The most wonderful time of the year is here, and it’s worth taking a second to appreciate what this joyous time of Christmas is really all about – spending money. And lots of it. According to a report by HSBC, the average Briton spent £526 on their Christmas shopping in 2012, most of it in high street shops.
Before you vomit in disdain over my cynicism, I will admit that Christmas is also about showing love and giving cheer, but somehow I cannot help but feel that the main recipients of our love and cheer are retail chains.
Christmas is the end of the rainbow for any retailer, the perfect time to milk the consumers’ bank balance with flashy, tear-jerking, emotionally manipulative ad campaigns. Be it heartwarming home footage of families being awkward during Christmas, a biologically impossible friendship between a bear and a hare or just Helen Bonham Carter on screen for 5 seconds – retailers will find some clever way to launch you off to shops and convince you that you’re a terrible person if you don’t buy some generic thing they have price matched with some other shop.
If you’re not enthralled by this idea, however, here are some tips for breaking the spell and celebrating Christmas non-commercially. Not necessarily ‘on the cheap’, as that would imply being stingy or broke, but rather choosing to spend your money with a bit more care and thought towards your loved ones.
Organise a trip for your family or friends. Spend a few days hillwalking in the Highlands or spend a few nights at an inn on the Scottish isles, or even play board games and bake at your Gran’s house. If you can’t afford the time for a long trip, take them to a ceramics workshop or to see Nutcracker and get some mulled wine in town afterwards. A fun experience with your family and friends can be incomparably more worthwhile than a set of aroma candles you found next to the tills and thought were pretty cool.
Do it yourself. You don’t need a certificate in cross-stitching, nor a Pinterest profile, but those can definitely be helpful. Make a personalized gift that shows your loved ones how well you know them. Make a hamper with homemade baked goods, record a video, write a poem. Such gifts definitely say “I love you” better than a bar of soap or a tea cosy, and they will surely be remembered far longer. Large retail stores sell boring, mass-produced commodities which can, of course, be nice as well as useful, but they will never be as good as something a friend has sweated and moaned over, and never in a thousand years will they make you feel nearly as special.
Go to an independent store. With anti-Tesco stickers plastered across the West End, supporting local businesses isn’t exactly a novel idea, but it’s one worth reiterating. You are more likely to find something unique and interesting in a boutique, a charity store or a thrift shop, so as to minimise the cold bucket full of awkwardness that falls over your head when the recipient receives the same gift from someone else. And, of course, it is also a good way to support small business owners by giving them a pleasant Christmas in return.
Don’t forget to say thank you. Christmas ought to be much more than a barter of gifts. During Christmas, the time is ripe to say thank you to people who have been there for you, helped you out or just been amazing company. Don’t just tick off names from a list like it’s a chore – getting something for people you know will be getting something to you. Instead, surprise someone who you’ve been meaning to say thank you to, so that no good deed goes unreturned.