To gift, or not to gift

November 23, 2023   ·   0 Comments

By Martina Rowley

Christmas season is here, whether we like it or not. Some of us feel good about seeing decorations and promotions start over one month before the big day, others less so. Regardless, official tree lighting ceremonies have started or passed, the first Santa Claus parades have rolled by, the Hallmark channel has started its annual wave of sappy Christmas movies, and festive commercials have been on TV since early November. Store shelves are Christmas-themed now, too, but I hope I will not have to endure Christmas music until we are in the month of December; six weeks or more of Jingle Bells and the like are simply overkill for me.

Musical preferences aside, how jolly will the holiday season be in these times of inflation, high food prices, and bootstrapped household budgets? Is and should the economy be the main driving factor behind excessive Christmas gifting? For my sensitivities as an environmentalist and someone who hates waste and excesses of all kinds, I always feel there needs to be a much deeper conversation and thought process about how much is too much under the Christmas tree. I hear these musings more from older adults, who have learned to value quality over quantity, experiences, and memories instead of a pile of presents. 

Interestingly, when I looked up which countries spend the most money on Christmas, Canada does not even rank amongst the top ten. Romanians spend a whopping 32% of their monthly income on Christmas, followed by Czechians with 25%, and the UK and US with 15%. Canadians, apparently, spent $647 on average in 2019 before the pandemic, $630 in 2020, and closer to $669 in 2021. The same reports also stated that most Canadians overspent on what they had budgeted. Millennials are the biggest spenders, averaging $1,618 in Christmas expenditures, followed by Gen X with $1,452 and Baby Boomers with $1,373. This report does not clarify if these are expenses only for presents or also include eating out and attending public events and paying steep cover charges. 

For families with young children, I understand the desire and pressure to have multiple presents for the children to unwrap. After all, that is what all of us have learned Christmas to be about. Is there or should there be another way, though? Where should one draw the line within large extended families, who each want to indulge their nieces and nephews or grandchildren? Giving an overabundance of toys or clothing typically results in most of them going unused and then joining piles of unrecyclable plastic toys or clothes that need to find a new home or end up in landfill. 

That said, I do hear many adults saying that they have limited or stopped giving their partners, siblings, parents or friends Christmas presents. There does seem to be a certain age when we grow out of the need to give or receive presents on Christmas. Some alternatives for gift-giving to children are, for example, wood toys that at least last longer (and are not made from evil, non-biodegradable and non-recyclable plastic). For older children or teenagers, the gift and promise of an exciting activity will provide memories lasting beyond the lifespan of an electronic thingamabob or trendy clothing item. For example, tickets for a treetop walk, the zoo or aquarium or some other weekend adventure could be it. 

For adult friends or family, maybe a gift card for a spa day, tickets to the theatre or a pottery or paint-night. Personally, I would enjoy any of those activities, and I love giving or receiving anything ‘consumable’ that will not clutter up someone’s house for long. By consumable, I mean it is either drinkable (wine for me), edible (good chocolate or specialty food, think preserves for that next charcuterie board), burnable (scented candles or incense) or soluble (like luxurious bubble bath or bath bombs). 

One of my sisters, who occasionally still marks my birthday or Christmas, is a creative gift-giver and even more of an environmentalist than I am. She has decided that all of us have too much ‘stuff’ and as a result, some of my presents from her in recent years have included a certificate by email telling me I had symbolically adopted a polar bear mom and cub through Polar Bears International to pay for advocacy and protection of the Arctic and the bears’ habitat. Another time, I received a certificate for a tree that was planted to help reforest a barren area. I received the exact longitude and latitude details to see where it was being planted. Years ago, I bought a Christmas present for myself, sort of, and felt tickled pink about sponsoring the purchase of a goat for a family in Africa. That makes me think of one of my favourite Christmas songs called “All I want for Christmas is a hippopotamus”, only in my case, it was a goat. Happy Christmas shopping – or not. 

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