Beneath our feet the earth shifts and fidgets, like a classic case of ADHD, playing with tectonic plates, the planets very own, home-grown fidget toys. The simile ‘as solid as a rock’ looks pretty silly considering the world below is constantly in a state of flux. It’s slow but continuous as the continents drift and the plates play roughhouse, like a bunch of unruly siblings, causing tiny tremors barely perceptible to our thick skins. That is until we are literally thrown off her feet, physically and mentally, by massive earthquakes or volcanic eruptions. Our planet is not just feisty, it’s ferocious in its quest for change and thank god for that. And now the whispering warnings travelling on the tail of worsening storms are getting louder and louder. Even Trump no longer fully denies climate change and the mass consumerist, fast fashion, shop till you drop zeitgeist that has swamped society since the birth of mass production is under attack.
And it’s not just the mountains of disposable materialism that is turning our magpie gaze away from the shiny things. Psychological studies show the depressive effects of too much choice and too many belongings. It’s becoming impossible to ignore the increasing melancholic mood as we chase the dragon of the next dopamine high to buy this week’s must-have stuff.
Last years must-have stuff is now stuffed in a groaning closet hidden from guilty eyes that have seen through its glamour to misspent clutter no one really wants or needs. There are few people who are not susceptible to mass consumerist temptations. From clever subtle nudges to unabashed shoves we are inundated with messages to spend and the festive season is the crowning pinnacle.
But we are resilient with as strong an instinct for survival as the planet we live on.
I don’t know if you have felt it too but this winter has felt different. The whispers challenging the culture of gift giving are more frequent and frantic. For every new advent calendar saturating the market (there are even pork scratching calendars – is there an entire hog roast under December 25th’s flap?) there are blogs, posts and articles suggesting we rethink how many obligatory presents we give. Tweets that push for presence not presents may be patronising but there is truth if you can get past the sanctimony.
When I first saw the Big Bang Theory episode “The Bath Item Gift Hypothesis” (if you haven’t seen it I highly recommend you download it forthwith) I laughed as scientist Sheldon Cooper gets more and more crazy after finding out his friend has got him a Christmas present.
He said: “I know you think you’re being generous, but the foundation of gift-giving is reciprocity. You haven’t given me a gift; you’ve given me an obligation… I now have to go out and purchase you a gift of consummate value and representing the same perceived level of friendship as that represented by the gift you’ve given me. It’s no wonder suicide rates skyrocket this time of year.”
First aired in 2008, Sheldon was repeatedly represented in Christmas episodes as an existential scrooge. Ten years later I, among others, not only agree with him but want to change the culture of present giving. However, I don’t want to go full Ebenezer Grinch because there is still joy to be had, presents and all – we just don’t need quite so many. In fact, spoiler alert, that particular episode ended with Sheldon being presented with the perfect gift and it cost nothing (a napkin signed by his hero Leonard Nimoy aka Spock).
Financial expert, Martin Lewis, who is campaigning loudly for people to rethink gift culture, conducted an experiment to see what presents kids enjoyed the most. If you hang out with children, and cats, you will be unsurprised that empty cardboard boxes were number one.
One of my best memories was searching for a Santa sleigh bell for my young son. It was all he wanted after seeing The Polar Express. While I failed to obtain the real thing (shhh don’t tell him) the cheap replica I found was number one of the top ten presents. Similarly, when I was three I begged for an early present on Christmas Eve with my eye firmly on a necklace I had asked for. To my great disappointment, I was given a small, cheap snoopy cuddly toy. That toy turned into my treasured comfort companion that I imbued with magical powers. He still sits on my shelf in pride of place and, after the kids and pets; he would be the first thing I’d rescue in a fire.
Rather than cramming the closet with 10 coats, filling shelves with cheap, ornamental knick-knacks and cluttering living space with superfluous furniture and décor, it may be time to listen to granny and invest in quality over quantity. Beautiful pieces or clothing designed carefully with artistic integrity that use superior materials and stand the test of time will be more meaningful. You can enjoy the spirit of gift giving without adding to landfills and stress levels. It’s just a matter of discernment.
Perhaps by stepping away from the commercial rat race of buy… buy… buy, we will have the mental space to let the magic of winter seep back in.
Children love the magic of this season. From sugar plum fairies to scary snow queens, the dark winter nights were made for creepy stories by the fire where good triumphs over evil (well unless you read the original fairy tales) and beautiful twinkling lights that brighten and warm the icy, black shadows. The world over imbues winter with seasonal joy: The enchanting colours of Diwali fireworks; Magical flying creatures carrying toys made by elves; Lighting coloured Chanukah candles and singing about the little guys triumphing over the big bad guys; Winter Solstice parades of exquisite, imaginative white lanterns and ceremonial paper clock burning; the Islamic festival of Mawlid el-Nabi and traditional food gifts in the spirit of the Islamic saying “Give gifts to spread love to one another.”; spirited (in more ways than one) Hogmanay parties where handsome first footers knock on your door with local delicacies of black bun. The list goes on and on bringing light, magic, miracles as well as meaningful gifts and charity to brighten the cold, grey, harsh season of winter.
Magic lurks underneath the wrapping paper.
Copyright by Sonia Picker