Updated on April 10th, 2019

What is your attitude towards Christmas presents? Do you see them as a way to show your love? Part of the magic of Christmas? Do you think them an unnecessary stress or unavoidable evil? Or are you considering ditching them altogether? If you – like me – love Christmas, but have questions around today’s modern Christmas Commercialism, an alternative might be to go for more presence, less presents. Read on for my research and ideas for how to do that!

What is your attitude towards Christmas presents?

Do you see them as a sign of love and affection? A welcome opportunity to give to others, or even spoil each other rotten?

Or perhaps you feel they’re an unavoidable evil? A yearly stress to live through? Or even an forced concession to unbridled consumerism?

My own feelings are mixed

Clearly, there is a lot of delight in giving presents, or receiving them yourself. For those of us who have children, there’s probably nothing better than seeing their anticipation in the run-up to Christmas, and the joy on their little faces when they discover the parcels under the festive tree, and open their presents.

Of course we want to show our love and appreciation. Of course we want to see loved ones and people around us happy. And presents are one way to make that happen.


I have questions around proportion and perspective

A bit of research online reveals that half to two thirds of Britons receive unwanted Christmas presents, which they keep politely, then regift, donate, sell or exchange. The value of the gifts returned in Britain was estimated to be £355M (yes, Millions!) in 2016. On average, according to Experian resarch conducted in 2016, we spend as much as £400 on Christmas presents. The Nationwide Chrismas Spending Report 2016 found UK parents spending on average £150 per child on Christmas presents, and Britons spending on average 44% of their monthly salary on Christmas altogether.

This brings up questions around proportion and perspective for me:

  • Is all this is really necessary or even helpful – for ourselves and the world?
  • In which other ways could we celebrate Christmas together in love and appreciation for each other?
  • And how am I contributing to this consumerist spiral with the presents I buy and give?

Backlash underway?

Personally, I have felt hounded and intruded on in the past years by the ever-present advertising online, in my email box and all about town, inciting me to spend, spend, spend – particularly in the run-up to Christmas.

On my Social Media timelines this year, I’ve seen many a critical response to Black Friday, that’s come to the UK in recent years, which rather seems just like another excuse to make us spend, spend, spend (because, let’s face it: who can resist a good deal?).

Maybe it’s just the kind of people I happen to be connected with, but the tenor of their posts seems to be: “Best Black Friday deal: Buy nothing, get out into nature or do something else with your loved ones instead = bag a 100% saving!”

People in the public eye have advocated that we should free ourselves from the “I give a present to you, you give a present to me, we try to give something of equal value” Christmas gift obligation which has become so common these days. They’re telling us to avoid unnecessary Christmas gifts and spend time together / help others / give to Charity instead. (Here’s money expert Martin Lewis’ argument on Twitter, to give you just one example.)

So perhaps a backlash to the Christmas extravaganza has already started?

An orange for Christmas

I am reminded of my mum, who grew up in Italy in the Second World War, as one of six children. She still vividly recalls the year when they each got one orange as their Christmas present. She was so thrilled with it that she made it last as long as possible, savouring it slowly, over days, peel and all!

This also makes me think that there are people living in similar conditions to this day. And we don’t even have to look to war zones and the so-called Third World, when more than 14 Million people in the UK live in poverty.

What is the meaning of presents, anyway?

Giving is meaningful when it’s purposeful:

Traditionally, we used to give gifts to those starting out (or starting a new phase) in life with little or nothing: newborns, children, young people, newlyweds… These were intended as a gift of good wishes and support from those established to those still needing to establish themselves. 

Christmas, of course, has a religious meaning in celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ, and I’m guessing that it’s the traditional giving of gifts to this most special newborn that we’re still emulating to this day – extending it to friends and family, and to all those who are alone and in need.

And even beyond religion, giving presents at Christmas can be meaningful as a sign of love and appreciation. And who doesn’t want to see their children shiny-eyed and happy about presents received?

I’m not advocating we should all go back to war-time conditions and give each other an orange for Christmas. (Although, maybe, as an experiment, we should try it and see what happens! 🙂 )  Ours, of course we live in different times.

But the question remains:

If gift-giving has become too much stress and pressure, and has lost its meaning – how do we do it, or what do we do instead?

7 ideas for what to do less and more of this Christmas

Doing less

We could do less of what has lost meaning and isn’t satisfying to us anymore. There are multiple variations for how to do that – here are just some examples I’ve come across:

1  One-gift-per-person policy

Some of my friends and family members have started announcing a One-Gift-Per-Person policy for this Christmas. They’re saying that, apart from being unnecessary in the current over-inflated dimensions, the gift extravaganza is actually lowering the appreciation and joy we feel about our presents. They’re particularly worried about their children: Used to an avalanche of gifts from when they’re little, what are they going to expect when they’re older? And how are they going to cope when that doesn’t happen?

