All present and correct

How are your festive preparations going?

Are you the sort of person who spends months dashing about shopping, organising and decorating the house for whatever festivities you are celebrating? Are you preparing to welcome family and friends into your home? Will you be rushing out to lots of parties? Or will you be having a peaceful time over the next few weeks, watching the madness from the safety of your armchair?

And, most importantly, have you bought everyone a present?


Are you ready for the magic of the season? 

What? You haven’t? But didn’t you know that you can only express your love by presenting everyone with a physical item? I doesn’t matter whether they actually want the thing you have bought for them. What matters is that you gave them something… even if it is a plastic fish in a Santa hat that sings Jingle Bells, or an inflatable Eiffel Tower, or a box of inedible shortbread in the shape of a fir tree. Even if it is something that will be (at best) amusing when they open the gift and will almost certainly be in landfill after week or two or consigned to a cupboard until the next spring clean. Even if it is something made in a sweatshop by someone who is little more than a slave. Even if it does deplete the earth’s limited resources. Just remember… the important thing is that you spent some money… that you gave a gift…

Me? Don’t expect a gift from me at this time of year. Don’t expect to find me trawling the shops for that hard-to-find toy or searching the internet for a gift for my mother (who firmly tells me that she has everything she wants). It’s not that I don’t care for you (or her), in fact it’s that I do care for you and her and for other human beings and for the planet.

Before you buy that box of Christmas crackers with the silly jokes, paper hats and plastic prizes, or the amusing Christmas jumper that will be worn once, or the new set of ornaments for the tree because this year’s theme is silver and pink, whilst last year’s was green and red, you might like to consider this:

Guess what percentage of total material flow through [the] system is still in product or use 6 months after their sale in North America. Fifty percent? Twenty? NO. One percent. One! In other words, 99 percent of the stuff we harvest, mine, process, transport—99 percent of the stuff we run through this system is trashed within 6 months. Annie Leonard, The Story of Stuff.

I don’t know about you, but I find that figure shocking. However, we can all do something about it. And we can start by not buying things that we KNOW will get thrown away almost immediately.

At this time of giving and generosity, why not think about the recipient rather than the act of giving? If someone tells you that there is nothing they want for Christmas, they are probably telling you that they don’t want any more stuff… so give them the gift of time… it never goes out of fashion and it never enters land fill. Go out for afternoon tea, for a walk, go to the pub, cook them dinner, do some chores for them, have a chat… spend some quality time together. And if you do want to give a physical gift, make it a good one… something that will last, something they will love, something that won’t be discarded as soon as the wrapping paper is off. Think about the gift… and if you can’t find something that they will love, don’t buy anything right now…. give them an IOU… you know they are likely to get more joy from a gift at another time of the year than at a time when they have a whole heap in front of them.

We practice random acts of giving… our friends and relatives do receive gifts, but not at specific times. And sometimes they receive gifts or help or time in quick succession and sometimes not for ages. We send or do things as we become inspired. This means that one lucky person will get a parcel soon because Mr Snail and I are making a gift together, but not because it’s Christmas, just because we had an idea and thought of something fun to make that one particular person would enjoy.

As for Christmas day Chez Snail… we will be gift-free and are planning a picnic in the limery!





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  1. I heartily agree! I give my family an annual treat which is an experience – this year it was an exhibition (the Celts – brilliant!) at the British museum and afternoon tea in lieu of Christmas and Birthday presents. Then they, and anyone else I feel like giving to, get a token hand made present, or something Inexpensive which I have seen and know they will enjoy, for Christmas or birthdays. And I give random presents through the year if I get a brainwave!

    • Some years ago I took my mum for afternoon tea at the Ritz for her birthday… she still talks about it long after any more recent physical presents have been forgotten!

  2. nettyg

     /  December 15, 2015

    I have made some gifts, my favourite bought gifts have been little ceramic hearts from a local woman who has a Wear your Heart promotion and all sales of those little hearts goes to the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre, a few people including my children and grandchildren have had their Christmas money donated to the Feed the Farmer’s Christmas Appeal and the Let’s Get the Hay to the Farmer’s appeal…….our inland areas are suffering a dreadful drought and livestock are dying every day and farmer’s have nothing. A picnic in the limery sounds perfect, I’m gathering a few ‘orphans’, people with no family here, and we’re having a very simple picnic tea on the river bank once the day cools down a bit.

