/ Money, Shopping

Is it time to ban Christmas presents?

Lump of coal wrapped with ribbon

Call me Scrooge but things have gone a little too far when it comes to Christmas gifts. We’re giving presents that won’t be used and obligating others to do the same. It’s time to sign a ‘No Unnecessary Presents Pact’.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not about to rant about banning gifts from parents or grandparents. My target is the ever-growing range of people we feel obligated to buy for – teachers, colleagues and more.

Christmas has become a retail festival and while my argument isn’t religious, I suspect the church too gets hot under the dog collar about the over-commerciality. Still, my focus is the financial impact of Christmas (or Chanukah or Eid) at a time when many are struggling.

I’ve campaigned on this for a while, and it’s wonderful to have the opportunity to share my thoughts here on Which? Conversation.

Stop creating unfair obligations on others

I get the ‘joy of giving’ but we need to think about the impact on recipients too. Generosity could hurt, not help. By giving to someone (or their children), you create an obligation on them to do the same, whether they can afford it or not.

During a recent TV talk on this subject, a crew member confided: ‘I’m so glad you’re talking about this; I’m skint and dreading anyone giving me gifts as I can’t afford to buy back, but feel terrible if I don’t.’

In these financial climes, sometimes the best gift is to release somebody from this obligation.

Our finances are mis-prioritised

Anthropologists tell us gift giving was originally a form of ‘social banking’. In other words, when you’re young and marrying, older people would give to you to help you get started. When older, you’d do the same for younger generations.

But Christmas gift giving is a zero-sum game: people exchange gifts of similar value at the same time. Imagine David gives a £20 scarf to Nick; in return, Nick gives £20 cufflinks. The net result is that Nick has spent £20 to get the scarf.

Yet if Nick is skint, would he really have chosen to spend his hard-earned £20 on a scarf? Perhaps he’d have bought food for his children, paid bills or replaced worn-out shoes.

We give never-used gifts

From naff socks from Aunty Joan to talking novelty breasts from workmates, unwanted and unused gifts are sent all the time. Many sit panicking with a ‘to-buy-for’ list muttering ‘must get something, must get anything’ yet why spend just for the sake of it? It’s not helpful for our finances or landfills.

There’s a stigma to the suggestion of not giving, and it’s a difficult topic to broach.

That’s just the start of this Moneyfesto. Think about how Christmas educates children to be retail snobs. At five they often care more about the wrapping and joy than the actual gift. By 15 they’re competing on brands and gift-giving inflation sets in.

This isn’t militancy; it’s pragmatism. By taking a puritan approach, I hope to soften the entrenched habit of obligated gift-giving. People could spend time not cash, donate to charity, agree ‘No Unnecessary Present Pacts’ with colleagues or friends, cap spending or do a Secret Santa – all steps in the right direction.

Martin Lewis, journalist, broadcaster and consumer campaigner is the creator of MoneySavingExpert.com, the UK’s biggest money website, with almost 10 million monthly unique users and Citizens Advice Consumer Champion.

Catherine says:
9 December 2010

It’s about time that we turned our back on the Christmas industry and focussed on each other and relationships.People who get presents they don’t like tend to react to the giver and over a period of a couple of years it can become a contest as to who can give the most unwanted presents.
A secret santa is a good idea but ask people two or three months ahead for 3 preferred gifts to choose from because the worst thing is for the giver to ask 1 or 2 weeks before and you’re on the spot. It’s happened to me and I eventually said something just for the sake of it.
This year I’d been saving for a Kindle and when asked was able to say ‘yes please’ to something I really wanted and can now use some of my saved cash for e-books.

Steve says:
9 December 2010

Every year I give cash to my brother and sister and they do likewise. Last year I was very generous and gave them a cheque for a million pounds each. They were also generous and each gave me a milliion pound cheque. I have not cashed my cheques yet , neither have they, but that is because we can’t find a branch of santa bank anywhere.
No one in my family expects a present from me so no one is ever dissapointed. ************* they do get surprised when I do get them something, but I have stopped drinking at Christmas time so that does not happen very often now. LOL .

It would be more special if we celebrated Christmas every hundred years instead of annually.

DEAN says:
9 December 2010

I only send xmas cards to my parents. I cant see the point in giving cards to everyone at work that you see every day. I always get a load of chocolate from the supermarket you can always get a 5 pack of mars,twix,bounty,kit-kat, ect, on offer for £1 and i give them a bar each and say this is your xmas card. so i dont really save any money but i dont have to spend a whole night writing cards out. for years i have been telling them not to give me a card but they always do which i put straight in the bin

Sorry I disagree – It gives me great pleasure to present small gifts in “the season of good will” to show my appreciation of other people – but I don’t expect anything back. I do get pleasure in deciding what small gift will bring pleasure – that can be money if appropriate,

Though I freely admit that we send Xmas cards to all members of our small charity for dogs in appreciation of the help they’ve given in the past – and hope at the same time they will help us in the future. Many do. The biggest beneficiaries are the dogs we find homes for.

