Have you ever felt the urge to pepper spray a fellow shopper
so you could secure yourself a discounted Xbox? It’s happened. “Only in America” we love to say and have a cocky chuckle comforted by the knowledge that we are vastly more laid back and reasonable here in Australia.
But are we?
As Christmas fast approaches and my shopping list magically grows longer rather than shorter, as I add in all the people I’d forgotten such as childcare staff, swimming teachers and neighbours, I wonder if perhaps the accumulation of stuff
is sending us mad. Elbowing people out of the way to save $30 on a dollhouse, or queuing for country miles to fight off the competition for a remote control Batmobile, is not really my thing. I’ve turned to online shopping to avoid the crowds but this has also made me less mindful of the senseless consumerism. At least walking around the shops at Christmas crazy time with arms full of bags and fed-up feet reminds me that perhaps I need to slow down, to cut down, to think of the environment, to think of others less fortunate. Not to mention, the state of my loungeroom floor after the Christmas morning present massacre is over in a spray of paper and annoying plastic wire bits in a total of fifteen minutes. That old chestnut: less is more and be kind to your feet.
Look, I love a gift as much as the next person. I also adore watching my children’s eye widen to ten times their natural size when they unwrap a much-longed-for present. I remember that anticipation as a child, as Christmas morning finally came and that bulging stocking beckoned.
What I don’t love is the packaging that requires commercial sized bolt cutters to open anything, the paper, the cost, the plastic, the “what next?” and the dirty feeling that overconsumption gives you, like when you gorge on fast food, later bemoaning the decision when your stomach is churning.
In recent years, my family has started the idea of “experience giving”. This is often combined with a physical gift that can be unwrapped – something small and token, because writing on a card doesn’t quite have the impact for a five year old that a box and toy do.
My children relish the idea of being taken, as a single entity with complete and full attention from someone other than their parents to a place they don’t visit often. The zoo, the aquarium, the museum, or simply fish and chips dinner on the beach; for children, a special day that is devoted to them is memory making. It will remain long after the plastic fantastic breaks.
It also teaches them the golden nugget of patience. A gift of experience is something to look forward to, a reason to cross days off the calendar as the excitement grows. For the parent, it is one less child for a few hours – now that is worth more to me than an award-winning prestige Barbie in a ball gown.
The problem is, experience giving is time consuming. We need to find a block in our schedules and give the gift of ourselves. It can be costly if you include food, entry fees and transport. But it doesn’t have to be. And given the cash we part with (or should I say credit that we can now wave over a screen to pay for things) surely the gift of experience is worth that same money?
Experience giving is thought provoking. It forces us to think about the person we are buying for in a way that tangible present giving does not. Naturally you can’t give everyone on your list an “experience” but even cutting down on what we buy if only to lessen the crap we need to then buy storage for, will make Christmas more meaningful.
We are a world of intelligent and creative people whom I’m certain can share our skills. A budding family photographer can help other family members learn how to take great photos by an outing to a forest or local landscape. Someone with an eye for gardening may come and help plan out your landscaping and take you to the nursery to choose some plants. A trip to the mineral springs, just you and your sister to soak away the year’s stresses? Bliss. A golf game with your brother, followed by lunch and a beer at a nearby watering hole – things we don’t get to do much as we become parents. A stint of babysitting while you send the parents off on a picnic with a basket full of goodies you’ve packed may be a gift long remembered after the food has been digested.
And for the kids, a grandmother who can knit can take a grandchild to a wool shop, buy some special rainbow wool and knitting needles and teach them to knit a scarf, perhaps baking some scones for afternoon tea. Granddad building a magnificent piece of woodwork with his grandson from some leftover wood scraps? Maybe his own little hammer to take home? Priceless. An aunt taking the niece/nephews to a make-your-own-pottery place followed by an ice cream may well have more impact than a ceramic cat from the $2 shop.
It’s not so much going organic as it is thinking laterally. What I want for my children is individuality – to build upon themselves. To therefore own what every second kid on the block owns is not really anything to aspire to. I concede that for children, fitting in and obtaining the ultimate gift that they’ve dreamt about is something we cannot ignore. Yet teaching and surprising our children and loved ones with adventures and experiences they didn’t even know they wanted feels significantly more fulfilling.
In the wise words of Dr Seuss: “Maybe Christmas doesn't come from a store, maybe Christmas perhaps means a little bit more....”
― Dr. Seuss, How the Grinch Stole Christmas
Have you ever given an “experience” as a gift? How was it received?
KylieThis is my last column for 2012. Thank you again to all the wonderful EB & EK readers for your interest, support and involvement in the topics we’ve discussed and debated throughout the year. Stay safe and try and steal some time to relax over Christmas with your families. I look forward to chatting again in 2013.