Stress-free Christmas Gifting

stress free Christmas Gifts

There’s lot of chatter on social media about Christmas gift giving. It seems to be rife with problems for many. Some people are upset at having to engage in obligatory gift exchanges in the first place, other that requests for ethical gifts are being ignored while they’re expected to purchase undesirable items for others.

I feel their pain. I was so annoyed by the whole affair that I moved to a gift-free Christmas about 3 years ago. If you’re interested in finding out how I did it skip down to the headline A Gift-Free Christmas. If you don’t want to go gift-free and just want some tips on stress-free gifting read on.

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Photo by Rob Laughter on Unsplash

Gifts are meant to be tokens of affection, recognition of the importance of the recipient. But let’s face it, often they’re far from this. People should buy gifts that say ‘I get you, I know you and I want to show that by buying you something that fits your values and that I think you’ll like’.

But in reality gifting isn’t that straightforward. Even if the main objective is getting something the recipient will want, givers often find it hard to give gifts that don’t fit with their values. Second-hand? No thank you. Charity donation? Where’s the joy in that! Experience gifts? They’re not the same.

But, also … mass-produced plastic novelties? Absolutely not. Synthetic fast-fashion frippery? Not with my money! Vouchers for a well-loved chain of fast food restaurants? One word: deforestation!

Funny how we often see wrong-thinking in others, but fail to recognise it in ourselves. Buying against your values is hard, so let’s be considerate of those we’re asking it of, and request likewise in return.

Of course you can just buy each other vouchers and be done with it, but where’s the fun in that. As I see it if you’re going to exchange gifts with people of differing values and want it to go well you’ve got to set some ground rules. Here’s how to do that;

  1. swap lists of specific items you’d each like, or
  2. swap lists of specific shops or brands you like your gift to be by/from, or
  3. swap lists of desirable criteria, i.e. Irish-made, diamond encrusted, vegan, bright pink, second-hand, limited edition, whatever floats your particular boat!
  4. each buy your own gift, which you give to the other person to wrap and keep until xmas day!

Once you’ve swapped lists you must stick to them, no deviations!!!! And if you can’t get other to do this here’s my tips on how to move to …….

A Gift-Free Christmas

This wasn’t something I achieved over night, partially because I wasn’t comfortable not giving anything for a long while! In the early years I swapped out shop-bought gifts with homemade items and experience gifts but after finding too many homemade gifts and expired vouchers languishing at the back of the presses mid-summer I was fed up.

I also tried switching to second-hand gifts and was able to find small tokens for my kids to give their grandparents, but quality stuff in charity stuff is just too rare to make this a viable option year on year.

Now that we’re completely gift-free – apart from Santa – I’m delighted I went down this road. The amount of time and stress I save myself around this time of year is priceless.

This is how I did it,

Firstly I decided who I would like to continue to buy physical gifts for. It started off being my husband and kids but that’s been reduced to just Santa gifts now. Instead of gifts to one another my husband and I will go out to dinner, or buy a piece of art for the house or buy ourselves a bundle of stuff we need/want to ‘open’ on Christmas morning.

Then I suggested giving up reciprocal gift buying to everyone else. Some were delighted so we fast-forwarded straight to the gift-free zone, and for those who were keen to continue the annual gift giving charade I kept it going for a couple of more years.

When I was ready to step things up a gear I told everyone in my, now-tiny, gift circle, that, in lieu of gifts, I would be making donations to charity and welcomed them to do likewise for me or alternatively, spend the money they would have spent on me on something for themselves. The first year I did this some people still gave me a gifts but by year two had stopped completely.

If you do go down this route it’s very important you follow through and I’d advise telling people of your intentions in October or November so they don’t get caught out.

Just because I have a gift-free Christmas is not to say I never give gifts. I just do it as and when I see something for someone, regardless of what the date on a calendar is.

I also prefer to do things for people than give stuff. I’ll give them lifts to places, make them their favourite cake or dinner, give them rooted cuttings or babies from plants I know they like.

It also doesn’t mean that my Christmas is less fun. Quite the contrary. Not having to spend so much time shopping frees me up for leisurely lunches or walks with friends, which is really what Christmas should be all about.

I don’t really believe in gifts for teachers other than a card with thank you in it at the end of the year (assuming they’ve been good). That said, one of my kids has needed additional help at school and because the staff have been amazing I’m more than happy to give additional acknowledgement at this time of year.

I used to give them home-baked goodies, along with a charitable donation made on their behalf, but having heard that some teachers bin homemade food for fear of contamination I switched to goodies from a local bakery and a donation. This year, given the issue with Covid, I intend to give them each a voucher for a local cafe. At least some of their coffees in the new year will be on me!

Colleagues / Classmates
Secret Santa games are such a waste of money and energy but some people love them. I prefer Yankee Swap, although the name is terrible so I’m suggesting we call it Santa Swap instead. It’s works well even if not everyone participates and people can decide to join in right up to the day. For extra sustainability you could do it in January with regifted items. Here’s my guide on how to play it.

  • A participants buys a item of a set value, wraps it, puts their name on it and places it in a pile in the office or at the party.
  • On the day each participant pull a number from a bag. This number determines the order in which people play.
  • The first player selects a gift.
  • The next player now has the option to choose a new gift from the pile or ‘request’ the previous person’s gift. The previous person can refuse to give up their gift, but if they do refuse they have to do a truth or dare.
  • If the ‘request’ is granted, then the previous person can choose a new unwrapped gift or ‘request’ one from someone else.
  • The game lasts until all participants have a present.

Hope you find this article useful. Have a fabulous Christmas and if gifting is wrecking your head, try to focus on your favourite yuletide traditions instead.


PS – If you’d like to read more of my Christmas articles click on the link.

Published by Elaine Butler

I am a circular design consultant helping manfacturers prepare for the circular economy

2 thoughts on “Stress-free Christmas Gifting

  1. Hi Elaine

    I just read your blog on gift giving i only buy what i know people want or need, my daughter & partner both needed socks so i’ve got them some & my daughter always likes a diary to keep in her handbag, my partner loves yorkshire tea so i got my daughter to get me a big bag from costco & my partner lets me choose my gifts & my daughter generally buys bath bombs from lush so not too bad on the gift front😁.


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