Lisa Skinner gives some hot tips to bless your nearest and dearest at this Christmas season
A cherished film in our household during the festive season is The Grinch Who Stole Christmas. The standout moment occurs towards the end when the Grinch, having stolen all the Whos’ gifts, realises that Christmas came just the same because Christmas transcends material possessions. He declares, ‘‘Maybe Christmas…doesn’t come from a store. Maybe Christmas…perhaps…means a little bit more!’’
For many of us, including Christians, the commercialisation and excessive consumption surrounding this time of year can distract us from its true essence of the Christmas story. This isn’t to say that the act of gift-giving is inherently negative. The Magi, for instance, offered significant gifts to the infant Jesus symbolising kingship, deity, and the promised Messiah. Saint Nicholas, a fourth-century bishop, and the inspiration behind Santa Claus, also exemplified generous giving motivated by his love for God.
As someone who works to help people declutter their lives, I find that Christmas exacerbates the problem of clutter and the challenge of managing possessions. Well-intentioned friends and family express love through gifts, we end up with toiletry sets, underwear, scarves/neck ties and the like. While many of these may be unwanted gifts, it can be a struggle to let go of them because they were gifted by a loved one.
On the other hand, the act of buying gifts for others can leave the recipient feeling obliged to give back. There’s a great episode in The Big Bang Theory where the socially awkward character Sheldon Cooper is presented with a gift by his neighbour Penny and he tells her – “I know you think you are being generous, but the foundation of gift giving is reciprocity. You haven’t given me a gift. You’ve given me an obligation.” The reality is that gift giving can sometimes create a burden for people.
Studies show that one in five people rack up unnecessary debt because of Christmas, debt which may well take them until Easter (or after) to pay off. The tradition of giving is indeed worth embracing, but in a time of overconsumption, and a cost-of-living crisis, the act of giving prompts reflection on alternative approaches.
At its heart the Christmas message is all about love, the love of God the son, who chose to leave the splendour of heaven to come down and dwell amongst his people. It makes sense that Christmas affords us the opportunity to show love to others and an obvious way of doing so may be through gifts but what sort of gifts? I’m an avid believer in love languages as documented by author Gary Chapman, he points to five such languages – words of affirmation; quality time; acts of service; receiving gifts; physical touch. The book underscores that not everyone feels loved through material gifts. For many, the gift of time holds greater impact and significance. But how do we gift time? Maybe your loved one needs a child-free night and would benefit from an evening of free babysitting. Perhaps they would like a night of not having to cook and would be glad of the provision of a meal (homemade or in the form of a takeaway delivery). Maybe they are long overdue a night out with friends.
Other ways of gifting time to people could be to pay for a session or two with a house cleaner/professional organiser, or a car wash, or even a massage or manicure/pedicure.
Quality time could be enjoyed while undertaking experiences together, you could gift vouchers for Afternoon Tea; an evening at the Ballet; a Concert; the Theatre; a restaurant; an ice-cream parlour (for kids); movie passes; indoor rock climbing; a Daddy-Daughter date; a Hot Air Balloon ride; an Escape Room; a Roller Disco; an evening at the Orchestra; an adventure park or soft play centre (for kids); a round of Golf; a sporting event; a Spa Day; a Photo shoot. Whatever it may be, you’ll never regret the time you spend with the people you love.
Alternatively, there may be others who will feel loved through acts of service/kindness. While acts of kindness should never be limited to Christmas time, it is a time when people are more open to receiving a gift in the form of practical help. You may know friends who are feeling the pinch this year, it could be that instead of buying them a gift you could help with the payment of a utility bill, a car payment or rent. Maybe they would appreciate a tank full of petrol, their oil tank filled, or some childcare. You might even provide the ingredients for their Christmas dinner. You will have a better sense of what your friend needs, don’t hesitate, gift them some help and take some of the pressure off this Christmas.
Another subtle way of meeting people’s needs is to give them consumables like a hamper; produce from local food artisans like cheese/chocolates/cupcakes/mallows etc. You could gift them a case of their favourite drink or a grazing board, maybe a coffee or restaurant voucher. If they enjoy flowers, you might think about buying them a wreath or table arrangement for Christmas. The best thing about these gifts is that they don’t last so they will not clutter up your home in the long term.
Yet another way of ensuring that your friends and family enjoy a clutter free Christmas is to buy them a workshop or a course of classes. Last year one of my dearest friends purchased an early Christmas present for me in the form of a wreath making workshop. We did the class together, embracing our creative sides and having fun at the same time. I also got to showcase a very fine-looking wreath (if I do say so) on my front door for the duration of the festive season. This is just one of many workshop ideas, you might also consider art painting workshops (for adults or kids); a cookery school, a pottery workshop; ceramics classes; flower workshops; woodturning classes; sewing classes; animation workshops (for kids); millinery classes, letter writing/calligraphy classes.
There are some gifts that just keep giving. Passes, memberships and prescriptions will continue to bless recipients long after Christmas has been packed up and forgotten about for another year. Again there are so many options: National Trust/Historic Royal Palaces membership; RSPB membership; sporting season tickets; Zoo/Aquarium/Farm membership; Soft Play membership; swimming lessons; Gym membership; flower subscription; Inflata Park passes; subscription to Netflix/Amazon Prime/Disney Plus/Sky.
For those loved ones that have everything, you know the ones who continually buy themselves the things they want, maybe go down the sentimental route and give them something money can’t buy, like a beautifully curated recipe book with a collection of family favourites, possibly including a few that have been passed down through the generations. Alternatively, you could make them a custom photobook using an online website like Vistaprint, Snapfish or Freeprints Photobooks. Such gifts take a bit more time to create but they are unique and will no doubt be cherished.
When it comes to young children, they will always want to be greeted by gifts on Christmas morning, of course they will and we love to give them good things. A good rule of thumb is to buy them something they want, something they need, something to wear and something to read. It’s proven to be a good gift giving strategy in our home, with no complaints so far.
If you’re still in doubt as to what to buy the ones you love, simply ask them what they need, that way they’ll not be holding on to a questionable knitted jumper in 20 years’ time, unable to part with it because it was a gift!
For more tips on rethinking Christmas gifts this year check out the Christmas highlight on Lisa’s Instagram page @orderinthehouseni