Our city has magically transformed into a twinkling dazzle of Christmas lights reminding us all that It’s The Most Wonderful Time Of The Year. Colors of rich forest green, deep ruby red and sparkling gold or silver create a festive atmosphere that many of us remember from our childhoods. Yes, it’s Christmas time.
But it doesn’t take long until our childlike feelings of excitement and awe are taken over from the psychological and cultural programming of modern consumerist society. We feel the urge to purchase goods we don’t need and a kind of obligation to buy gifts for others they will never use. Our materialistic reality enjoys its peak in the Christmas season as people are flooding shopping streets and malls. In the process, Christmas becomes “The Most Stressful Time Of The Year”. The list of issues around the commercialized state of the holiday is long. But the most obvious (and arguably also the most essential) problems are, that it has become:
- #expensive – The costs of celebrating Christmas have been steadily increasing over the past years. According to statistics, the average spending rates per person are €400 in Austria, £800 in the United Kingdom, and $920 in the United States.
- #superficial – Giving good gifts is not an easy task. And while there are some general guidelines helping us out on Valentine’s Day (flowers, jewelry…) and some safe choices we can always make on birthdays (chocolate…), when it comes to Christmas, the expectations for creativity are much higher. However, a lot of working adults are fully engaged and consumed in their workplaces as companies try to brush up on their numbers to reach their annual goals before closing the year. As a consequence, they don’t have any spare time (nor motivation) left to brainstorm about amazing personalized gifts for each and every friend and relative. And this is how we end up receiving bath&body gift sets, fancy kitchen utensils, ugly socks and yet the worst: puzzles. But the truth of the matter is, that these shallow presents do not represent the love and appreciation we actually have for one another.
- #unnecessary – We are all painfully familiar with the momentary struggle we experience when receiving an unbelievably useless gift: hesitating between frustration and politeness for a few seconds, we finally manage to fake a smile and say “wow, thank you so much”. Meanwhile we are already thinking of ways to get rid of “the thing” and hope, the giftgiver has left the receipt in the bag. The obvious mistake we seem to culturally make as a society is the assumption that adults work the same way as kids. Because generally speaking, children (the younger they are and the less we spoil them, of course) can be pleased and excited much easier, with almost anything we give them. Not so with adults though. Our happiness is a lot more complicated and specific. We have our own personal tastes, likes, preferences and temporary desires. And anything that falls out of this perimeter will inevitably become a bad gift.
- #wasteful – In the best case scenario, the undesired present will be returned after the holidays. However, often times they just become an additional piece of waste in the ocean of garbage we collect in our homes. Or they end up in landfills. The environmental impact of the festive season is, therefore, catastrophic. The rising awareness of climate issues in 2019, however, is a great incentive for all of us to take climate action now, starting with the ways we celebate Christmas.
A Minimalist Christmas
“We buy things we don’t need, with money we don’t have to impress people we don’t like.” Quotes like this became well-known because they resonated with so many people. And many of us feel like we are in a spiral of massive exaggeration of mindless consumerism. And thanks to the increasing environmental concerns all over the globe, it becomes even more apparent that our current, distorted lifestyle cannot be continued. We are indeed at a tipping point in human history where every measure possible needs to be taken. Starting with ourselves: with questioning and reevaluating our own Christmas habits and traditions.
Christmas used to be the celebration of family. But it seems like we have taken that part for granted and our focus has shifted primarily towards gifts. And the stress of Christmas shopping has taken over our holidays. So how can we simplify our customs to rediscover the lost purpose of the cultural celebration? Could Minimalism help?
Minimalism is a philosophy that promotes intentional living with less “things”. By actively removing the distractions of access possessions, it becomes much easier to focus on the things that matter most in life – which are usually not things anyways. Watch these TED Talks on Minimalism to find out how to buy less, stress less and live more.
This is how we can implement the concept of Minimalism for this (and every future) Christmas season:
1. The best gift you can give is time
The biggest gift we can give our loved ones is our time. And we might not realize this until we lose someone close to us. But then, the only thing we will regret is not spending more time with them. Also, there is no child who would prefer a mountain of toys over seeing its parent after a long time of absence. Time is special and we should aim for spending it meaningfully to connect with the people close to our heart. And yes, sometimes it is not feasible to visit every family member and friend over the holidays. But that is why we have modern technology. And let’s remember: a call is better than a text, and a video chat is better than a call.
2. Spend on memories, not things
If we have to spend money, let’s spend it on experiences. Gadgets remain gadgets, and have a short lifespan of a few years if not a few months only. Memories on the other hand can stay with us for a lifetime, filling our hearts with joy every time we remember them. Sounds like a good investment, right? What is more, we are redusing holiday waste that pollutes our environment. Doing activities together like cooking together or playing games, are some simple examples of making memories on Chrismas. As a gift we can offer small acts of kindness and services like babysitting, cleaning or whatever help would be appreciated around the house. Other great presents are movie-, concert- and sports tickets; restaurant vouchers; spa-, club-, museum- or zoo memberships etc. Everyone would be happy about a one-year subscription to Netflix as a gift, which is an amount we would easily spend on a tangible Christmas present too.
3. Ditch surprises, seriously
Let’s stop playing guessing games – we are not good at it. Instead of assuming and hoping for a match, why don’t we just ask people what they want for Christmas? Communication is a powerful tool that can solve most problems in life. Surely it will help us make less mistakes when shopping for presents, too. Not romantic? What is more romantic than getting exactly what your heart’s desire is? It is time to break up with the idealization of the notion of a surprise. Also, the definition of a surprise seems to be in need of some clarifications. Showing up somewhere, where and when you were unexpected, is a surprise. A pen case isn’t. Adults are hard to impress, and if they wanted or needed something, they would have bought it already. Because they have money, unlike children. That is why asking family and friends what they would like for the holidays, can save us a lot of money, awkwardness, frustration, disappointment and most importantly, waste.
4. Less is more
Easing the economic, emotional and environmental burden of Christmas giftgiving is everyone’s interest. And the good news is that all of us can change the course of the modern winter shopping apocalypse – by small decisions that have a great impact. Instead of purchasing presents for this holiday season, we can agree to give the biggest gift to our loved ones: our time. If we cannot go without any shopping, let’s spend on experiences, activities, services, tickets, vouchers, memberships, subscriptions and so on. Also, we shall not forget to communicate with each other before buying any gifts. And if we by no means can avoid the exchange of tangible items, let’s do it smart. We can introduce a fun system in which everyone (in the family circle) buys one gift (only!) for one family member (only!). This is a method that larger families have been successfully utilizing for a long time. Names can be picked randomly, similarly to the Secret Santa game – but of course, the presents should not be a secret. Additionally, it is wise to agree on a general budget for the presents too.
This way we can cut down on expenses, bad feelings and pollution at the same time.
Some final thoughts…
Our materialistic reality has fooled us to believe that all we care about is shiny objects. While in reality, human beings are all about connection. We can survive without fancy cars or glamorous jewelry, but not without each other. And the very reason we still exist on planet earth and didn’t get extinct yet, is love. Love is the driving force, the fuel, that pushes humankind forward with new generations despite all odds. And as a matter of fact, the concept of giftgiving too, is based on love, as it is a symbol of our appreciation for each other. So yes, gifts are nice, but what makes them special is the person behind them. And it might just take a simple inquiry about our loved ones’ wishes for the holidays to find out, that most of them would end the sentence just like Mariah Carey: “All I want for Christmas is… you.”