What if we scrapped presents?

Posted by: James on: Tuesday, 20th March, 2012


Because much of the time they are completely wasteful. That pen and binoculars set you got from your auntie three Christmases in a row. Where did they end up?

“But I might need this one day.” That there is shorthand for “I won’t use it, but I’d feel bad getting rid of it.” Why keep something you will never need? Just in case auntie comes around? “Why are you not writing with your new pen?” “Why don’t you look through the window with your new binoculars?”

Wrapping paper? Pure waste. “But what about the surprise?” If you’re not expecting a present, it’ll always be a surprise! Seriously, I love colourful wrapping paper – I just can’t defend it.

And we don’t all need one of everything. Borrowing and lending makes better use of space and resources and it’s more social.

The most harmful thing of course, is the culture of obligation. It’s your birthday. You are my friend/relative. I must buy you something. I could make you something, but actually that would take time I don’t have and might conceivably cost me more (for this is the curse of the hobby shop). Far easier to get you something off Amazon.

I don’t think we should expect gifts and I don’t think the giver should be under any pressure to produce them either: should I be grateful for a gift that someone felt they ‘had to give’ me?

“Hi James, convention dictates that I say happy birthday to you and offer you this gift. I wouldn’t have bought it, only it’s your birthday and convention dictates that I should.”

Okay, they look cute now, but they're just going to get neglected and gather dust on the shelf.

“But without presents, how will my loved ones know I love them?” Christ, has it come to that? No, you’re absolutely right: let’s upgrade Facebook so that every time it reminds you of your friend’s birthday, it also suggests a gift for your friend based on their ‘likes’ and automatically buys it for them, writes a card based around your favourite quotes and sends it to their registered postal address.

Let’s be clear: I’m not against otherwise occasioned acts of ‘I saw this and thought of you’ where ‘this’ is not:
a) tut
b) pointless
c) sporting a nationalist symbol and pretending to represent a culture

Oh, and it’s a bad idea to lust after material things &c. &c. It will leave you &c. buddhism &c. dukkha &c. capitalism &c. supporting a flawed system that &c.s people over &c.

Of course scrapping presents won’t work unless there is what the Christians call a First Mover, so for the purposes of experimentation, I declare myself God. Don’t buy me presents. Not unless you really really want to and it’s something that I could conceivably need. If in doubt, you can ask me. I will still appreciate it just as much as if you had boxed it up and covered it with wrapping paper and tied a big ribbon around it and said ‘happy birthday James’ – maybe more.


5 Responses to "What if we scrapped presents?"

Can believe this coming from a man who left a TOTALLY AWESOME home karaoke and applause machine (+ stand) behind because it was deemed a hassle to transport.

Secret Santa is first up against the wall!

5th May. Remember the date.

It’s not the gift of the gift, it’s the gift of thought. Actually I disagree with your stated cynicism for these reasons:

1. Without gift giving, how would we teach children (and adults) to think about others; truly worry about other people’s needs and wants in an obligated way. Something that says more than simply ‘on a whim one day my brain made a random connection to you and I spent my resources showing you how much serendipity cares about you’
2. It’s a way to culturally bind a larger group of people. Giving gifts to your neighbours and work colleges releases hormones which improve relationships and create bonds.
3. Person-to-Social behaviours are governed by two things: Protocols we do every day and, that which we are given permission to do for this event. Events like birthdays and Christmas are an excellent way to unseat the usual moors and bring in special rules. Over kindness being one.

I understand why buying useless corporate shite for everyone randomly is obvious nonsense. But that shouldn’t make one turn away from either gift giving, or social obligations of kindness and reciprocity play.

Make things, bake things, draw things, there are plenty of ways to give and feel obligated to think of others, without engaging in the buying frenzy.

Bloody hell. Another one to add to my Christmas list!

Y’know, when I wrote this I was living on a friend’s couch and was about to move to the US. I literally didn’t want ‘stuff’ weighing me down. I’ve since realised that many of my favourite gifts are edible – not only do I enjoy eating things, but they end up taking up no space at all (well – maybe a belt-notch’s worth of space).

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A fairly loose blog about the places I go and the things I think. May also include left-leaning social commentary derived in part from video games.

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