  3. We give the gift of giving. Instead of *stuff*, the money goes to charity. So friends and family know that they’ve actually contributed to the greater good in some way instead of adding to the mountain of crappy rubbish. We don’t send cards except by email, we don’t buy gifts, we don’t wrap them. I use the same modest decorations I’ve used for the last 10 years, many of them hand made, and we don’t indulge in huge food blow-outs. No turkey, a ham we’ll carve and freeze to last for weeks, some seafood and salads, and a dessert or two. I make a cake (mainly because I love Christmas cake) and a few mince pies. We eat together, no-one argues or gets over-excited… It’s a *good* Christmas

  4. I am celebrating the fact that I have FINALLY (apparently) figured out how to get past my browser glitch that was not letting me leave likes and comments. You are the first but I hope not the last blog (recently) where I’ve been able to let you know how much I liked your post today. Seriously, it’s a great post. It’s SO HARD to step away from the cultural pressure to give gifts, especially to people we love. Jeff has asked me for many years not to get him anything, but this is the first year that I’ve managed to (mostly) honor that wish. What makes it hard is that he still buys me things and I still love it — of course, he knows what I like and need, or in some cases don’t need…

    I totally love those adorable mice in the photo! And the setting is perfect for them.

    • Hurrah for your commenting abilities, Julia. I’m so happy for you.

    • Hurrah for being able to post. I’m delighted to be your first.
      I don’t see anything wrong with gift-giving… it’s junk-giving that I object to! If you love your presents, then that’s brilliant. Sometimes Mr Snail and I buy something together for us both to enjoy over the winter break… like a few dvds or a game and that’s fun.
      My mother made me the mice about 20 years ago… and she still makes them even now.

  5. This year I made sketchbooks, different sizes, different covers made from recycled cardboard, old photos, old art work and so on. Then I put them all in a box and let each person choose the one they fancied. I know that my family really liked them because we had our Christmas on Sunday.
    That figure is 99% is truly shocking.

  6. As a professional organizer, I’m often on the other end of helping people dispose of goods that are eating them alive. Possessions can own us if we’re not careful. I like giving consumable gifts when possible: chocolates, soap, candles, or things that can be enjoyed and then passed on like books. Some years I’ve made a donation to a favorite charity in someone’s name

    It’s difficult stepping away from deeply held traditions. I commend you.

    • To their credit, none of our friends and family were offended and I think some were quite relieved to have one less set of people to shop for. Last year (the first without my dad) we went to my mum’s and our contribution was a large piece of pork for dinner… no waste there!!

      • I think a lot of people are relieved. A couple of my friends have agreed to no longer exchange gifts. It doesn’t make any difference in our friendship.

      • PS Those first holidays after a family death are hard. My Mom died three days after Christmas. I remember hoping that she would live past Christmas so that we didn’t have that sad reminder on the day. She was lucid but in hospice and I still remember her singing Silent Night even though she no longer knew who I was. The brain is an amazing thing.

  7. This year I’m doing food hampers- sweet chilli jam, cheese and crackers! Though the OtherHalf also got some hair clippers, as he really needed new hair clippers.

    • We used to do food hampers and I was generally happy with the giving part, the problem was some of the gifts we received in return… so years ago we decided to stop the gift exchange entirely and asked people to buy something for themselves if they wanted a gift or give a donation to charity. We now don’t send cards either and give a sizeable donation instead, usually to Practical Presents and more recently also to Tools for Self Reliance.

  8. Well said and hopefully more will get the point sooner than later. I’m printing out copies of photos for my quilt group this year or embroider a kitchen towel. I like to make my gifts from the heart and my family is not large anymore. You make so many good points here and I hope you have the happiest of Christmas’.

  9. A little off-topic but I just love that mossy log–great to see a bit of green in the bleakness of winter!

  10. I thought I was reading the wrong blog there for a while! I do commend you on your stance, and agree completely about waste. The 99% figure is not true of this household, but globally Christmas must be the most wasteful time of the year….. (I think you could set that to a tune!)


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