That Christmas Exchange Gift Tradition

“Love the giver more than the gift” – Brigham Young

Gifts are among the most associated things with Christmas. From a historical perspective, when the three Kings offered the baby Jesus the gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh, it was a fulfillment of the prophecy of the prophet Isaiah (Isaiah 60:6). The tradition of gift giving has since become a permanent fixture during Christmas season.

At Christmas parties held in schools, workplaces, and within families, we were told to bring gifts and exchange them with our classmates, colleagues, or closest relatives. The tradition of gift giving has become a standard procedure as it’s also practiced at birthday parties, baptisms, graduations, engagement and wedding parties, or even visiting a friend. But it’s only during Christmas when we practice that sort of conditional gift-giving: I’ll receive a present because I gave one.

Behind the festive, sometimes even garish decors that wrap around Christmas party venues, and the crisp wrapping process that people try to align with your personality.

According to a Sydney Morning Herald article published in 2019, socks were among the least appreciated gifts that account for an estimated $400 million spent on 10 million unwanted gifts last Christmas, many of which were discarded and likely ended up in a landfill. Not only these gifts were destined for the wasteland, but single-use plastics and wrappers also add up to the pile.

“Novelty items, candles, pamper products, pajamas, slippers, underwear, and socks are among the least appreciated gifts, a national survey shows.”

Be assured Livvie, Raffy, and Rea that your gifts made my feet happy, so call me an outlier from those survey participants who underappreciate socks.

However, I’ve also received gifts that sit in the corner gathering dust or foodstuff that I allowed to slip past their expiry dates and discard thereafter.

Selling on Gumtree or regifting them might be a practical option for others, but I don’t like either idea even if I hate clutter.

Presents are wrapped not only to evoke a sense of surprise, like for those kids who can’t wait til Christmas morn to open their presents. They also transform mere everyday objects into objects of desire. A study conducted in 1992 by Daniel Howard, professor of marketing at Southern Methodist University in Dallas showed that “a gift-wrapped item influences the recipient to have a more favorable attitude towards owning the gift item.”

That sounds about right, say stationery shops and those in the gift shop business. But it’s a nightmare to eco-warriors who are aware of the environmental impact of wasted gift wrappers. For example, Australians use more than 150,000km of wrapping paper during Christmas – enough to wrap around Earth’s equator nearly 4 times.

As we become more aware of the rapid filling out of existing landfills, and the promotion of eco-friendly initiatives like recycling grocery bags, and promotion of water fountains, gift wrapping also evolved a bit in that reusable paper bags have become a nominal but neat way to package a gift, even if it costs more than a traditional wrapping paper. But if it gets reused for other purposes, the bag justifies its monetary value.

I wonder if you agree with me and my personal take on presents:

1. I want to give gifts that are more specific to the recipient. Finding gifts for multiple potential recipients is a challenge. Like at our recent choir Christmas party, where gifts are supposed to be gender-neutral. From being more personal in nature (“she really thought about me before buying this gift”), it has become more utilitarian (“this is a gift is useful regardless of gender or lifestyle”).

If not for convincing powers from Nica, who last year went home from our party without a gift, I would have ended up showing up for the party ordering my meals and skip the exchange gift part of the program. In hindsight, I am thankful Nica convinced me to join.

2. I prefer to receive gift vouchers like Audible credits or gift cards, which I typically convert any office end-of-year giveaway into Woolworths grocery vouchers. Maybe it’s about addressing the inflation problem, but I find more contentment and personal joy in receiving these intangibles.

3. I agree with Mid Modern Mama‘s ‘no gifts please’ policy, although, in context, this is for her child’s birthday and a Christmas occasion. Like birthdays, Christmas is a celebration with a focus on people and the wonderful time they spent together, a timely occasion towards the end of the year when happy memories of the past months have reminisced with the joy that goes with welcoming Jesus.

“We work hard to fight the materialism and wastefulness so prevalent in our culture.”

4. Christmas exchange gift’s should also make use of gift registry sites like Giftster and get rid of the unnecessary investment of time and use of brain power.

Buying gifts helps businesses and stimulates the economy. But as the stats above paint a grim picture of both wasteful culture and focus on materialism, I may be among the minority who traverse against the current.

If inflation made Black Friday shopping more expensive this year, it might also have the same impact on that bargain-hunting for Christmas presents. If many of us sulk in silence about the additional expense to kind of continuing a tradition, let’s face the reality and be honest about it. Let’s celebrate Christmas with or without tagging along our presents.

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