Are You Looking for A Different Way to Approach Christmas This Year?
Updated for Christmas 2019
There are some pretty good reasons to consider an alternative Christmas. I probably don’t need to tell you that the impact of Christmas on the planet are not good. There’s the packaging (125,000 tonnes of plastic packaging), the wrapping paper (83 square kilometres), the cards (1.7 billion in the UK!) and then of course, the stuff itself – endless mountains of clothing, household goods and plastic toys. We are more aware than ever that much of this plastic makes its way into our oceans and into our marine life.
But the impact on our mental health is also huge. 2 in 3 people wish they had less stuff – it’s an affliction known as ‘stuffocation’ – and having too much stuff has been associated with the cortisol patterns you would find in someone experiencing PTSD.
We all know that this way of doing Christmas is unsustainable and many of us don’t want to engage in it any more. But if you do want to take part in the exchange of giving and receiving, which in its purest form is so good for the soul, what are the options for an alternative Christmas?
For around 10 years now I have been experimenting with alternatives to giving and receiving lots of stuff at Christmas time. I’m not a very organised person so it’s pretty hit and miss, but here are some of my favourites. I’ve provided links to specific providers but of course you can google and find your own! The idea of all of these is that they bestow wellbeing on the receiver rather than clutter. So, on with the show, here are 10 ideas…
1. Alternative Christmas gift idea – Subscriptions
As an avid reader I’ve received a few magazine subscriptions and always felt very touched by the thought that had gone into the selection.
I loved receiving a subscription to the brilliant parenting magazine Juno when my twins were born. Whenever it came through the post it felt like such a treat, it gave me an opportunity to get lost (for a couple of minutes at least) in something other than nappies and felt like slipping into a pair of comfortable slippers.
My absolute favourite kid-friendly gift is this gorgeous nature-inspired craft and activity box from Mud & Bloom (pictured).
2. The gift of time and/or skills
Do you have a skill that would be really useful to someone? Maybe you’re a carpenter, a fantastic cook or an interview coach. Why not give someone a voucher for a set number of hours of your time. Heck you don’t even need special skills; you could offer an evening of babysitting or to help them paint their front room.
You don’t have to do it yourself either. Professional massage vouchers are always very well-received. I expect it would be quite easy to arrange a voucher for a couple of sessions from a professional cleaner, a holistic beautician (here’s my favourite www.balancedbeautybristol.com) or a consultation with a garden designer.
3. Home-made handicrafts
I won’t lie, I love crafting. If you don’t, then don’t even bother reading this section; the point of this exercise is not to exchange the stress of Christmas shopping with the stress of forcing yourself to work your way around a knitting pattern while hating every minute! Cushion covers are pretty straightforward to make and feel so personal when you choose a unique fabric you know the recipient will love. If you want to make things for lots of people then some simple Christmas decorations work well, speaking for myself I love nothing more than hanging any handmade decorations year after year. Of course Pinterest is the place to go for inspiration on this front.
You can also give beautiful items made by local craftspeople/artists. Strictly speaking this is ‘stuff’ but it’s so far away from the disposable, mass-produced items we are inundated with. We’ve got so many options here in Bristol from the amazing china created by the People’s Republic of Stokes Croft, the beautiful prints from Cato Press, an upcycled item of furniture from Loungevity and so so many more. Do comment below with links to your favourite artists and craftspeople.
4. Home-made edible goodies
Some years when I have had the crops, time and inclination, I have been able to put together hampers of edible goodies.
I’m no chef (really, I’m not!) but a few simple things that have worked for me include; home-made chutney (usually made with excess courgettes), apple juice from our apple tree, vanilla sugar (a vanilla pod stuck in a jar of sugar), chilli oil (likewise a chilli in a nice bottle of olive oil) and homemade blackberry jam.
And of course there are loads of other lovely things like Christmas biscuits, chocolate truffles or sloe gin. I once received a hamper of edible treats from my cousin (who unlike me is a talented cook!), it was beautifully wrapped and I was chuffed to bits! I remember savouring every single item throughout the year.
5. A unique experience
So this is where I make the shameless plug for Quirky Campers’ campervan hire vouchers. But seriously, a total escape from the day-to-day in a unique and beautiful handcrafted campervan (they get to choose their favourite) – gifts don’t come much better than that!
You can now easily purchase vouchers for any amount through our online shop.
For another experience idea, how about a night’s sleepover at the ZSL London zoo? Includes an exclusive after hours’ tour and stay in a lodge. What fun!
6. Vouchers for learning and growing
Personally I’m desperate to go on a Woodland Woodcarving workshop with Miscellaneous adventures – they’ve got a host of one day workshops you can buy tickets for, which would make a great gift for the outdoorsy people in your life.
For Bristol-based folks, check out the line-up of crafty workshops at the brilliant new space BAM Bristol – there is something for everyone! Or how about a lampshade-making workshop giving someone the chance to create their own wonderful piece of interior art?
Would your loved one love to learn to surf? Why not give them lessons like these from Breakers surf school?
Know any aspiring linguists? How about a voucher for an online language course with Language for Fun?
7. ‘Date’ vouchers
One Christmas with our friends we decided to each gave a ‘date’ voucher to one other person (picked out of a hat). The date I chose was a pint of lager, a packet of crisps and a game of pool at our local; my far more creative friend did hot chocolate and sparklers in the park. The only limitation on this option is your imagination!
This is also a lovely gift for your kids, grandkids or someone else’s kids – we always assume that children want presents but of course what they really really want is our time and attention. And at the risk of sounding extremely cheesy, those memories will last a lifetime! Would they love to go to a skate park and make a mini film with you? Or how about a trip to the seaside with chips on the beach?
8. A copy of one of your favourite books
When I shared this idea with my colleague Caroline, she was horrified; how could you give away your favourite book! I get it, for many of us our favourite books are our most treasured possession. But doesn’t that make it an even more special gift?
Of course you should only do this if you actually want to, but a worn and well-loved book is a truly precious gift to receive.
9. A cutting from your favourite plant
What could be more symbolic than this? A cutting you have taken from one of your own favourite plants and carefully looked after to make it grow… a piece of your home, growing in their home. You will struggle to go wrong with this – who doesn’t love house plants? It will give them joy and remind them of you for years to come.
10. Last, but by no means least… a family adventure!
This idea has been pinched from some friends of ours in Norway – I love it and can’t wait till our kids are old enough to try it. They decided to pool all the money they would usually spend on presents for their four kids and spend it on a family adventure! And a democratically chosen one to boot… Every year, each family member has the opportunity to prepare and pitch their holiday plan, complete with PowerPoint presentation and full costing to demonstrate it can be done within budget. Each person then gets to vote for one idea (not their own) and the plan with the most votes wins.
What will you do this Christmas?
How do you feel about Christmas gifts? What alternatives have you tried that could be added to this list?