From the Editor: Changing the culture of gift giving during Christmas

Staying sustainable during the holidays is the best way to avoid post-Christmas credit card bills

Save packaging and money by making gifts yourself. (Unsplash/ Visual Stories || Micheile)

For some of us, Christmas is a time when family and friends get together and exchange gifts. It’s also when the amount of waste we create increases by over 25 per cent, a reason why we should change the culture of gifting during one of the most expensive and wasteful holidays of the year. 

Despite the COVID-19 pandemic, this year, Canadians were estimated to spend $1,841, an eight per cent increase in holiday spending since 2019, a Deloitte study finds. Forty-six per cent of more than 1,000 surveyed Canadians felt they wanted to spend more to spoil family and friends after a challenging year. 

Events like Black Friday, Cyber Monday, and Boxing Day promote consumerism during the holidays. The discounts hypnotize shoppers to buy more than they need, leading to increased waste and financial instability. 

The top five ways folks are purchasing holiday gifts are by credit cards, debit, cash, or cheque, mobile or digital wallet, and redemption of loyalty points.

This year in January, Albertans rushed to financial counselling after their post-Christmas credit card bills spiked. 

In addition to financial instability, in Canada, 545,000 tonnes of waste is generated from gift-wrapping and shopping bags each year, including the use of six million rolls of tape to wrap up Christmas presents every year, according to Zero Waste Canada.

We now understand that the consumerism that has been normalized during Christmas is a leading antagonist in the fight for climate change, and is notorious for leaving some of our wallets half empty, but this doesn’t have to be that way if we change how we decide to participate in the culture of giving during the holidays. 

One of the best ways to enjoy the season of giving is by first understanding what we can and cannot afford and getting items that have less plastic and need less gift wrapping. 

Buying second-hand items found in good condition makes for excellent gifts, such as jewelry, mugs, purses and bags, books, records, and board games. This could also include pre-loved children’s toys made of wood. 

If you feel more crafty, some options include soap, candles, and card making. And with your possible hidden Pablo Picasso skills, consider painting an abstract picture of your best friend with the style of his famous paintings.

Other alternatives if you aren’t crafty and have bad luck at finding hidden gems at thrift stores, include re-gifting something you don’t use. This can include clothes a family member gifted you years ago but never wore, a gifted picture frame you haven’t used, the necklace that doesn’t match any of your outfits, the Bath and Body Works cream you haven’t opened that is still yet to expire, and the candle someone bought you from Walmart that has no vanilla scent. 

Then, there is always the more straightforward and, at times, boring route by gifting gift cards.

While searching for sustainable and affordable gifts, it is essential to keep in mind what the person wants. The last thing the gift receiver wants is an unwanted gift that will probably end up inside their closet catching dust, or in the trash. 

A 2019 survey by Finder in the United States found that 61 per cent of surveyed Americans admitted to having gotten at least one unwanted gift over the holidays. The survey further found that Americans have wasted $15.3 billion on unwanted gifts. 

People were most likely to receive unwanted gifts from their friends first, followed by mothers and fathers-in-law, then parents, partners, and finally their own children, who have the highest chance of buying gifts that people want. 

The unwanted gifts are at times gifted to someone else, exchanged, sold, given back, and thrown away, according to the survey. 

Once finding the perfect gift, you can wrap it in newspaper or with compostable kraft paper to reduce the amount of waste. 

Changing how we exchange gifts this Christmas can also encourage our gift receivers to consider taking a sustainable and financially smart approach to gift-giving in the years to come.