It’s about time that I write about Christmas, given that my blog is about happiness and consumption. I suggest we can decouple Christmas from spending, especially overspending, i.e. we can celebrate Christmas happily while living within our means, and the earth’s means.
What we all need is a rich quality of life: loving relationships; health; meaningful work or other pursuits; clean air, water and food; good, warm shelter; a sense of security and belonging; the chance to use our talents.
High quality of life is separate from a high standard of living. The latter is measured in numbers, i.e. the size of our houses, the year our cars were made, the labels that our clothes and wine bear . . . . . and the number and size of Christmas gifts we give and receive.
Accept that love and spending money are two different things. They’re simply not the same. They don’t have to go together, so decouple them in your mind like handcuffs from a prisoner’s wrists. While it can feel great to spend money on those we love, we also spend on lots of things unrelated to love. And when we love someone, we have hundreds of ways to express it besides spending money on them. Love. Spending money. Two . Different. Things.
Even if you can afford the old-fashioned high-spending Christmas, consider simplifying for two good reasons: 1.) you can build your reserves (savings) with what you don’t spend (helps build peace of mind and quality of life) and 2.) you’re making it more normal and acceptable to everyone around you to consume modestly. The earth benefits from this.
When gifting, try focusing on experiences rather than stuff. If your family’s income is middle class or above (like that of most Internet readers) then people may already have all the stuff they need. Research shows that most new stuff ends up in landfill within a year. What does your loved one really love doing? Dancing? Nature hikes? You listening to them sing, or watching them play sports, or you singing or playing a sport with them? Eating that specialty dish you make once in awhile? I would turn cartwheels if a certain family member would read my writing and discuss it with me for a Christmas gift-experience.
When you do buy, buy from locally owned businesses, and self-employed people, especially artisans. That way a higher percentage of your dollars-spent go directly toward a person making a living doing meaningful work he/she is invested in. You’re also building relationships and financial strength in your community.
Create new traditions if the old ones aren’t working or don’t apply this year. If unemployment has struck your family, then shared experiences (see below) and few to no ‘wrapped gifts’ might be the right new tradition. Ask some trusted friends or family to support you in your new policy, or to join you in not buying gifts.
Wrap gifts in newspaper or aluminum foil with colorful ribbons, rather than buying fancy wrapping you’ll throw away. A newspaper from a foreign country that’s of interest to the recipient is a lovely touch. Reuse the aluminum foil in the kitchen (aluminum requires enormous amounts of energy to produce).
If you are dollar-poor, make up the difference with boldness and creativity. One starving-artist Christmas (I had several of these earlier in my life) I actually gave a boyfriend a library book as a gift. Sure, he had to return it in three weeks — but it was the exact, obscure book he had wanted, about this man who had canoed all the way down the Columbia River. My brothers howled with laughter, but the boyfriend was very happy with it. I know you’re thinking I’m way too eccentric, and you’re not about to give someone a library book — but the point is for you to travel outside your own box, and have fun doing it.
Consider gifting something you already own and can happily give away. I have done this with books, jewelry and artwork when the item was clearly suited to a friend. The friends were delighted, and it fostered a closeness that store-bought gifts generally have not.
Be audacious. Decouple Christmas from spending, and focus on people instead of stuff. Barter rather than buy, if you get the chance. Foster a high quality of life that nurtures your loved ones and the earth, rather than on a high-dollar high standard of living that may nurture neither.