Five ways to make your Christmas truly meaningful

If you don’t spend loads of money on presents and parties, what’s left? Here are tips for alternative gifts and traditions to close out 2019.

Julia Koskella
18 December 2015

Why not give a handmade present? Credit: Shutterstock.

Why not give a handmade present? Credit: Shutterstock.

We’re constantly sold stories about how status, riches and material goods can buy us the good life. How you have to do more, look better and buy more to be valued. It’s not enough to be a caring, loving, alive human being. 

This is the message that fuels our capitalist economy. It’s embedded in our school system, political structures, and the estimated 3,500 adverts a day that hit our eyes.  

In the Christmas period, the consumption agenda gets pushed to new heights. Which Christmas advert will “top the charts” is suddenly headline news. Friends start complaining they’re double-booked into Christmas do’s every evening starting mid-November. Every year a new shopping mega-day gets invented, adding to the list of Black Friday and Cyber Monday. We start preparing our most gracious smiles, ready to pull out when given a gift we don’t like or will never use.

The UK and Ireland actually now spend the most on Christmas shopping in the world, buying £680 and £750 per person worth of extra goods, respectively, this time of year, more even than the USA. Then the average UK household spends six months paying off their Christmas debt. 

Instead of getting caught in the craze, this is the perfect time of year to reflect on what we really value, and put it into practice through how we give gifts, what traditions we create and how well we connect with others.  

There’s a new movement afoot that can help point us in the right direction. In the USA, materialist capital of the world, dozens of bloggers and writers have gained a millions-strong following around minimalism and simple living. They say that owning less stuff, rather than more, leads to a more fulfilled life. After the USA, the UK is seen as having the strongest burgeoning movement, with followers popping up across much of the developed world. I’m working on one such initiative, called Find Space.  

Find Space is about becoming aware of and questioning habits that may not be serving your real values. Things like being constantly glued to a screen, cramming our diaries and to-do lists full to bursting, and owning more material stuff than we could ever need. Since launching three months ago, we have our first 135 online members, mostly in their 20s and 30s. Events attract around 70 people, from all walks of life. 

The movement focuses on building a new vision for living a meaningful life, and supporting each other to find space for what we really value.

A dozen people from the Find Space community met up this month to brainstorm meaningful traditions and gift ideas for the holiday period. Here are five key take-aways.

1. Focus on experiences, not things

Research has found that investing in experiences rather than things makes people happier, bringing us longer-term wellbeing, a positive self-identity, and happy memories. Whereas we’ll tire of a new item of clothing or furniture quickly, going to a class, a walk or a concert will bring us positive memories well into the future. 

We even tend to get more happiness out of the memory of the experience than the experience itself. So use the holiday period to create memories that will last, even something as simple as cooking a special meal. 

This was the most popular category for gift-giving at our Find Space meet up. Ideas included:

-go for a nature walk, have a tea party or picnic, discover a new local area together, or offer a tour of an area you know

  • -pass on a skill, such as your best recipes, teaching sewing, giving a caring massage, or learning an activity you really enjoy – in our meet up this included things not everyone has come across, like acroyoga and urbexing
  • -a class, a course, or tickets to go to a concert or shared experience together

  • -offering to host someone’s birthday party (top of my Christmas wish-list!) or cooking them a dinner party

  • -ask what they’d really like your help with, such as gardening, painting a bathroom, babysitting, or even coming round for an evening of de-cluttering.

  • 2. Re-focus your attention on connecting well with others

More than riches or material possessions, evidence consistently points to the importance of meaningful relationships for wellbeing, particularly how solid your links are to your closest family and friends. 

So see how you can use the occasions of upcoming family gatherings and holiday parties to let go of distractions and the feeling of rushing, and practice giving your full attention to your close ones. Listen deeply, be curious and see if you can find out something new about them. And telling someone what you truly appreciate in them, either in person or in a card, can be a great gift in itself.    

3. Find Space for the hand made 

Something you have taken the time to make yourself can be so much more meaningful to receive, not to mention more affordable, than a store-bought find. If you’re the creative type, making a gift for someone else can also be the perfect impetus to find space for creativity, away from the rushed pace of work and crowded diaries. This year I prioritised making my mum a big batch of cookies, decorating each by hand so they were really special. And I gave away bottles of sloe gin, made from wild sloe berries I picked with love during a country walk. More gift ideas from the Find Space community:

-capturing shared memories in a scrapbook or photo collection

-simple sewing projects like bunting or grocery bags

-making & re-using wrapping paper

-writing a poem or thoughtful letter

-sharing a mixtape or playlist (our group felt there was real value in this, particularly in an era of YouTube and Spotify when music can feel so impersonal) 

4. Second hand but still perfect

Rather than buying new, try scouting out unusual gifts in a charity shop for presents that won’t cost the earth. Practical things you can find include second-hand include jumpers, musical instruments, games, books and bikes. You can even source quality furniture on Freecycle or Gumtree, especially if you’re up for giving it a lick of paint to make it personal.

5. Gifts are for using, not gathering dust

No-one likes receiving items that never get used, so we brainstormed practical gifts and perishables:

Don’t be afraid to ask what people need, from candles to a plant pot, aftershave to specialist cooking ingredients. Many of our participants said they’d actually really appreciate socks! 

You can hand make edible treats, like jam, pesto, curry paste, marinating olives, or hand rolling chocolate truffles (follow the links for sample recipes). You can even make scented hand soap pretty easily. 

Want to find space for what you really value? Join the movement.

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