2  Stop the unnecessary gifts

This is the aforementioned Martin Lewis’ manifesto: He suggests we free ourselves of the ‘I give to you – you give to me’ kind of gifts: The ones that have no special meaning, but make us feel obligated to give something back. The ones that will end up unwanted, being returned or given away. The ones, that, according to Martin, are a zero-sum game. Just be open and let people know that you want to reduce the amount of Christmas presents you give (and receive) this year. That there’s no need for them to give you anything (and you won’t be offended), and you won’t give them anything either. I wonder if you might ruffle a few feathers – or might you find the people you agree this with to be as relieved as you are? 🙂

3  Gifts only to children

It is true that, once we’re adults, we seem to have less and less need for gifts – or am I wrong? I at least find myself struggling, when asked by friends or family ahead of birthdays or other occasions, to come up with things that I need or want as a gift. Because more often than not, as adults, we have everything we need and want, or can buy it for ourselves. For children, however, receiving gifts, and certainly at Christmas, has magic and wonder and excitement to it – and we might say that we don’t want to deprive them of that, and establish a ‘gifts-only-to-children’ policy this Christmas. In the research I’ve mentioned above, I have found the value and number of gifts that seem appropriate for one’s children to vary – so you decide!

Doing more

Conversely we could also do more of what feels joyous and meaningful. Some examples for you:

4  Gift wish lists

In order to fully enjoy our giving, and make sure we also delight the receiver with our gift, we could work with gift wish lists. Everyone has one, everyone else has access to it, and that way we make sure we give the gifts that will be needed, cherished and appreciated. A gift wish list might help us focus our gift-giving, too – perhaps give less because we know we’ll give the right thing(s).

5  Gift your time

The person I find it most difficult to buy a gift for, at Christmas and other occasions, is my mother. She is in her eighties, has lived a rich life, is now getting more frail and lives a quiet, contented life in her own home. When I ask her what she would like as her present, she always says she doesn’t want nor need anything, and that my visits are the best present I can give her. So that’s what I do – certainly for Christmas, and regularly throughout the year. We have chats and meals, play cards or other games, watch the telly, reminisce… And I help her with the many small things she now finds difficult to do around the house. This gift of my time is a gift my mother enjoyes and can use, and it’s a gift I find hugely meaningful and satisfying to be able to give. Gifting our time doesn’t only apply to elderly parents: It can mean spending time with or doing something special with your spouse, children or friends. Or giving your time to a charitable organisation, helping to support be with others for whom your time will be a valued gift.

6  Big fat Christmas meal together, no gifts at all

Personally, I find a No-Gifts-At-All policy for Christmas a bit severe, so I didn’t want to put it as one of my Doing-Less-At-Christmas options above. But perhaps going for no gifts at all, yet having some brilliant friends or family time at Christmas, perhaps over a big fat meal, is a bit more palatable. And it doesn’t have to be a single party providing and preparing the meal for the big friends or family group: You could decide to split the different courses to be prepared by different parties attending, or make it informal and cook the big meal together, having fun with it. Again, the emphasis here is on spending time and celebrating together – and for an Italian like me there’s no better way than doing that over a great meal! 🙂

A final thought…

…to help us escape the Consumer Christmas. How about cultivating…

7  Presence, not Presents!

Give the gift of your presence to those you’re spending Christmas with. That’s more than just being a warm body attending a Christmas do. It means wanting to really be there – awake, noticing what’s going on around you, contributing and giving of yourself, giving the food, the people and the happenings your true and undivided attention.

Try it – chances are you’ll make both yourself and others happy!

You can do this in two ways:

Be truly present within yourself 

Notice what’s going on within and around you, and attend to that:

Savour every morsel of your Christmas meal, every sip of wine offered. (Stop in time when you’ve had enough. :-)) Treasure the gifts that you’re given. Delight in others’ company, or in watching their joy about their gifts.

Stay in touch with yourself and notice what you need – don’t be afraid to take breaks from the festivities, and spend some alone-time when you notice you’re tired. Don’t feel you’re being selfish in doing that: The happier and more relaxed you can be, the greater the benefit and enjoyment for you and those around you!

Be truly present with those around you

Your undivided attention is one of the greatest gifts you can give someone.

So when you play with the children, be totally there with them. When you’re having a conversation, pay attention to it: Listen – really listen – to what is being said. And respond from a point of being there with the other person. And when you party, connect with the others around you – it doesn’t really matter whether they’re family or not – just enjoy celebrating together.

And if your Christmas is more about stressing than a blessing, check out my 3 Top Tips for Christmas Joy.

Over to you now

What’s your Christmas Presents Policy this year?

And how do you feel about adding more Presence to your celebrations?

Please share below – thanks! And a very happy Christmas to you – whether you give Presence or Presents! 🙂




Title Photo: Pixabay