For a number of years, I’ve stopped giving and receiving presents for birthdays, Christmas, etc. It’s not that I hate the idea of presents, but modern life has warped the value of them. Many holidays are highly commercialised now. Every event is hyped up enormously and there are numerous adverts and blog posts telling you what the ideal gifts are. We should honestly stop buying into this idea and stop giving presents (or at least consider it).
There are numerous reasons, which I will detail below, on why more people should adopt this approach. The main one being that it’s better for everyone’s wellbeing, both from a financial and mental perspective.
Growing up British Chinese
The concept of not giving presents isn’t a new one to me as I sort of grew up with it. As children of immigrants who don’t celebrate Christmas, the holiday was never a huge deal. We were that family that didn’t believe in Santa! We spent Christmas Day as a family, visiting family friends but I don’t recall massive feasts to the same extent as a Christmas dinner. My parents were back in work at the Chinese takeout, usually, the following evening because, let’s be honest, many of you would rather not cook on Boxing Day.
Spending time as one family was uncommon. My sisters and I would spend the day in school and then, of course, my parents will be working evenings 6 days a week. We never really spent a huge amount of time with them, nevermind trying to choose a present. Mum would usually just say something along the lines of, just do well in school and be good. We tried (honest!)
For birthdays we did initially give and receive presents as children but this changed around about the time my sisters and I moved away from Northern Ireland for university. Being a plane ride away from parents and siblings made things harder. Choosing gifts became increasingly harder each year as we all led separate lives and developed interests for different hobbies. Keeping in touch was tougher than it is now, as we were focused on studies and we had to rely on phone calls. The internet was in its relative infancy; my student halls did not come equipped with internet (although others did!). As a family, although we loved each other, we drifted, so we naturally stopped giving presents.
The reluctance to buy ‘tat’ for presents is further fueled by one particular story. I remember one year my sisters and I decided we’d get my mum flowers for Mother’s Day. Whilst she did accept the flowers and told us she liked them, I can tell that she was still thinking about the cost of the flowers and how soon they’d wilt. We never made that mistake again. In our culture, the best gift is time and food. A common Chinese greeting is to ask if someone has eaten, it is akin to asking “How are you?” in English. This was something I didn’t fully grasp until several years after I left home.
Ok, but why should I stop giving presents?
It is, of course, better financially to stop giving presents. In today’s society, people are living further away from each other and with the cost of travel, working times, etc. it can be hard to meet up with people face-to-face. So you are spending money to meet up with friends as well as paying for presents which may or may not be appreciated. It is unnecessary as events and holidays are a time to gather people you love. Stop giving presents and remove that stress completely, for everyone involved. When my family does meet up, we bring over treats to share or have meals together. Things to enjoy in the moment we do share.
It is also better mentally. Christmas is a wonderful time because I can just fully appreciate December without the stresses of going into a shopping frenzy. It then becomes a month of catching up with various friends, eating and drinking!
No presents at all?
I should probably clarify at this point that I do give presents, just under no obligation. If it’s my birthday or Christmas, I don’t expect anyone to give me anything and likewise, I don’t expect it from other people.
I think more people should adopt a no obligatory present rule, especially once you reach adulthood. You are capable of buying stuff you do like and this way you get less crap. No more random toiletry sets which you are never going to use. Avoid duplicates of stuff you already have. No more tat! This also gets around the issue of trying to figure out what to get for any family any acquaintances you aren’t overly familiar with.
I do still give presents, but I like to dot my gifts throughout the year when I know they will definitely like something. A cake here, a meal there. See something you know someone would just love? Get it and give it to them. The presents become way more meaningful this way. Why wait for an occasion to bring joy to others?
If saying no to presents is awkward in your particular circle, I suggest a wishlist from which people can choose a gift? Try setting a price limit? Or give a loose rule, like something edible? Maybe a Secret Santa for your next Christmas gathering.
Don’t forget, the best present you can ever give a person is time. Make the effort to see the people you care about because time is one thing that you can’t obtain more of.
Photos taken from my holiday in Toronto