The Gift of Not Giving

Posted October 2nd, 2012 by Claire S

I don't know about you, but I can feel Christmas coming... and every year it seems to start just that little bit earlier. The first sign is when one of your super-organised friends cheerfully declares that they've done their Christmas shopping already, because after all, "it's only 12 weeks 'till Christmas!" Next, you notice the Christmas card stands creeping into Kmart (even though it's only mid-October), and before you know it, jingle bells are ringing and the shops are brimming with festive decorations, Christmas discounts and sales galore! So before the madness begins in earnest, I'd like to share a little tip on how we managed to curb the spending and stress at Christmas…

About eight years ago, we decided it was time to do things a little differently. And it was the best decision we ever made. It came about after one particularly indulgent Christmas in which we'd all bought stuff that really, none of us needed - trinkets, gadgets, ornaments, jewellery, chocolates… by the time we'd all finished opening them, I felt uncomfortably… gluttonous. I couldn't help but wonder how many people were going without, while we sat there, stuffed on Christmas food and surrounded by a surplus of gifts that none of us needed. It just didn't feel good, knowing we'd all spend the last few weeks stressing, shopping, worrying and overspending on 'stuff' just for the sake it.

I mentioned how I felt to my mum a few days later, funnily enough she said she felt the same way. We agreed it was silly that we were all spending so much money, time and stress buying gifts for each other that we really didn't need. We got talking about the meaning of Christmas and how it has changed over the years. Mum told me that when she was young, Christmas was a time to enjoy the things families couldn't afford during the year. Like a roast chicken dinner (something they rarely had) and a fresh orange in their Christmas stockings - imagine, getting an orange for Christmas and being delighted with it because it was such a treat! But these days, we don't really go without anymore - not like a few generations ago anyway. So trying to make Christmas a special occasion means we end up spending a ridiculous amount of money and eating a ridiculous amount of food - so that we can 'indulge' ourselves for Christmas.

That's when we came up with a new way of doing things. We decided that really, Christmas is a time for children, so we agreed to only buy gifts for the kids in the family. Instead of buying gifts for the adults, we each buy an extra children's gift or two to donate to a local charity that needs gifts at Christmas time such as The Salvation Army. I get my kids involved with this - they help choose and wrap a gift and take it to the charity.

I also help the children make something in return for the adults. It's usually a little treat like Christmas biscuits, fudge or some other sort of sweet. We wrap them with nice cellophane and ribbons and the kids use their scrapbooking bits and pieces to make cards. I think it's good for them to give something that they've put effort in to themselves. We do the same thing for teachers, neighbours, coaches and anyone else that deserves a 'thank you' at Christmas time.

It was the best decision we ever made regarding Christmas. It means I only have to think about buying for the kids - which is more than enough to worry about! In the weeks leading up to Christmas I make lists for each child- so by the time I hit the shops I know exactly what I'm going to buy, I try really hard to buy things that they want or need and avoid rubbish that will just end up in pieces or forgotten about, although this is easier said than done!

It's such a relief not to worry about what to get for so-and-so, or thinking that you've spent too much or not enough. Plus, we also decided that if we want to, we can spoil each other with little 'just because' gifts during the year, rather than 'because I have to' gifts at Christmas. For example, earlier this year my aunt's favourite beauty therapy clinic had a huge special, so I bought her a voucher… 'just because'. It only cost me $10 (not that she knew that!) but she loved it.

I can't imagine going back to buying gifts for everyone in the family. It's so much more relaxed in the weeks leading up to Christmas without the pressure or worry of shopping for the adults. We all get lots of pleasure watching the kids enjoy their gifts and of course, we still manage to indulge ourselves with way too much food - well, it is Christmas after all!

The best of all gifts around any Christmas tree: the presence of a happy family all wrapped up in each other. Burton Hillis

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January 2013