Pre-Christmas part 2 – Presents vs Presence

This is the second of a three part blog post about avoiding letting Christmas overwhelm you (see part 1 here). It is motivated by my realisation that it is five weeks until Christmas and I haven’t started shopping. (Augghh!)


Source: (Holiday meltdowns are not inevitable)
Source: (Holiday meltdowns are not inevitable)

My present dilemma

I get a bit conflicted about Christmas gifts – mainly because I have so many expectations around them. These include:

  • Christmas has been hijacked by commercialism – Christmas should not revolve around gifts. The focus should be on the aspects I’ve already listed. There is enough pressure already without buying the right gifts!
  • But I love receiving gifts – I get very excited about my birthday, which is also in December, and Christmas. At the same time, I don’t like receiving something I won’t use or don’t particularly like. Because I hate waste. So it is risky territory to buy for me.
  • Similarly, I love buying the right gift, which they will want and use. I love the anticipation of presents being opened but I worry about whether I have really bought the right thing (because I hate being disappointed, and so I imagine they do too). So there is a bit riding on these gifts!
  • I then start to feel too materialistic – So many people in the world do not have the things we have – why am I so focused on the gifts? Do my kids need so much? But do they need to be the ones who have less, to make a point.

Auughhh! Clearly, I over-think it (surprisingly – when have I ever overthought things??). This year, I’ve tried not to – in fact, I’ve tried to ignore it. That hasn’t worked either, as I don’t have a single present yet.  Well, other than my own (thanks to Mum and Dad and my family, I now have an new phone (a better quality, and more than I would normally pay, but I am planning for it to last a long time. Buy well and waste less, etc). Thanks to Mum and Dad, for getting this organised – they don’t like last minute buying. Very sensible. Hmmm.

My other approach hasn’t worked yet either – to make others take some responsibility, by seeking suggestions (and then the onus is more on everyone else). No one has made any suggestions yet. Not one#. Which is a first. And which is annoying.


What to buy

So, here is the approach I am using to address the upcoming Christmas present season:

  • Be clear on who I am buying for (tick – I’ve written out my list. First thing now done!
  • Have some sort of a budget. Depending on your circumstances, you might be happy with a vague idea, or you may need to budget to the last cent. Before making any major purchases, if that’s what you are planning, be clear on what you can afford, or are comfortable spending. Hopefully most of us don’t extend our spending to the point of resentment or, worse, being unable to afford necessities into the new year. That defeats the value of giving presents.And then keep track – nothing more frustrating than to discover presents you’d forgotten you’d bought, buried in the ‘secret cupboard’ (or whatever you use). You may be able to use them for another gift, but still – better to avoid it.
  • Be observant. Think about whether the people you are organising presents for have given any clues about what they would enjoy (or what could make their lives run more smoothly). Are you a family, or part of a group of friends, who would be prepared to, you know, tell each other (or does that ruin the experience for you all? It certainly makes it easier …)
  • What are they likely to use / need (without resorting to socks only – which are fine, but, you know …). Are they likely to use them throughout the year (rather than being just another stocking fillers that is forgotten by the end of the day and subsequently thrown out / given away)? In the case of my kids particularly, do they provide opportunities for activities beyond screen time? (some is ok, too much not so good). And look around – sometimes there are good bargains, or better quality products, to be found by spending some time identifying where you will shop.
  • Where possible, join with others. We’ve been organising group gifts for the kids’ school teachers, coaches and managers, for instance, for the past few years. Far simpler, and a more meaningful present can be chosen.
  • When in doubt, check whether what you have bought is exchangeable or returnable, and under what conditions. And then, DONT LOSE THE RECEIPT! (reminder to self).
  • There is nothing wrong with gift vouchers from time to time. Nor is there anything wrong with spending less and giving more – for instance, child minding time can be such a great benefit. If you can make something, and enjoy it (all power to you for both of these!), your home made gift could make a great present. The money spent should not be the measure of the value of the gift.
  • Can you buy something that will also have broader benefits? Has it been sustainably produced? Does it help support a group of people reliant on the sales for their livelihood (and has it been ethically procured?) Does it support local business? I have some suggestions on the final post which might give you some ideas about this.
  • Experiences can trump physical possessions – one of the best gifts we gave last year was a set of tickets to the Lion King, which we all loved.
  • Don’t forget those who might otherwise miss out – as examples, think about gifts for the wishing trees, for children with parents in prison, or providing donations.



How to buy

And finally, unless you are someone who loves wandering through shopping centres, experiencing a growing sense of anxiety as Christmas approaches and you still haven’t organised your gifts, make a plan about how you will procure your gifts.

  • You may be able to shop on line (but be careful to check the leadtime for deliveries)
  • You may be able to buy many in one go, especially if there is an upcoming pre-Christmas sale coming up. (incidentally, when did this even become a thing?)
  • You may be able to organise the group presents, and get them out of the way
  • You may, of course, love the crammed, 24 hour shopping bonanzas, crammed in with crowds of all ages, finding that the items you were looking for are sold out, and traipsing back to your car (because you can’t get public transport at 3.30am). If so, good luck to you! For the rest of us, it might be more peaceful to take a more measured approach.

My plan is to try to have everything organised within the next two to three weeks – ideally the end of November, if possible. There might even be some delegation taking place (not something I normally do, but efficiency can be good).

And maybe, then, my Christmas will be closer to my ideal – more focused on sharing my presence and enjoying those of others, rather than stressing about the presents.


Do you have any tips about Christmas shopping? Do you love it or loathe it?

# although to be fair, Mum has written up a list. I just keep forgetting to collect it. Therefore, I don’t know what is on it. So – there’s that.


8 thoughts on “Pre-Christmas part 2 – Presents vs Presence

  1. I also feel conflicted with Christmas each year. We live a simple country life, and I want to keep it that way over the Christmas season, but I also LOVE giving gifts, decorations, carols, and all the trimmings of Christmas. I wrote about some of our strategies for keeping Christmas simple last year, but I think the best way to keep Christmas simple is to remember why you are celebrating it at all. For our family, we celebrate it as the birth of Jesus. Others might celebrate as a time to remember family and friends at the end of a long year. Either way, keeping the right focus helps a lot. Thanks for a thought provoking read 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

      1. I like what you said Jo, “The best way to keep Christmas simple is to remember why you are celebrating it”. It doesn’t matter how much you spend for the food and gifts. It’s the thought that always counts!

        Liked by 1 person

  2. I do loathe it – because every year I say I am going to really tone it back when it comes to the kids and then every year I go far too overboard again. I am really going to try and focus more on experience gifts this year. I LOVE that idea because apart from some new clothes, the last thing my kids need is more STUFF! xx


    1. Experiences are so good, too – and I’m glad my two are starting to get to a stage where they appreciate them more too (although they still like their gifts). I’m consciously cutting back on things, now, too xx


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