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It’s that time of year again when our attention is on Christmas gifts. The nights are drawing in, pretty lights shine out across town and everywhere we look there is sparkle and glitter. It’s an exciting time, especially for children, but for parents it can be conflicting and stressful as we try to manage our finances, keep our children happy and prevent our homes from being buried under mountains of plastic!

It doesn’t help that every year the preparations seem to start earlier and earlier, with shops selling advent calendars in August and festive displays going up so early, ramping up the anticipation to fever pitch. So is it time to rethink our materialistic festive giving habits and aim for a more peaceful Holiday season for everyone?

The problem with presents…

  • As we all know, having a family is an expensive business at the best of times; for many families, already juggling day-to-day finances, spending lots of extra money on gifts at Christmas time can be stressful. The shadow of January’s credit-card bill risks looming over the festivities and spoiling our enjoyment.
  • We are all increasingly aware of the environmental impact of our choices on the world, and it is important to develop this awareness in our children too. Transportation and excess packaging take a huge environmental toll, as does the manufacture of all those shiny new toys and gadgets.
  • By giving our children so much stuff, we risk making it impossible for them to truly value and enjoy what they do have. A US study found that the more toys preschool children were given, the less able they were to play imaginatively with them.
  • Mass consumerism can also lead our children to believe that the key to happiness lies in acquiring ever more material things, and risks creating an attitude of entitlement amongst children.
  • Present buying can become competitive or guilt based. Some families try to outdo each other on expensive or unusual gifts. Or some just get caught up in the gift giving frenzy and buy for everyone they know. Then the recipient of the gift feels they have to reciprocate at a similar value, whether they can afford it or not.

What are the alternatives?

  • Some families go by the four-gift rule for each child; something they want, something they need, something to wear and something to read. This helps to keep spending manageable and gives children the opportunity to think about the difference between needs and wants when they are talking about what they would like from Santa Claus.
  • It would be an idea to have a mature and sensitive conversation with family and friends to establish if you would all be happy with an alternative to the exchange of gifts between everyone. You may decide to only buy presents for the children or for there to be just one gift for Mum, one for Dad, one for Auntie Gina, one for Grandma etc.
  • There is a growing trend for giving others experience-based gifts. It doesn’t need to be an expensive package – for pre-schoolers, a trip to a park or nature reserve can be an exciting adventure. Older children often love to spend quality one-to-one time with an adult on a trip to a café or the cinema.
  • If you like making things, handmade gifts are often greatly appreciated for the time and effort put into them. Children can get involved in making gifts too, learning that there is lots of joy and satisfaction in giving gifts as well as receiving them (and your gifts will have added cute-factor too!).
  • There are always opportunities around the Holidays to get involved in charitable giving. Some schemes involve packing a parcel with small gifts and sweets to be sent off around the world and most children love to get involved in choosing gifts for others. Many organizations also collect toys, toiletries and warm clothing to be distributed locally to those in need at this time of year.

So as we speed on into December, why not focus on spending time with family and friends instead of money – giving our presence instead of presents!

Talk about this with your children too, focusing on how fun it will be to spend time with family as you look forward to the Holidays.


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