and that’s what they get. I always ask for boring necessities to avoid getting more “stuff”; Last year I climaxed asking for a corded hand blender. It’s an arrangement that seems a bit cold – we may as well go cash back and forth. And that doesn’t eliminate hoodies, environmentally questionable slime kits and cheap cotton candy makers that end up in the back of a closet or in the trash, because those are the things kids want.
Except half the time my family ignores the list or doesn’t bother to provide one (in fact, maybe none of us really want anything), and then we’re all on the dangerous territory of giving away something we neither need nor want. Throughout this year I’ve been haunted by the painful memory of gifting my sister a virtual membership to a fitness studio, not realizing she’d just bought a Peloton bike (£72 from my part).
And somehow, without discussion, the stakes rise every year: Some family member is always throwing money at the problem, so it’s impossible not to feel bad about not matching his expenses and, of course, we all make a mental note to spend a little more next year. After all, we’re British – it somehow seems easier to increase our budgets than to raise the issue.
The tear-wrap party itself on Christmas Day is a divisive occasion. Of course, with kids in the mix, it’s the highlight of the day. My phone is full of videos of jackpot winning gifts being opened by ecstatic children. But it’s also when we all find out how wrong we were. I usually find myself switching between simulated pleasure (sparkly mittens, anyone?) and embarrassment when I suspect family members are also feigning pleasure. If we’re all pretending – one study estimates that 71% of Britons receive unwanted Christmas gifts, with an estimated total spend of almost £1billion – isn’t it time to rethink everything?
But then who wants to be the Scrooge who cancels Christmas? In previous years, I avoided addressing the issue, resuming our shopping activities for the sake of shopping as usual. Last year, against my better judgment but according to their heartbreaking letters to Santa, I bought Lego sets for my kids. Elation was followed by construction, then lost parts, neglect, and finally disinterest.
This year, however, I am ready: things are going to be different. I told my family that I don’t buy new things. My gifts to everyone will be handmade, experiential, second-hand, or digital – and my kids and I will be very happy to receive the same (however, in the interest of supporting small businesses, I’m happy to make exceptions for gifts from independent companies).
For my children I will give charge days, where they can reign over the roost for a day. I will take my sisters’ families for memorable days. My mother will receive a homemade cake in the mail every month. And it’s not Christmas without a delivery from Santa, so gifts around the tree will be charity sweatshirts recycled with tie-dye (teenage catnip), terrariums made from old jars and family photos in used frames. It’s going to be hard work: unlike the click-to-buy route, these alternatives take thought and time. Oh wait – wasn’t that the point?