Well, not exactly a Christmas without presents, but a Christmas without traditional presents.
Christmas Market Mayhem
Me and Adam got a bad case of ‘cabin fever’ this weekend. We need the boat to pass a little safety test before we leave and we’ve been working hard to sort out the mess of electrics and other strange things that the original owners from the 80s thought were a smart idea. But after 5 days straight we decided to take a little break and head to Kingston’s Christmas Market. A free trip out (bar the extortionate parking costs), as long as we could be disciplined and resist the Christmas goodies on offer.
Needless to say, Kingston was PACKED. Christmas shopping was in full force and the shops were awash with stressed buyers looking for the best Christmas deals for their loved ones. The staff looked equally stressed, probably from a mixture of the endless stream of people asking why they were sold out of wrapping paper and from the fact that they had been forced to listen to the same Christmas CD on repeat for the whole of their 8 hour shift.
It got me thinking, why?
I like to think I’m pretty lucky when it comes to Christmas. As soon as my siblings and I became ‘adults’, my parents did away with traditional Christmas presents. I guess my Mum and Dad had the same thought, why? Why do we sit in hours of traffic, drive round in circles to find a parking space, rush around busy shops looking for presents that people probably would have bought for themselves if they actually really wanted them. Or even worse, there’s the people who refuse to ask for anything. ‘Don’t worry about me, I’ve got everything I want’. Well obviously you do have to worry about them, and by telling you not to worry, you worry about them even more. Because they are the risk. They are the ones you have to take a gamble on. Will they love it and keep it forever, or send it straight to the charity shop?
I understand there are the lucky few. The rare person who knows exactly what to buy everyone, and has bought it months in advance, and knows with annoying confidence that the gifts they have bought their loved ones are exactly what they never knew they wanted. You are the lucky ones. And you may as well stop reading now, because you have life sorted.
This Christmas Adam and I have an added pressure-no money. On a teachers salary, and not a particularly high one at that, I always felt worse off than a lot of my friends. But according to the BBC my pay has always been WELL above the national average (check it out here, you might be very surprised at just how privileged you are!) I didn’t enjoy Christmas shopping, but I didn’t worry about not being able to afford it. As a society we put so much emphasis on Christmas presents. I can only imagine the pressure parents feel to get their children everything they asked Father Christmas for. I have seen how children compare as they grow older. ‘What did you get for Christmas?’ is one of the first questions they ask each other after the holidays are over.
My Mum tells a story (with great embarrassment) about a childhood Christmas. In our family, Father Christmas (still!) gives us a stocking full of little bits-chocolate money, an orange, a little toy, a pair of socks. We open this in the morning, with great excitement! The presents under the tree from our parents are untouched until after lunch. So when my Mum took us to church, and the Vicar asked the children if they wanted to come to the front and show their presents, I took up the little plastic chicken that Santa had given me. My Mum sat there, going redder and redder, as the children held up their talking dolls and Nintendo games. But I was just as proud of my little plastic chicken. I don’t remember caring that my peers had received bigger, more expensive presents. If only we could stay that young and thankful forever.
So how do you get the joy of giving (and receiving) without the pressure? Here are some tried and tested ideas that have bought us much joy (and hilarity) on Christmas day.
Charity Shop Presents
Not always the cheapest, but you are safe in the knowledge that your money is going to a good cause. The first year we moved away from traditional Christmas presents we tried this. If we were going to spend hundreds of pounds of presents, that money may as well be going to charity. I had so much fun hunting every charity shop I could find. And I found some really lovely presents for people. Alongside the presents we knew would be genuinely appreciated, there were some really hilarious gifts too (the weird and wonderful owl sculpture that my brother bought my parents is still scaring everyone who ventures upstairs to this day). We tried variations on this successful theme, making it more of a challenge. Each person picked a letter, then one year a colour (my Dad received the book ’50 sheds of grey’ from every member of the family that year). The best part was, you didn’t feel an ounce of guilt if something received ended up back where it came from!
Home Made Presents
I never knew how creative and talented my family were, and receiving these gifts was definitely a special occasion. There was home made jams and chutneys, home made bath scrubs, home made chopping boards and photo frames, home made chess sets, home made hats and scarves. Things I would have bought, things that I have used and loved for many years since. I wouldn’t have said any of us are particularly creative before, but this proved that that photography hobby, or years of knitting and sewing, or newly learnt woodcraft skills could all be used to make beautiful presents worthy of gifting to someone.
Charity shops are FULL of books. They never go out of fashion, they can get a bit battered and still be just as useful and they’re really cheap! They are presents that everyone can enjoy. We didn’t have a ‘Christmas tree’ that year. We had a Christmas tree shaped book shelf.
Presents that aren’t an object
We had to get quite inventive here, and this one wasn’t the cheapest. Vouchers was a favourite. Help around the house, a late night lift home, a hug in times of need! My Dad put his whole music collection, records, CDs, a lifetime of tunes, onto a memory drives for us all. Bending the rules slightly, with the purchase of a memory drive, but he got away with it. This has to be one of the best presents I have ever received. We used minimal wrapping paper, and had hardly anything to cart back home when Christmas was over. I’m not sure this one would work with children, as having something to open and play with on Christmas day is understandably a childhood highlight, but for big kids it was perfect!
I LOVE giving (and receiving) presents. But I can honestly say that Christmas has improved ten fold since we started our slightly unusual present giving family tradition. Christmas without presents (of the break the bank kind!) is more interesting, more personal and definitely funnier. This year the fact that Adam and I are jobless has been taken into consideration and the theme is ‘re-gifting’. We can give away things we own that we no longer need, that we think someone else might. In a time when re-using and re-cycling has never been more important for our planet, I’m excited about using things that I have discarded to bring other people joy this Christmas.