“Christmas is not as much about opening our presents as opening our hearts.” – Janice Maeditere
What makes the most wonderful time of the year so very wonderful? I imagine many aspects of the festive season spring into your mind; the Christmassy feeling you get when all the lights go up, the smell of cinnamon and red wine in every pub, the roast, the family time, wrapping up in your favourite winter coat and scarf, the carols, the goodwill, the time off, the pure elation emitting from every child you come across and, well, the intangible magic of it all.
You may have noticed that I omitted one fairly significant element of Christmas from my list; presents. The giving and receiving of gifts is an enormous part of festive tradition in the Western world, however, I fancy that gift giving has become, arguably, disproportionately warped of proportion with the rest of our Christmassy elements. Now, I’m not saying that presents are terrible, I am merely stating that, as my previous list might begin to prove, there is much more to Christmas than ‘new stuff’.
Perhaps you think my proposal to be outrageous, or perhaps you are erring in this direction yourself. Have you ever considered what it might be like to have Christmas be ‘gift-free’?
1. Less Stressful
My wife and I got to a stage a few years ago where the run up to Christmas was becoming almost unmanageably stressful. We were attempting to trump the gifts we had given everyone last year, trying to find the ‘perfect gifts’. The thing is, this ‘must be better than last year’ attitude was leading towards every member of our extended family going home with a lot of expensive tat that they didn’t really have a use for. Not only could we not afford to buy everyone gifts that they didn’t really want, we didn’t want to be given a load of stuff we’d feel guilty about not using.
We realised that our Christmas was being clouded by the weight of commerce and expectation, and so, last year we went gift free. We bought no gifts, we received no gifts, and we loved it. It was the least stressful, most mindful December either of us can remember having.
2. A Different Focus
This decision really helped us to focus on and enjoy the other elements of Christmas celebration; connection, togetherness… food! There are no children in our family currently, which we have recognised as an opportunity to use the time of year as a time of rest. The year is long, and without the madness and flurry of gift giving Christmas has become much calmer and more chilled out.
3. Not So Expensive
Gift buying can get expensive. There is so much pressure on all of us to spend, spend, spend in December. This can feel like a burden and an awful waste. By agreeing not to spend a huge amount of cash on one another you are not only saving money yourself, but being mindful of the emotional and financial stress it may have on other members of your family and friendship groups.
4. Love Is Not Always Demonstrated Through ‘Stuff’
Love can be expressed in many ways. Of course, if you know someone well enough to buy them the perfect present, on that will speak of your personal relationship with them, then yes, a show of love and connection gift giving may well be. however, this pressure to show love and knowledge through gift giving can also be quite uncomfortable. The increasingly commercial world in which we live has many of us convinced that, at Christmas, presents are the best way to show affection to others. This is not true. The giving of your time, energy, effort and attention can be just as much a show of love.
5. Space For New Ideas
The space in your Christmas Day usually reserved for present opening can now be used for something else. In my family, for example, we all bring an obscure board game each to teach to the room. Perhaps you could start a new, communal tradition? This could be anything from a walk around the neighbourhood to finishing a jigsaw, a biscuit decorating contest to movie screening.
Christmas is about so much more than commerce. It was quite a dramatic move to remove presents from our Christmas. Ultimately, we found it a liberating, and much more relaxed experience than it ever had been before. If you have been feeling overwhelmed by the festive season in recent years, I can recommend this most freeing of alterations.
By Chris Thomson
Why not heck out this fantastic post from last year for more mindful ways to enjoy your Christmas: A Mindful Christmas for All the Family
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