Christmas is over. All round the country, people are approaching the bathroom scales with trepidation, pushing the ‘check balance’ button on ATMs with a trembling hand, and writing thank-you letters whilst desperately trying to remember who it was that gave you those socks. But despite the seasonal wake-up call as January hits you in the face harder than the pavement outside the pub in the early hours of New Year’s Day, most of us tend to think all the Christmas frivolity was worth it.
After all, it’s a wonderful opportunity to give to others. Giving gifts can bring people together and is an expression of how much we value our relationships with each other. It gives us that much sought for ‘warm feeling’ on both sides, from knowing someone has thought about you and what you might like to receive, and from seeing someone appreciate the gift you got them.
But it’s a slippery slope. Every year the list of people to buy for gets longer and longer, and there’s always a distant aunt or second cousin, a friend in a society or seminar group who’s so full of Christmas spirit that brandy butter wouldn’t melt in their mouth, and who you weren’t expecting to get a present from, and who you told, twice, not to get you anything, but has got you one all the same. And then for reciprocity’s sake you have to go rummaging around last-minute, for a nice box of chocolates or a bottle of wine whose description on the label says something more than just ‘wine’.
It’s this side of Christmas that I take issue with. Giving should never be just for giving’s sake. A good present, for me, is one that involved some thought on behalf of the giver, and shows that they know me well. A culture of mindless mutual exchange of goods has grown up around the yuletide tradition, which can turn it into an expensive and meaningless affair. Giving a present just because you feel you have to does nothing for either person involved – it makes the other person guilty if they haven’t got you one, pressure to buy more when perhaps they can’t afford it, and perpetuates the inflation of this fringe of pointless Christmas exchanges.
Notwithstanding the reciprocity issue, the poll on the Nouse website indicates that four out of five of you agree that we spend too much on Christmas presents. It’s not hard to see why: number five in the top ten most popular Christmas gifts this year was a Macbook Pro. Now £999 is far too much to spend, given that with every purchase you’ll be creating another sickeningly smug Mac owner. Most of the top ten are priced at over £100, although you can probably now find number four, the Nintendo Wii, abandoned on eBay for less as the kiddies get bored of playing games where the sole aim is to use the Wii remote to hoover a virtual carpet.
Even the cheaper presents are worthless trinkets, such as number eight, released as part of Sarah Jessica Parker’s hit TV franchise which, as far as I can see, seems to be a new perfume that makes you smell like sex and the city.
So this is my Christmas message: next year, don’t buy presents that you didn’t really want to give and the recipient didn’t really want to get. Save your gifts for those closest to you, and make them special. And that doesn’t necessarily mean spending lots of money. The Christmases you will still remember in 50 years’ time, when we’ve genetically engineered Christmas trees to grow their own decorations, are the ones spent with your family and friends, sharing time rather than goods, and not the ones when everyone spent more than they needed to.