A friend recently posted on Facebook:
“I really, really want to support local traders and craftsmen this Christmas. It would be so much easier to do so if they didn’t sell such tacky, useless and – most disappointingly – artless crap. Please someone recommend a place to buy quality gifts and save me from suicidal thoughts at the market.”
I love Christmas with all the tradition, ritual and promise of family harmony, the smell of real Christmas trees and lots of lovely food. However present buying has become an increasing headache year on year. I thought it was just because I am such an indecisive lib ran, but actually my friend Andy got me thinking.
We don’t have a huge budget to spend on relatives but I would like to give them something useful or beautiful or both. However most people these days have all the practical things they want or need (within reason because they just buy them). Beautiful things tend to cost big money. It would be nice to buy fair trade things so that other people get the benefit of what I spend but most fair trade things are really tacky – who really wants a chameleon made of thousands of beads, that took someone in Africa 4 days to make, and costs £10? Catalogues of cards and gifts from the major eco-charities had just as much tacky junk as the high streets so buying ethically wasn’t an option. Our shopping centres have an increasingly large proportion of shops selling “decor” which is usually tasteless and mass-produced just so we can put the useless items on the wall/shelf/table and look at them. What is the point? It is possible to buy small items from local craftspeople that are affordable but then one can appear stingy for buying something trivial.
The thing is we don’t value people’s time and skills as much as we should when it comes to crafts. We are so used to buying cheap mass-produced tat made in a sweat shop in india that we forget what it really costs to make things. As a result we all have far more stuff than we need or want, don’t really value it and then start paying people to help us de-clutter or else pay for space in a warehouse to store the surplus.
Another aspect of having so many possessions is that we worry that someone else wants to steal them (which they do sometimes as thieves especially value anything electrical/digital or made of precious metals). This results in people paying for burglar alarms, extra locks on their doors, surveillance equipment and sometimes retreat to a gated community. The more we have the more we worry about someone else wanting it. This is especially true of cars but not a worry for me. My car is a little old Peugeot that has been more reliable than expensive new cars bought by another family member, and better than that, I don’t worry about it being stolen.
There is another side to this consumerist madness. Can we really afford to squander the earth’s precious resources on highly packaged fashion statements such as large glass vases filled with synthetic plastic flowers? And how many scented candles do we want or need (candle wax is a petroleum product)? And if you count not just presents in this madness, what cost of singing reindeer or dancing snowmen? Surely they must be the tackiest waste of the Earth’s resources ever produced. The extra electricity for all those festoons of Christmas lights on people’s houses must be adding tons to the country’s carbon footprint.
So the solution…. Well one could buy a cow or a goat donation-present from Oxfam that helps people who really need it and give the gift card to relatives. One could buy small locally, handcrafted items like pencil cases carved from wood. One could buy books as they are often informative, a source of long-term pleasure and can be passed on. If you have time you can make things for people yourself (I have done in the past). Buying experiences such as a balloon ride have become more popular and are, I think, a good idea. Or you can ask someone what they actually need. There must be more good ideas that would help me and Andy for future Christmases – any suggestions?