A Christmas Challenge

christmas-stocking.jpgI have been doing some thinking lately about the Christmas season and the tradition of giving each other gifts.It can be quite challenging to find gifts for everyone you may “need to buy” presents for.In-laws, friends partners, cousins, staff, colleagues, friends children?!The mind boggles!I have thought about this tradition on a number of levels and I am hoping to convince you to change your present purchasing plans over the coming weeks.

First, lets talk about economics.I read an interesting article written by James Surowiecki in the New Yorker last Christmas, called “The Gift Right Out“.

“We all know that bad gifts inflict a cost—just think of the rigid smiles that greet an unwanted floral tie or Josh Rouse CD—but it’s surprising how big that cost can be”

In the article, he cites an economist called Joel Waldfogel who did a study and noticed that there was a large difference between the actual value of a gift compared to its perceived value from its recipients and coined this gap the “deadweight loss of Christmas.”

“A deadweight loss is created when you spend eighty dollars to give me a sweater that I would spend only sixty-five dollars to buy myself. Waldfogel estimates that somewhere between ten and eighteen per cent of seasonal spending becomes deadweight loss, which means that billions of dollars a year is now going to waste.”

This brings to mind some writing by Peter Singer, where he states that the cost of raising a child from age 0 to 5 in the developing world is as little as $US300. Just think of how far this “dead weight loss” could go in the developing world. (More about this type of thing : Eliminating poverty : I want to do my bit by Jonathan Koh )

Now for some environmentalist thinking.

A UK post called Cutting Down on Christmas Waste has some interesting tips and statistics

“The amount of waste we produce and our main methods of disposal are currently not sustainable. The production, treatment and disposal of waste can all harm the environment.”“It is estimated that over Christmas as much as 83 square km of wrapping paper will end up in UK rubbish bins, enough to cover an area larger than Guernsey.”

Not to mention all the waste generated from the creation of those last minute tidbit presents you purchase at your local $2 discount store. These products are usually made in countries that do not have decent industrial environmental legislation. Furthermore, as you probably have experienced, these products are often bad quality and end up in the bin further contributing to the problem of excessive waste.

Over the past week or so I have been bringing up this idea of a challenge over Christmas amongst my friends, where you don’t buy people “things”. When I outline my logic they all look at me with this regret in their eyes saying, Jax this is great and I will do this for my friends but I don’t think it will fly with my family.

Well this answer is just not good enough!
I urge them and you all to change your families social scripts!

Danah Boyd in her Apophonia blog wrote an interesting blog post last September titled social scripts for rituals and ceremonies, of religion and culture talking about the Jewish holiday of Rosh Hashanah and the different attitudes to funerals amongst different religions and culture.Within this post she discusses the often different “shoulds” when it comes to weddings, funerals and other traditions.

“Social scripts are funny things. Most of them stem from religious traditions, but are deeply embedded in society as cultural practices….”

“It’s not that I want the social script to be definitive… I just want it to be there as a guiding principle that allows people to focus on what they’re really trying to focus on: a joining of two lovely people, mourning, celebration”

So I challenge you to think about this when thinking about your Christmas shopping.

The change starts with you and your family this Christmas and hopefully soon buying each other goats, trees, or immunizations via an online charity shop will be come an acceptable “social script”.

At the online Oxfam Unwrapped shop you can purchase a buffalo, pay some school fees or help start business for only $14 for people in need which has much more “perceived” value for the person in need than a $14 trinket which adds a negative cost to the environment.
Or for the animal loving, you can adopt a flying fox, rhinoceros or albatross from the WWF shop.

If this sounds a bit much for your family, perhaps you need to take some baby steps and you can focus on other sorts of gifts like:
Purchasing some cooking classes, some tennis or tango lessons at a local community college or making someone a voucher on your computer for a home cooked roast, or a picnic at a secret destination. (Word template for voucher creation)

Anyway, I hope I have inspired you to try rise to this challenge this Christmas and if this post strikes a cord with you, please forward the link onto your families!

And please feel free to send the link around and post your comments below if you have any further ideas or suggestions! 



  1. Nice idea … I really think my family could do with a good dose of not giving. Let’s see the reaction!

  2. jacqueline said

    Hey Gavin…
    Giving is very much encouraged…
    I suppose I am jut trying to encourage some consciousness about
    our Christmas spending choices…and raise that we do have CHOICE..
    I am just hoping to challenge people to think twice about how their buck bangs this Chrissy….and let them know of some possibilities….

  3. Tanya said

    Great idea Jax! I also read this cute story about a white envelope in a X-mas tree. It also provides other ideas of giving…for the full story go to: http://www.agiftofinspiration.com.au/feature/index.shtml

  4. John Walker said

    Nice thoughts Jax. Im probably not going to be popular for this post, but I think Christmas can sometimes discourage spending too. Seeing nice thoughtful gifts around me often makes me question if I really need to spend money on a particular thing I am considering buying. My family seem to put more thought into the things that fill my room than I do.

  5. Grant said

    Hey Jax. I wholeheartedly concur.

    I have a double whammy of having to buy my nephew both a Christmas and a birthday gift at the same time (his birthday is New Year’s Eve) and he already has more crap than I’ve accumulated in my 32-odd years.

    So I try and buy presents that are a bit more engaging, entertaining and less about the “stuff” and more about the experience (we’re not talking boring “educational” gifts either – they have a lot of fun by all reports – a lot more than with the latest $2 toxic plastic toy sold for $60 that they usually get and gets tossed after 2 weeks.)

    My wife’s family have shifted their tradition of buying one present for each family member (already a lot less than most families, I know of many who each member buys each other member a gift) to each putting in a little bit of $$ towards an Oxfam Unwrapped (or similar) gift. I’m planning to encourage my family to do the same.

  6. dan n mel said

    Hi all,
    This Christmas we’ve been doing alot of thinking in regards to the gift giving and recieveing aspects of Christmas. And you know what, we’ve all got stuff. Too much stuff as far as I’m concerned! I think I’m a minimalist stuck in a horders body, which makes life somewhat cluttered. So, here’s some websites to help lesson the whole gift giving tension and make life a little bit better for someone else in the world.
    the list is endless. if you’re not happy with one of these you can always go to
    to find (what you think is) a worthwhile cause. You’ll find it’ll cost you half as much to make someone happy.
    Much love to you all
    Mel and Dan.
    ps. this one’s my favourite…. help the planet, I say

  7. […] wrote a post last christmas entitled a Christmas Challenge where I challenged people to NOT buy THINGS for […]

  8. jacqueline said

    A site offering ethical gifts
    (buy people in need a cataract operation or a cow)

  9. […] about Christmas present purchases and the value of charitable/service/no-thing type gifts – read  this post I wrote last Christmas – A Christmas Challenge. Possibly related posts: (automatically […]

  10. […] of this as a Christmas stocking to all IT managers focused on security. Open it at your leisure. (Jaxrant hung this stocking on the virtual mantle last year.) posted by Dana Blankenhorn December 16, 2008 @ 9:29 […]

  11. Nancy said

    The visit was useful. Content was really very informative.

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