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Sparkly Christmas reindeer

I’m feeling a little conflicted. Christmas music is playing, parties are in full swing and the Chrissie spirit is really gearing up for a big end of year shindig. I love the whole big Christmas thing, especially fun times with family and friends, but I’m a little aghast at the craziness that often comes with it, including the wanton excess and wastage.

Just as we’re embarking on crazed and panicked spending sprees, buying lots of useless, crappy things that will be discarded before the year’s out or that the recipients won’t want or even vaguely like (often with dollars we don’t have or shouldn’t splash around), we’re also reading constantly about the dire state of our planet and being reminded of the many, many who don’t have enough and are doing it tough. Sure, it’s great to spend the day with loved ones and indulge in some spirited gift-gifting, but it seems a trifle (pudding?) hypocritical to be rushing around buying excesses of gifts and food with little regard for what’s going on around us.

Maybe it’s time to stop the crazy, or at least get it back in control. I’ll admit I’m a bit guilty as charged. I actually LOVE presents, both giving and receiving, and Christmas is a magical time, especially now we have small grandchildren sharing the day and taking it to another level of special.  But as we edge towards Christmas day, and the pile of presents under my tree oozes out inexorably like a lava flow, until it takes up half the family room, I’m determined to stop it in its tracks, or maybe slow it down a little.

I’m not suggesting a gift free Christmas (personally I couldn’t cope though some happily choose that path), but I am trying hard to be sensible and thoughtful.

If you’re keen to master the madness, here are a few ideas to keep the joy of this magical season while remaining mindful of the impacts of our self-centred holiday carry-on.

Rein in the crazy

There are few things more disturbing that a pack of ungrateful, crazed kids ripping through piles of presents, wild eyes flashing, flinging discarded paper and boxes upwards as they dive onto the next one, with little idea what was in the previous gift let alone who it was from. It’s even worse when the adults do it. This is not Christmas spirit, and hardly joyful.

There’s a rule in our family to slow things down: only one present can be unwrapped in the room at any one time, distributed by the appointed ‘Santa’. This can take a looooong time, but what’s the rush? Of course, a calm, elongated present-opening session means you will be terribly delayed in putting on the planned Christmas lunch, which you then won’t get to eat it until at least 2pm when everyone is half-tanked and it’s as hot as Hades (at least in the Southern Hemisphere) , but it wouldn’t feel like Christmas otherwise. At least not at our place.

Christmas wreath

This is not a competition

Don’t feel you have to compete with others to be the best gift giver or the most generous aunt or uncle. Being extravagant won’t necessary buy you popularity. Set limits. Stick to them.

What about a Secret Santa? That’s where rather than buying everyone in your family or circle a gift, you are allocated one particular person to buy for anonymously. Only one present to buy! There are various versions and you can set a sensible limit. We’re doing a $20 Stealing Santa this year with an extended family group, which means if someone opens a gift that gives you present-envy, you’re allowed to steal it from them. Introduces a bit of jostling and sometimes hard stares and coercion, but it’s a bit of fun, and you have a better chance of scoring something that tickles your fancy. We allow voluntary mutual trades after the conclusion for those not sated.

Consider your recipient

Most of us like receiving gifts, but let’s be honest – who hasn’t ever received a shocker that leaves you gobsmacked. What the hell were they thinking? And then whoosh, out it goes. Do a bit of thinking/planning before you pull out your wallet and make sure what you’re buying suits the recipient and not you. Asking for suggestions beforehand can be useful, and let the receiver know they can exchange the present if they’d like. Check with the store first about that (most at least exchange), and keep the receipt.

Buy practical things

Forget oodles of hand cream or talcum powder (does anyone actually use that anymore?) that sit lonely in dark cupboards for years to come – go for things people will actually use.


  • Clothing or other ‘needed’ items still make lovely gifts. The old socks and jocks may be a bit predictable, but they’re pretty useful. At least most of us wear undies.
  • Consider the person’s habits or hobbies – thing for the garden, tools, towels – stuff people will use.
  • Think edible. Delicious things make great gifts and are practically guaranteed to be consumed. I mean, who throws out chocolate? For the clever cooking queens, go one better and make something yourself – rum balls, gingerbread men, Christmas pud.
  • What about ‘experiences’ or vouchers – a dinner out, movie tickets, a massage voucher?

Confession: I’m one of those annoying mothers who stockpiles life’s little necessities in the month or so before Christmas and then presents them for gifts. Wooden spoon just snapped? Just wait till the 25th. Out of shampoo? Whack it in a gift bag. This of course has pissed off the kids over the years. Once we wrapped a toilet seat and put it under the tree for (then) Miss 8 who was mad with anticipation for weeks looking at that big present. Not so happy when she opened it. We’re still chuckling and she’s still annoyed. To be fair, she was the one who broke it.

Give your time

Gifts don’t have to be physical things you unwrap – you can give your time or share your skills. What about visiting an elderly friend or neighbour, mowing someone’s lawn, volunteering for a week’s worth of housework, or helping someone with a task they can’t manage. No cost except your time and expertise – precious. (Mind you, I think I have a couple of unused vouchers in my dressing table drawer, expired of course, because one daughter cleverly ensured there was a use by date.)

Buy something for someone you don’t know

Many charities have come up with ingenious ways of spreading the holiday joy with catalogues of gifts you can buy for those in need on behalf of someone else. One year I ‘gave’ my children goats from World Vision which were distributed to families in Africa. We were thrilled when several months later we received a letter from our sponsor child to say her family had received a goat which provided their family with milk.

Here’s a couple of places who provide these gift catalogues online, just for starters:

World Vision



There are lots of ‘giving trees’ in shopping centres, at charities and at work places, where donated presents are distributed locally to those in need. Charities are becoming clearer about specific things they need as well. A great way to teach kids about compassion.

Consider second hand

As we become more aware of the mess we’re leaving behind us, second hand can be perfectly acceptable, even preferable for some, but remember:

  • Pick your audience, some will appreciate your thrifty and environmental stance – others will not. Very small children – perfect! Work colleagues for the Secret Santa – you risk looking like a tight-ass.
  • Don’t try to pass second hand items as new. See above.
  • I’m personally okay with re-gifting, but it should be done with thought and caution. It’s not good to palm something off to someone who else will have no use for it either, and make sure you’re not caught giving it back to the original giver. That’s rule number one – break it at your peril. Nor can you give it to someone who travels in the same circles, or who even vaguely, possibly could travel in the same circles. If you can’t remember exactly where it came from, sorry – you’re stuck with it.

Think about the planet

Think twice about buying disposable rubbish that will probably go straight into landfill in a week’s time. All those crappy little plastic things were once fossil fuels and have probably travelled quite a long way to get to you, so they’re likely to be pretty energy intensive. Same goes for rubbish decorations, plastic cutlery and other disposable items. Go easy if you can. Quality decorations will last decades so at least you don’t need to keep restocking. And remember to BYO bags when you go shopping to avoid bringing home more.

Ahhh. So many gifts. So many options.

What about you? What are you doing this Christmas? Are you on a gift giving gala or trying to be a bit restrained.


Related article:

Modern gift giving: thoughtfulness or an exercise in excess