Merry Christmas – and how to handle the “gift question”?

How to have a nice christmas without surrendering to consumerism?

How to have a nice christmas without surrendering to consumerism?

A very quick Christmas post, before heading off for family business.

Topic is obvious: Presents!

It maybe a bit late now, but an ongoing discussion among all wanting to life more frugal is:

How do we handle Christmas presents?!

On the one side the idea behind a present is certainly a positive one, on the other side, todays culture forces many people into a blind flush of consumerism which is quite opposed to the christmas time idea to concentrate on the important things in life.

Thus, a good christmas / festive season should concentrate on the important aspects. Those are:

  • Spending time together with loved ones
  • Calm down a bit from the constant level of stress a stimulation of today’s world
  • Please those that you love, and also strangers and others around you
  • Creat a positive and feel-good atmosphere
  • Think of the not so fortunate people in the world (!)

All in all, as usual, the premise “less is better” and “time instead of stuff” holds true.

E.g. it is a known psychological fact, that two presents are considered less valuable by the receiver, than one. (This is due to some averaging of value going on in the mind, i.e. if you give away an expensive book and a bar of chocolate on top, the mind will downgrade the value of the book to the average between book and chocolate) (“Presenters Paradox”)

When it comes to presents, I would distinguish between children and adults:

  • Children cannot buy their own stuff. It is our job as adults to provide for them in all ways, among others by giving them the amount of toys they need. For children, christmas obviously is magic, thus I do see nothing wrong in giving presents to them. Obviously practical, high quality instead of quantity stuff, and a few selected ones instead of tons of toys, which would do them no more good but overwhelm them and would steer them to a use-and-throw-away-way-of-thinking.
  • Adults can buy their own stuff, and are in fact good at deciding what they really need. Thus I’d tend to limit presents to a bare minimum among adults, and instead give common time, an excursion, a cooking, whatever to them.

It is however not easy to get away from the habit of excessive gift exchange.

Here is the way Woodpeckers are testing currently:

  • A proposal to resign from presents among adults by my was unfortunately rejected in the past (damn democracy).
  • So we resorted to a more long term “leading by example” strategy: I started in the last years to buy the same amount of presents as usual for others, but when asked what I would like to get, I listed e.g. some interesting hard-cover books plus that I’d prefer used books and where to get them as they are just as good and save the environment. Needless to say that Mrs. Woodpecker is quite modest in her (material) wishes as well.
  • We also added, that if in doubt, consumable gifts (good food!) are way prefered to “funny” or “extravagant” stuff that ends in the bin rather sooner than later.
  • People followed these wishes in most cases, and I got meaningful things at bargain prices for the givers.
  • After some time, others started to join in, downshifting their wishes and their presents, following our example to go for more practical things and reasonable value.
  • Slowly a general “less stuff” mentality seems to spread now within all of the extended family.
  • For the kids there is a clear “max one present” per giver rule. And we emphasize that “common events” between e.g. grandpa and his grand-son are a great thing. From my side e.g. it’ll be a father-kid excursion to the local dinosaur-museum for the older boy this year.
  • Mrs Woodpecker and I came to not exchanging stuff at all, but pleasing ourselves with a special more unfrugal event after christmas, like a common short trip without kids, a day at a spa or the like.
  • Plus this year we bought a great high-end soda machine for us (glass bottles, not the plastic crap we had before). It is waiting neatly wrapped for us in the living room since two weeks and we are looking forward to our first bottle of great tasting fresh soda from a glas bottle tomorrow!
  • And to not forget about charity! This way of giving still DOES make much sense. At Woodpeckers, total spending level (presents+charity) remains unchanged in absolute terms, but thanks to downshifting on our stuff, 75% of it goes to charity this year instead of 25% as in the past. Guess that really is a win-win situation. Think about it!

I wish you all some peaceful and relaxed days, and if you wish just share how you guys are handling christmas, presents and the like.



3 comments on “Merry Christmas – and how to handle the “gift question”?

  1. freebutfun says:

    We have a similar approach: no pressies changing between me and hubby but instead we always do something together celebrating Christmas, wedding anniversary, new year and both of our bdays (all happening in a fortnight) at once. Or we celebrate twice, like this year, the second part involving babysitters :). The kids get one main present each from us, and then something small on the side. Averaging the value of presents was a new thought to me, that may require some thought. But then kids get always several presents as there are many giving them, have you solved that one somehow? Does it matter to you? Among adults we often do a present per couple, and receive them like that too, which I find fun and within reason also spending wise. Leading as an example for regiving old stuff and how that ended up was quite amazing! The one thing I’ve been wanting to add, is that kids learn to give as well. Now when they are small, we’ve been making things to give. Gives a good excuse to do something together too!

    • mrwoodpecker says:

      Yes, we stick to the rule: one kid, one present from each giver. From us as parents one combined present, and we recommend the same to other givers. Given that there are quite a few relatives out there, our kids anyway get enough stuff.
      The way I understood it, the “averaging effect” works only for several presents from one giver.

  2. […] I read this post by Woodpecker at Good day to live, and it reminded me that I wanted to share my thoughts on […]

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