That way we all have a Happy “Christmas” remembering some other religions also have a celebration at about the same time.

susiewaffles says:
9 December 2010

As a Christian…..Christmas is all about the first 6 letters to me!!!
Christmas is a celebration of Christ’s birth and not for all the spend spend spend on presents that are rarely wanted or used. I do enjoy sending and receiving cards but along with friends we have decided that spending large amounts of money on presents seemed wastelful. I have a fantastic Christmas without all the moaning and groaning that I hear others doing as they trudge round shops etc. I enjoy sponsoring a child via a Christian charity who needs my money far more!
Jesus is the reaon for the season!!!!!!!!!!!!! God bless everyone this Christmas.

I’m not too interested in the religious aspects of the festival – I’m more interested in the joyful spirit of the time which is probably pagan anyway. I love the idea of getting together with friends. I am Jewish 🙂

It also must be remembered that many shops rely on the sale of goods and toys at this time – to survive the year.

Steph says:
10 December 2010

Give me your presence, not your presents…….!

We’ll be talking about this on the podcast (goes live Wednesday 15th December) which.co.uk/podcasts.
Also, the true costs of lords a leaping, and whether your Christmas nightmares (burst pipes etc) can be soothed by emergency insurance.

Bill the Bus says:
10 December 2010

Thank goodness for reading these comments. This is hopefully the last one we will be exchanging cards and presents now my children have reached working age, mine being the youngest siblings in this generation of the family. Have thought about this for some time but always considered myself to be a Scrooge but reading the comments has made up my mind. We will still put up the decorations but thoughts will be sent on-line and a charity donation in lieu. Like many others i hate seeing presents sat in a cupboard never to be used. We will continue buying presents around the year but not just for the sake of it. Merry Christmas all.

Cathy says:
10 December 2010

I recognise that many people nowadays end up buying unwanted gifts for others, feeling that they ‘must give something’ and that this isn’t a good use of anyone’s money, time, or manufacturing resources.

But we need to ask ourselves where this pressure comes from. Is the person giving the gift really expecting something back, or is sometimes that the recipient feels they ‘must’ respond, when in fact the recipient would rather they didn’t if they can’t afford to do so?

I disagree strongly with Martin’s statement “By giving to someone (or their children), you create an obligation on them to do the same, whether they can afford it or not.” Genuine giving creates no obligation at all – a gift is something freely given, regardless of the response. Anything given that creates an obligation is not a gift – it’s a contract, or half an exchange, or trade, or similar. It isn’t a gift!

If you’re stuck in mutually miserable gift-giving relationships, by all means bite the bullet and agree a policy that will change things (no gifts, limited value gifts or whatever) But lets not rule out that there are many people who are cheerfully, generously, even sacrificially giving – both at Christmas and throughout the year – with no expectation of reward. And let’s not perpetuate the idea that gifts HAVE to be reciprocated.

I’m just concerned that for every person reading this discussion who breathes a sigh of relief and says ‘I feel like that’ there will be others for whom receiving gifts which they haven’t returned will now feel guilty, where previously they just felt grateful and blessed!

Zaika says:
10 December 2010

I agree with all you say – and with that contributed by most responders.

I also note that, at Christmas, the “numbers game” plays an important part with some people of all ages – but particularly with the 18-30’s.

For the past few years, since she has had her “own” money, my daughter has been buying Christmas cards and sending them to anyone and everyone with whom she had the slightest contact – whether it was students at her university or, more recently, colleagues who worked with her. Why? Simply so that they would be obliged to return the favour such that she could proudly announce her delight in the number of cards she had received – claiming that this meant she was so well thought of by so many people.

Similarly, it’s the same with presents. These are numerous, and mostly cheap tat – presented early enough to ensure a return gift is secured, and, again, the ‘enforced’ receiving of such heralds the crowing announcement to everyone who is interested (or not!).

Needless to say, if no return card or gift is forthcoming, that person is removed from her Christmas list, her email and mobile contacts, social website friends, etc, etc.

Of course, we all know this is self-deceit, and, hopefully, one day she will mature enough to move away from this practice. I have stated my position – once – not, it’s down to her and her life’s experiences.

