Friday, 7 October 2011

On my mind

Show you care - give the perfect gift?

Christmas, I am told, is on its way. It is a time to be with family, to enjoy each other's company, especially when there is a distance between you. It is often one of the few times where all of you will sit down together for a meal or for an afternoon, to simply enjoy being together, reminisce and remember people who are not there. Whether you are religious or not, Christmas is a time to think about the year past and the year to come (much more so than New Year for me) and to reflect upon your own life and those who you love.

So why is it that it has also become such a nightmare for a lot of us? It is usually sometime during the next couple of months that various family members will begin to ask me: 'what would you like for Christmas?'. I usually answer, without really giving any thought to the question, 'I don't know'. This is because I really don't like to be asked this question, it seems to represent all that is wrong with the whole gifting business of Christmas. The best gift anyone can ever give you is something from the heart, even when it cost nothing. To receive something you weren't expecting, or something that has been made for you, with you in mind is worth more to me that any amount of expensive gifts. I am quite a simple man and as such there is nothing I really want for. But a couple of years ago when my 9 year old (at the time) nephew bought me a book from a library sale for 10p because it was a subject matter that he knew would interest me, it meant so much that I smile every time I see it. In this way, I try hard with the adults to find or make things that will make them smile, or surprise them. Sometimes I get it right, other times it falls flat, depending on the person. But the one thing that I cannot buy into is how much something is worth in monetary terms. To be smiled at on the surface but know that beneath the surface someone is totting up how much you spent on them and whether or not they spent more than you. When did Christmas turn into that?

My other bugbear with Christmas is children's attitudes. Don't get me wrong, I don't blame them for wanting stuff, because for the most part it is the way they have been taught either by well-meaning or guilt ridden parents, or TV and advertising hand in hand with spoilt school friends. Yes, Christmas is a time for children to be excited, to enjoy some of the magic and I remember my own excitement at what gifts I would receive. The difference between then and now is quantity, both quantity of gifts and quantity of money spent. I would perhaps get one main present and 3 or 4 little things and I was wowed by all that. Perhaps my granny would give me a record, or a book and that would be that. I would be happy with the excitement of it all. Now the children I know are getting hundreds of pounds worth of presents and if that weren't bad enough, not seeming to appreciate what they have been given. Parents are under an enormous amount of pressure, I get that, but I think it is a very short sighted way of being and they are doing their children no favours by allowing them to think they can have so much just by having a tantrum if they don't get it. Time and time again I have seen the children in my extended family receive 5 video games each at £40 a time and yet be in a bad mood because they didn't get the one they wanted. I know that I am considered a Scrooge with them because from me they receive a book or a book token in general, and it mostly goes un-thanked. Rarely a Christmas day goes by without some pointless mood swing or tears over not getting something.

So is there going to be a time when it swings back to the real meaning of Christmas? I imagine a lot of the people reading this have a very good attitude towards it, being a frugal minded bunch, but you all must have observed what I am talking about in someone's household? Is it simply because people work more and so give their children less time, so buying them stuff is to make up for it? I don't really believe this to be an excuse, because there are many hard working parents out there who are not buying into it. Or is it simply the same old media fuelled guff, where we are shown how we should be spending Christmas, like celebrities do, buying lavish gifts, having a new tree decorated with a new style every year, theming the table with brand new John Lewis Christmas table decorations in purple and silver this year - whatever was wrong with going out to collect fir cones, a bit of silver spray and imagination.

So here's to a simple, frugal minded and meaningful Christmas with no debts and no tantrums.

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  1. one year I was on a limited budget because I was on a course for 6 months. That year I made all of my christmas pressies....
    it was a delightful experience and great fun.... I made desk tidies, home made sweets, tissue boxes,book marks, a piggy bank,

    all shite... but the thought and effort I put into these gifts went down a storm!!!

  2. Frugal Living - I agree - Christmas has become far too commercial, with children only wanting what is currently in fashion, thus forgetting all about their imaginations.

    Would that Christmas could become giving from the heart again - like your nephew's gift.

