My last post was about the plethora of children’s stuff. In two months time we will have the festival that sees most families make their greatest accumulation of childrens stuff in the year.
I like getting presents. Through Christmas and Birthday presents, I have been introduced to my favourite authors, acquired jewellery I wear frequently, and my children have discovered new interests I wouldn’t have known to share. What makes the gift special is the connection – when people want to pass on something they have enjoyed themselves, or they want to encourage something we’ve shared. It’s never about the price tag, and it certainly isn’t about the packaging; in fact, many of our most used playthings are hand-me-downs. I love that because I think of the people who gave them to us every time they are played with. They were all given in good quality, and frankly, most things I have bought for my own children come from charity shops, ebay or second hand sales.
So if gifts are about sharing a connection and the hand-me-downs are good quality, why didn’t my friends just tie a ribbon around their old toys they knew we would like and call it our Christmas present? Why did one friend donate to a charity her perfectly functioning plastic toy (that will last for generations) once her children had grown out of it, and then buy an identical new one for my daughter’s birthday?
Because we all have this hang up that whilst we happily equip our own families with second hand things, it can’t count as a gift unless we have spent a certain amount of money on it. There’s nothing new in that: there is an Old Testament story where King David says ‘I can’t give to the Lord something that has cost me nothing’. And there is nothing wrong with the principle behind it: gifts are a sign that you value people, and spending money on them is a way of saying that.
But this is now a social hang up that drives a massive amount of unnecessary production and bursting houses. People who would swear blind you can’t put a price tag on friendship still have a mental list of those who merit £10 Christmas presents, or what the going price tag is for a school birthday party. And the factories and the shops are ready to meet them. My 5 year old daughter was given 36 craft kits for her birthday because we had a shared party for the whole class and didn’t have the guts to say no presents. 36. And Yes, they have mostly been re-gifted, because in my life that’s a good thing. So these 36 craft kits, because they are mainly sold for presents, all have to be self-contained and came with their own plastic paint pots, sequins, individual plastic glue tubes, etc which are now either languishing in cupboards or landfill. Just like the “Stocking fillas”, a term that makes me shudder – many things, particularly for children, are deliberately marketed to play to your need to give something for the sake of giving, produced by factories and sold by shops for the sake of it. Yes, providing jobs, but not necessarily good jobs, and also a heck of a lot of carbon and waste once the novelty disappears.
So this year, this is what I’m saying: “To all friends and family who have us on your Christmas list. Thank you! We love your presents. But we dont need to open something in pristine packaging with a label for us to know you are our friends. If you want to skip a Christmas or a birthday, that’s fine with us. And if you have or see something second hand that you would buy for yourself or your kids, that’s good enough for us too. Our kids need our action to protect their future far more than they need new stuff.”