Monday, 3 December 2012

Birthday Greetings and a Christmas Wish

A few bits of housekeeping before I begin. This entry marks the 100th post this year for The Pier, another step in our inexorable move towards global domination. It's been getting on for 18 months since I started blogging for Pier32, and I like to think we've gone from strength to strength. There's more and better to come in the next few months, so keep it locked to this signal.

I'd also like to take this opportunity to wish Guru Ian a slightly belated fortysomethingth birthday, which I'm sure went with a bang. He's been the prime mover in getting me to this point in my writing career, and I owe him a major debt of thanks for that. Birthday happys, Nin.

Now, Christmas. For some, the most wonderful time of the year. For others, a grim reminder of the greed and venality at the heart of our consumer society. You might bah humbug at that, but hear me out for a second.

TV's Money Saving Expert Martyn Lewis recently caused a stir in The Telegraph when he wrote a piece on Christmas, and how he believed spending for it was out of control. He says:

Across the country people are growling at the enforced obligation to waste money on tat they can't afford, for people who won't use it. Festive gift-giving has lost its point, risks doing more harm than good, mis-teaches our children about values and kills the joy of anticipation of what should be a joyous time.
Before you think this is just curmudgeonly bah-humbug, this rant isn't about presents under the spruce from parents or grandparents to children or spouses. It's about the ever-growing creep of gifts to extended family, colleagues, children's teachers and more.
I first braved this subject on my website back in 2009, expecting a snowstorm of protest. Instead, many people joined my call to arms, relieved they were not alone in their distaste for the gifting ritual.
The next year, I polled 10,000 people on whether we should ban presents. Seven per cent said ditch all of them, 30 per cent said to all but children, and a further 46 per cent said limit it to the immediate family. Fewer than one in five supported giving beyond that.
Yet even with years of economic stagnation, each successive Christmas, Eid or Hanukkah, too few brave the peer pressure and shut up the giving shop. With Christmas just five weeks away, there's still time to pull back and agree on NO PRESENTS THIS YEAR.
I can only agree. We struggle to find gift ideas for an ever-increasing extended family, throwing cash at barely-thought out solutions that more often than not end up either at the charity shop or worse, in the bin and heading for landfill. Worse, if you actually ask people what they want, you get a vague response or the infuriating "oh, I'm sure whatever you get will be fine." Gaaaah. Something has to give. There has to be a solution, and sometimes it needs to be radical.

As a writer on eco and sustainability issues, I know that the greenest thing you can do is simply not buy things you don't need. Last year, my wife and I came to the conclusion that we had to cut back, and that Christmas was a great place to start. We spread the word that we didn't want any presents, and that we'd only be buying for kids and grandparents. The reaction was a little mixed, largely on the bemused side. We don't have kids, therefore there was no way for our families to reciprocate when we were spending money on them. We had to make it very clear; it's OK. Have one on us. We'd rather spend the money on good food and booze, and on enjoying everyone's company.

In general, it worked very well. A few stealth presents slipped through the net, but on the whole our extended family understood what we were up to, and I think they were happy to have two fewer gifts to buy. So, we're doing it again this year. We'll be visiting our families over the Christmas period, bringing good cheer and a couple of bottles and that's about it. I'm sure everyone will manage without a selection from the Boots 3 For 2 range this time around.

I can't say that this is for everyone, and it would be easy to start throwing around accusations of penny-pinching or downright Scroogery. But let's face it. We live in tough financial times, and I don't think trimming down your Christmas list is anything other than sensible. We making sure that the boys and girls for whom Christmas is a special time get something from us, but apart from that it's homecrafted cards and our heartiest best wishes.

That being said, it's my birthday two weeks before Christmas, and I expect to be spoilt rotten.

For more tips on how to downscale your Christmas, have a look at Martyn's tips over at The Telegraph.

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