I love Christmas.
It’s great to spend time with family or friends and be thankful for one another (yes, I sung that last bit).
I also love all the bizarre little quirks and eccentricities.
Burnt chestnuts… the strangely beautiful ritual of hanging lights and baubles on a dead tree… mixing fruit juice with Cava…
But there’s one thing that’s really upsetting about Christmas – and that’s how incredibly expensive it has become.
Of course giving and sharing is a huge part of Christmas. Presents are great. In fact I think we should give each other gifts more often (not just at Christmas or birthdays) because it shows that we’re thinking of one another.
What terrifies me is the Christmas monster. The nasty, glassy-eyed materialistic zombie that demands outrageously expensive gifts
I’m talking about the unrealistic expectations so many of us thrust upon ourselves.
We’re bombarded with adverts and clever marketing campaigns and it’s slowly sucking away some of the Christmas magic and replacing it with a frenzied shopping spree.
There are mums and dads who struggle to pay the bills each month and yet every December they max out their credit cards buying their children laptops, iPods and god knows what else – gifts worth hundreds, sometimes thousands of pounds.
And it’s not just parents giving their children lavish presents. There are couples who compete to get each other the best gift using money they don’t have.
Instead of saving for a deposit on a house or investing in their future they shower each other with fancy jewelry and gadgets to show each other how much they love each other.
It’s become this awful monster where people are getting into terrible debt to buy each other the perfect gift.
Now I’m not suggesting with give our kids a stick and a rubber wheel and tell them to “get on with it”… or that we spend Christmas day holding hands and meditating for world peace – but surely it’s time we reclaimed Christmas from mass consumerism!
5 ways to have an amazing Christmas that doesn’t involve getting into crippling debt
1) You could introduce Secret Santa for older members of the family
This is something we started doing in our family about 5 years ago and it has been revolutionary. Not only does it stop everyone getting stressed about what to get one another, it helps us to keep to a sane budget.
You set a price limit which everyone has to stick to (for example you could say £25 – or whatever is affordable) and then each person is randomly allocated ONE person to buy a present for.
We always use this website to save us having to put names in a hat.
Choose one person to fill in the names and email addresses of everyone involved, set the agreed price limit and then hit ‘submit’. Each person will then be secretly emailed their Secret Santa.
Make sure you warn everyone when this email will be coming so that they know to expect it (and so that they can check their spam folder, just in case!)
2) Agree with your partner that you’ll buy each other a special joint present
If you’re married or you’ve been in a relationship for a long time you could treat yourselves to one joint gift that’s for both of you.
So instead of showering each other with lots of separate presents you could think of buying one thing that’s for both of you – something that you’ll enjoy together. It could be a weekend away, maybe something for the house, whatever you agree on.
This takes away all of the stress of worrying about who’s spending what… and whether you’ve bought the right thing. As it is something you both agree on you’ll be able to look forward to it and budget for it.
If you still want to have a small surprise present for each other under the tree, agree on a strict budget cap (again like £25) that cannot be broken – on pain of doing the dishes for the next 12 months.
3) Explain to the children that the REAL Santa doesn’t give out gadgets
Obviously it’s a bit tricky to go backwards on this one (if the children have already received gadgets from Santa)… but little ones will understand that real elves couldn’t possibly make computer games and mp3 players in the toy workshop in Lapland.
Sony, Apple and other technology companies make the kind of gadgets that are constantly advertised on the TV – in great big grey factories in China and Japan – there’s nothing magical about that. Santa makes proper toys.
Try limiting them to one special gift (like a computer game) that comes from mum and dad.
4) Have a ‘no present pact’ with friends
Often it’s not just family we have to buy for at Christmas, many of us feel obliged to get presents for our friends too – sometimes even our work colleagues.
When you’ve been doing it on auto-pilot for years it can be hard to break the habit and you might feel too embarrassed to be the one to suggest that you stop doing it.
But here’s the thing – the chances are they’ll be relieved if you suggested a no present pact. Once a few friends catch on this can have a great snowball effect and you’ll be thanked for making life simpler for everyone.
5) Create or buy personal gifts (they cost less but are priceless)
Some of the most amazing gifts I’ve received for Christmas have been personal gifts that people have taken time to create or find…
Like a framed screen-print, a quirky t-shirt (I’m obsessed with t-shirts), a first edition of a favourite book, a photo – anything that’s hand made or crafted. My partner Sophie made me a beautiful cross-stitch 2 years ago and it’s been on my desk ever since.
Gadgets and expensive trinkets quickly age and go in and out of fashion – but personal gifts last a lifetime.
Let’s make Christmas magical again. Christmas is a time for fun and laughter, kindness, eating too much and giving each other presents – not a time for stress and wandering around faceless department stores getting into debt.
This article first appeared on Insider's Edge. Read more and comment here