Meanwhile, my wife and I consider Christmas to be a time to enjoy each other, to get together with friends and family, and simply to relax, reflect, and look forward to the future. Our cards are sent only to our distant families and friends; presents are restricted to the home only – one main ‘special’ and a very few, just for amusement.

Nick Holt says:
10 December 2010

6 days ago I was in Manger Square, Bethlehem. Up to 60% male unemployment in some areas. Reduced number of tourists this year. A world away from the schmatlz, glitz and even bling of some UK Christmas preparations! As a passionate Christian (world away from ghastly ‘churchianity’) I long for the reality of what Incarnation is all about to infuse people’s lives. Our identity is not tied up in things – but in relationships. With God, with others, with ourselves, with the planet. Deep justice, and true freedom – and, no – this is not some unthinking ‘nutter’. Having watched 40 ************ come and go and each tied up with the ‘merry go round’ Martin speaks of nothing new. By the way, Martin, how do they do things in Norley – especially at that amazing school there? Are any others ‘Not Ashamed’ of the real manger account? Curious?

consumer- not says:
15 December 2010

this is a great debate, and am so glad that people are thinking about this. The dillemma is of course that the economy relies heavily on the Christmas sales, infact our economic structure requires every one to be greedy and do lots of shopping ,it doesnt really want anyone to evaluate why they are buying anything, just as long as they keep buying. Apparently it is a healthy successful nation if business does well. people depend on jobs so they can buy and inturn this creates the demand that secures the jobs……

buying things which we need is understandable, but buying for the sake of competition, vanity, greed, is just ridiculous use of resources . I could even understand and partially excuse excessive celebrations if all those buying actually held Christian sentiments, but obviously this is not the case… the whole world celebrates christmas in some for or the other..(even in non Christianity countries) this is ofcourse due to the success of the media. they have made it possible and acceptable for us to celebrate somthing in which we are not required to belive in..

I love being with my family at Christmas and this is really the best bit. Being with those I love for a few days over Christmas is magical for me. I really love giving presents to them and seeing their faces light up is great, as I know what they all need or will find useful. It is a way of helping my children as they make their way in life and for my parents who deserve a few luxuries, having grown up in the war. My parents know I appreciate all they have done for me but it gives me pleasure to treat them every so often, Christmas being one occasion. I make a mental note during the year of the perfect gift/s for each person and that becomes their Christmas gift/s. It makes me so happy to know I have given them something that they are needing.

I always give a small gift to anyone who has helped me during the year to say thank you, and that makes me happy too. It is also nice for them to know they are appreciated.

Is there anything wrong with showing a little generosity towards those you love? It doesn’t stress me out as I have completed my purchases by the beginning of December.

I have been emailing my Christmas greeting to as many of my friends and family as I can for several years now and send a letter to those that I can’t. The money I would have spent on cards and postage is donated to charity.

Good discussion here. Clearly Martin has stuck a chord with many readers.
I travel to Ireland for most Christmases and end up trying to fit lots of gifts into lugguage for the extended family. Its Okay if you know what the recepient would appreciate but otherwise it can be a bit hit and miss. This year I felt the whole thing is getting out of hand – a lot of frantic shopping, wrapping, and travelling leading up to a mad exchange of gifts and not much quality time spent with people. I will be re-thinking my gift giving policy for 2011 – maybe experience gifts or booking something for family members to do together would be a more meaningful approach. Ideas welcome!

The heading suggests the formation of a special police force to ensure no presents are given, which has nothing to do with the content of the article. No, Martin is scared stiff of being branded a Scrooge and suggests we all sign “No Unnecessary Presents Pacts”, no doubt drawn up by expensive lawyers. May I quote Shakespeare: “Conscience does make cowards of us all” and suggest if you want to stop receiving presents, you stop giving them.

John Symons says:
21 October 2011

My wife and parents and I have had a christmas and birthday present amnesty for years. Children and grandchildren get what adults call “drinking vouchers”

9 December 2012

Christmas since after 2001 has been hell or more expensive with weather from mild to freezing now reports this year hundreds rely on food giveaways food banks giving away tins of food etc.. Bad enough little or no family to give to or live with, by these charity harsh ~ budget cuts struggling times

All i want for Christmas is you – someone a new happy family, new year parties at home, making friends, non alcohol as well as some modern drinking let’s be trusted give someone in need your heart this xmess so give it away merry xmas

[Please don’t type all in capitals. Thanks, mods.]

Obviously not a Which? Trusted Trader.

What is doubly annoying is that this posting was a matter of ‘Report’ by me within minutes of its appearance, and it’s still here.
The ‘mods’ who have been so assiduous in removing so much, so quickly, of that which is either mild phatic interaction, or seems to present a challenge to their authority, have left this [criminal incitement] non sense in place for so long.