    It IS the thought that counts, not the quantity spent on it :)

  3. Last year I gave my daughter and her fiance a hamper of homemade goodies. I wrapped them nicely - twiddly ribbons and fabric covers over the jars etc, and all the wrappings were sourced from carboots or charity shops. I made home-made labels and listed the ingredients. The jam was made with blackberries, Cornish sunshine and lots of love.I made all the things that they love- carrot cake, chocolate brownies, home made bread and rolls, jam. They absolutely loved it. It was something they couldn't buy and they knew the time and effort that had gone into it. They know I am time rich but cash poor and appreciated it so much.All the gifts I have bought so far for this Christmas have been secondhand - from charity shops, flea markets, carboot sales and ebay. All have been carefully chosen with the recipient in mind, and will be supplemented with homebaked and crafted goodies.

  4. I had many years with my own kids creating a frugal, but fun Christmas. When they had grown up and flown the nest I met my partner Rick and his children from his previous marriage. They were spoilt little brats that were never satisfied with what they were given. For several years they were the bain of my life. Thank god they had finally grown up and moved away. We now tend to make our own Christmas cheap and cheerful again. We shall spend it this year with my mum and dad in Germany, were a relatively frugal Christmas is still appreciated. We shall cook together and spend the days in lovely company. That is all we need to be happy.

  5. Hear, hear. Start a trend - it can only spread.
    Love from Mum

  6. Couldn't agree more Dan. Sarina has the right idea, cheap and cheerful:) I have been buying special inexpensive little gifts throughout the year:)

  7. Why am I all of a sudden having problems commenting:( It seems to be happening with your blog Dan:( I've tried different ways, staying signed in etc. Have you changed any of your settings Dan? I doubt whether this comment will be posted:(

  8. Manchester Lass: Don't worry, whatever your computer is telling you, all your comments are coming through - I am not publishing the 'testing' ones, (because there is no point) but rest assured, I seem to be getting everything, so just trust that it comes through! :-)

  9. You guys all have the right idea, I knew that you would!
    I would love to be more home - made this year, but I am not particularly good at it, it seems! I can cook, so I may go down the hamper route like Scarlet. Anything else I make might end up a bit shite like John said his were, :-)
    But cheap, cheerful and with good feelings is definitely what I will go for. With me moving house, I will be about as broke as I could ever be, so I simply won't have money for anything else anyway, but it would go against the grain to do otherwise.
    A lot of people have had good Christmas ideas on their blog, like Debbie over at Welsh Cottage on the Hill. Worth checking out.
    Thank you all for your comments, as always, they are much appreciated.


  10. I buy my daughter a 'main' present from santa, then little inexpensive presents. i know children who have several expensive presents that are simply lain scattered around the floor, unappreciated. every family is different , their idea of not spending much could be a kings ransom to other people. if it wasnt for my young daughter i could easily forgo the commercial side of christmas and just enjoy a nice dinner with family.

  11. I totally agree. So many people come out the other side of Christmas with a big chunk of debt, and the worst of it is that this is seen as normal, not harmful.

    Money's been very tight this year and looks set to stay that way so I've been making gifts and buying small gifts from charity shops (like book bundles for book lovers). It's all too easy to fall into the trap of buying any old pricey rubbish for someone just because you feel you should, but once you make the decision to not get pulled in any more it feels much easier to do things differently.

  12. I know exactly where you're coming from on the tantrum, tears, surface smiles front. And it's so sad that everyone else who reads this knows too!

    I too remember Christmas's when young where you got a main present and lots of little ones (and stocking was full of tiny treats & fruit....loved it!) and yes OK, I am sure at times in my younger teen years I probably was as shallow as the next young teen if I got something that wasn't quite the right label or brand but if I had thrown a tantrum I dread to think what would have happened. We knew Mum had very very limited funds and we were lucky to get anything.

    I vividly remember coming back from a brief trip to The Gambia one December in the early 90's and completely dreading Christmas. I had seen what little the children there had and how delighted they were if you gave them a pencil and some paper for school...because that helped and mattered to them. My boyfriend of the time had a spoiled brat of a nephew and I remember saying how I didn't think I would be able to hold back (verbally) if he had thrown one of his famous tantrums that Christmas. Luckily, for everyone, he didn't that year!

  13. Perhaps that is the difference, we respected the funds that our parents had and were grateful for what we were given, even if we wanted the latest something or other.