General ramblings

Is a Buy Nothing Christmas the Answer?

I pitched an article to the Daily Mail about having a Christmas with less, and trying to swim against the stream of mass consumerism and frenzied spending that seems to engulf us all at this time of year.

To my surprise, they were interested, so I wrote this piece here, which went live on their website yesterday.
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And then it all went a bit bonkers, and I didn’t even dare to read the comments.
Hubby read them for me, and although there were some supportive ones, there were also the ones predictably accusing us of being mean, and tight-fisted, and worrying on our behalf that our kids were going to end up being bullied.
I usually try not to be inflammatory, and will shy away from confrontation and controversy, but I really do feel like this is a conversation we should all be having.
I think we all recognise on some level that Christmas is getting out of hand. Or at least that Christmas presents are getting out of hand.
The planet simply cannot sustain our current levels of consumption, even at ‘normal’ times of year. And all this stuff doesn’t actually make us any happier.
So if we all recognise that it’s an issue, maybe we just don’t know what to do about it, or where to start. Or maybe we worry about how to do something about it without ending up feeling like Scrooge, and worrying that our kids will feel deprived.

So is a Buy Nothing Christmas the answer?
In all honesty, probably not.
It’s totally achievable (I wrote a piece for the Mirror a couple of weeks ago with ideas on how to do it), but possibly not all that desirable for most people.
But it is the polar opposite of what Christmas seems to have become, and starts a conversation about the possibility of ‘another way’.

I love Christmas. Especially with my kids at the ages that they are (7 and 4). It’s a really magical time of year for them, and to see it through their eyes makes the magic come alive again for us too.
I want my kids to remember their Christmas’s fondly. I want them to remember the magic, and the joy.
I wrote last week about childhood memories of LOTS of presents, and how this clashes with the values I have now as a grown up and as a parent. I ‘confessed’ there is still a part of me, that I try very hard to ignore, that still equates Christmas with huge piles of presents and over-flowing stockings. But actually when I think back to childhood Christmas’s I struggle to remember what I was given from one year to the next. And the other things I remember about Christmas are the more important ones-like the times we spent playing cards round the kitchen table, and the memorable occasion when my Nan shook her dice in her G&T instead of in the dice shaker.

The point I am trying to make by writing and talking about a Buy Nothing Christmas, is that Christmas doesn’t have to be all about the presents.
I’m trying to address the elephant in the room, the one hiding behind the Christmas tree wearing a paper hat.
There was a time, so I’m told, when kids were happy with a small stocking, and just one or two presents.
When did it become all about the presents?
At what point in time did Christmas turn into this stressful treadmill of buying and wrapping, and ripping it all open, and then trying to find places to put all the new toys?
People keep saying to me that we have lost the meaning of Christmas.
But for those who aren’t religious, what actually is the meaning of Christmas?
Are we reduced to worshipping at the shrine of consumerism and offering up our credit cards to the big corporations, in exchange for a few short lived moments of excitement and anticipation, before the wrapping paper is ripped off and the gift discarded as we move onto the next one?
Is that really all it has become?

I think there is a middle ground to be found somewhere.
In between the current excesses, and a Buy Nothing pantomime villain.
And I think that that middle ground will be different for everyone.
For us, this year, it will be about homemade bits and bobs, and experience gifts, and creating new traditions for our family.
There will be decorations (the pompom tree is here to stay!); there will be festive food (the cake and pudding are the only two bits of prep I managed before December); there will even be presents.

But there will also be board games, and snuggling up on the sofa with the fire on, and decorating the cake together.
There will be pantomimes, and walks round town to spot all the lit up houses.
And there will be each other. And time. Together.
It won’t be perfect-Christmas never is.
But it will be our imperfect, intentional, Christmas.



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  • Reply Helen Butt December 13, 2015 at 9:47 am

    It is hard to ignore the negative comments (one reason I binned my Facebook account – in case you were wondering where I’d gone). However, the article will have had a positive impact. Every time a person sees that they don’t have to spend ludicrous amounts of money on essentially nothing of value, they are more likely to change their own behaviour.

    Have a brilliant Christmas, anyway!

    I have actually spent a lot more money than usual but my daughter and I are going to have a wonderful time with the experiences rather than goods 🙂

    • Reply Jen December 15, 2015 at 7:37 pm

      Hi Helen!
      How are you finding ‘life without Facebook’?!
      Experiences sounds like a great way to go 🙂
      Have a fab Christmas!

  • Reply dianne December 10, 2015 at 7:57 pm

    Just found your blog while trying to “console” myself on a minimal Christmas. I too, had piles of gifts under the tree growing up and I find it difficult not to do the same. Our purse and PRIORITIES are calling us too NOT spend on new and tons this ChriStmas. In my opinion, you are courageous and I think your decisions are WISE and ahead of the times.

    • Reply Jen December 15, 2015 at 7:37 pm

      Thanks so much Dianne-really means a lot to hear you say that, and has cheered me up no end!

  • Reply Angela Williams December 10, 2015 at 1:25 pm

    Well done with pitching and getting your article published on DM. I wouldn’t worry too much about the comments, most of the comments on DM articles are clearly not made with much thought.
    I think we could all do with a dose of anti-materialism around Christmas and the rest of the year for that matter. I confess to not being very good at it and like you, have memories of having overfilled Christmas stockings.
    I think it’s funny how these things go in cycles. My mum’s generation had very frugal Christmases with just an orange and a home made toy. The baby boomers had too much of everything and now we’re going back to the frugality again.

    • Reply Jen December 15, 2015 at 7:38 pm

      Hi Angela
      Yes, it does seem to go in cycles-hopefully this current frugal cycle will catch on and be here to stay!

  • Reply Tass December 8, 2015 at 7:05 pm

    I forgot to say that we’ve always given our kids very simple, traditional stockings:
    A Clementine, dried fruit, some shiny coins all individually wrapped in foil. They also get a small handmade item from Father Christmas & a handwritten letter saying thanks for being good. And we ‘dress’ the sitting room to make it look like FC really has come down the chimney!! Amazing how much mess you can make if you prepare well.

    I haven’t worked out how to completely avoid the High Street shops though. We confine our purchases to things our family ‘need’ and have generally waited several months for.

    • Reply Jen December 8, 2015 at 10:59 pm

      That all sounds so lovely Tass! I love the handwritten note-super sweet!

  • Reply Tass December 8, 2015 at 6:02 pm

    Hi Jen. I’m loving this site & all your posts. Christmas *is* about giving but our family prefers to do these things:
    a) make presents ourselves (cooking, leatherwork, sewing)
    b) support local small traders/friends who make quality versions of items that we’d like
    c) arrange outings and give as ‘vouchers’
    d) see our friends

    We’re strapped for cash so why make it worse for ourselves?

    When I’m old, I’ll have memories of the places I’ve been & the people I’ve known. I derive little pleasure from owning mass produced ‘stuff’ but do enjoy the quirky & one-off utility items like handmade mugs.

    Keep it up Jen & don’t get demoralised!

    • Reply Jen December 8, 2015 at 10:59 pm

      Thanks so much for the support!

  • Reply Kizzy December 8, 2015 at 5:07 pm

    So sorry you had to put up with those horrible comments. I’m going to try and cut back this year although I have brought mine presents, they’ve only had a couple from us this year as I’m starting my #slowlylived project and will be decluttering and trying to live a simple minimal lifestyle in 2016.

    • Reply Jen December 8, 2015 at 11:00 pm

      A #slowlylived project sounds fab Kizzy!

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