A Christmas Carol: buying presents

When it comes to Christmas present buying, I seem to have lost my mojo. It wasn’t always so.

I don’t want to adopt the Scrooge approach. I read a bit today about Saint Nicholas, and his frequent and anonymous gift giving. That seemed like a good thing.

At the same time, I seem to have reached a point in life where presents seem less important. I am lucky to have the things I need, and more.

As relatives grow older (clearly I do too), it can become harder to work out what to buy for them, when they too have what they need – some may already be giving away possessions.

And yet. There is something special about receiving a present – and something equally special about planning the right item for the right person.


Christmas Past

Once upon a time, there was a little girl, who was excited about presents, but not so clear on the notion of keeping secrets. So one year, pre-Christmas, she rushed up to her daddy and said, “We’ve got your Christmas present! We got you SOCKS!”

I have moved on a little since then. (And my father has been known to receive more than socks.)

In my teens, I would think carefully about what to buy – for varied school friends, as well as family. I would even do a special day trip to look for more unusual presents than I might find in our fairly small town.

Once I was old enough to travel a bit further, independently, that was an even better source of presents. Painted wooden candlesticks, bowls and so on from Poland.

Linens from one place – honey from many more. (My mum likes honey, and likes trying different kinds.)

It was fun to go looking, trying to find items typical of a particular place – or things that were just beautiful, and right for someone I had in mind.

It didn’t always go right, of course. The item that I loved might not be so appreciated by a relative who already knew what kind of calendar she liked, and didn’t want a fancy Italian one. Even if it was on beautiful paper.

But mostly, there was joy on both sides. Certainly on mine, as the giver.


Christmas Present

These days, going across town can constitute a work trip. Going abroad takes lots of planning – and more effort than I remember in the past.

So I am left with my imagination, a few ideas from the Internet at times, and whatever I might come across when doing regular food shops. (This is fine, convenient too, but it’s not always a place of  great gift inspiration.)

What has also changed is my realisation of just how easily gifts can be bought, added to, stockpiled. And all of a sudden, that item that you thought long and hard over, hoped would be treasured, is now just one in a collection of many.

What’s left is a desire not to buy things people don’t want. Which tends to mean I mostly buy tokens, give cash, or (with some relatives) make donations on their behalf.

There’s a small counterbalance to this. It’s less fun to open an envelope than a present, so in some cases I do both: the money for them to choose, and something small to open there and then.

Back in the spring, when I did my eco series, there was one post I had meant to write, and never got round to. The notion was: buy items that can be recycled.

I don’t mean that the person takes them straight off to the charity shop – or into a recycling bin. That would suggest that you had seriously got it wrong.

But items that are made of natural materials; that can be used up (food, of course); that can have a further life with another family, or in a charity shop, if and when you choose to part with them.

Books. Food. CDs, maybe. Games that can be passed on to others in turn.

(If I’m honest, I would just buy books for everyone on my presents list, all the time. I can get excited about that.

But I appreciate that it’s not everyone’s idea of a present – and sometimes even the avid book collector may question the need for another book.)


Christmas Future

What about you? Are you still a keen present buyer – or recipient? Has it all paled a bit?
Do you look to the kids’ generation to be excited about present giving again?

St Nicholas gave to those who needed it – used up his inheritance that way, in fact. The Christmas story tells us of a priceless gift, one longed for by some, overlooked by others.

I want to come back to something of that sense of value and honouring in the gifts that I give. I don’t know exactly how, in a time and location that seems more about excess than value.

But I’m thinking about it. And as we’re told, it’s the thought that counts.