A plea for a little less Christmas

Picture of a wooden snowflake decoration on a cream background for a post with a plea for a little less Christmas

Simple vs stressful

When did Christmas get so big?

Christmas seems to have exploded. Everything is festive to the max – bigger, longer, more.

It feels like everything got super-sized.

Christmas stockings expanded into pillow cases then Christmas sacks. Pigs in blankets became a foot long, toblerones grew into girders, and I spotted a £60 mega bottle of gin in Morrisons.

When did presents become so ridiculous, in quantity and price? Photos of huge piles of presents pop up on social media. Magazines are stuffed with gift guides touting £50 diaries, £144 ham and £2,500 cognac. Suddenly it’s not enough to give presents on Christmas Day, now Christmas Eve boxes are a thing, stuffed with new pyjamas, DVDs, snacks, hot chocolate and whatever else.

Simple things got gussied up. I remember being excited to open paper doors on an Advent calendar, just to see a picture. Chocolate calendars blew my mind. Now my kids clamour for pricey Lego versions, and you can scoff and slosh daily doses of wine, cheese, beer, gin, or immensely expensive beauty products. Fancy a mince pie? The shelves are stocked with mountains of varieties, luxury ranges, nut topped, soaked in salted caramel, with added almonds or alcohol.

We’re driven to buy brand new items, rather than reusing old ones. You’re not supposed to drag down a box of baubles from the loft. Now we’re encouraged to have a new theme or colour scheme every year, and not just one tree, but several.

Somehow Christmas seems to involve more time and trouble than ever before. Advent has been hijacked by the elf on the shelf, which should be shifted into different positions for 24 days beforehand.  You can’t just tell your kids Father Christmas is coming, you’re meant to put out booze, mince pies, carrots for the reindeer, ring bells outside their door, order a personalised letter, track his progress round the world on a paid-for app, then leave icing sugar footprints and reindeer droppings behind. Forget visting Santa in a shopping centre, wrap it up in tickets to Winter Wonderland or jet off on a trip to Lapland.

I used to think I was doing well if I managed a clean tablecloth for Christmas dinner. Apparently I should be worrying about table runners, festive flowers and foliage, special napkin rings, candles, party games and selfie props. I remember being glad to get a cracker.

Dinner itself was enough of a faff, cooking a roast meal with extra sauces, without laying in more chocolate than Cadbury’s and enough festive food to feed the five thousand. Now there are catalogues full of Christmas food. Exotic varieties, with weird combinations of birds stuffed one within another. Suddenly Christmas isn’t Christmas without not only a cake, but stollen, a gingerbread houses, a yule log and pannetone.

And then all the themed Christmas clutter, specifically designed to be used on only a few days of the year. I’ve ranted before about Christmas jumpers, but they’ve expanded into all kinds of clothing – hats, socks, slippers and matching pyjamas for the whole family. From festive bedding to mugs and special plates for those mince pies for Father Christmas. How can that be a good use of money and scarce resources?

Picture of a white cardigan with beading

A longer lasting Christmas cardigan

Christmas on credit

Now, I will defend anyone’s right to spend their money however they wish. Fancy a £20+ tiger tin with eight macarons? Knock yourself out.

What concerns me is the pressure to spend money we don’t have.

At this time of year, I get a flood of worrying emails.

Hargreaves Lansdown reckon 57% of people will spend more than they mean to at Christmas. Research by Where to Sell revealed 40% of Brits are struggling to afford Christmas, with a third of people surveyed expecting to take out a loan or a second job just to cover the cost. MyVoucherCodes found half of their respondents admitted to going over the top at Christmas, and 43% got into debt every year to afford it. Earlier this year, the Financial Conduct Authority reported that 13% of the UK populations had no savings whatsoever. That means any extra spending at Christmas will drive up debts.

I do see why Christmas dialled up to 11 is great for retailers. Let the tills ring out, it’s Christmas. But their enormous advertising budgets create enormous pressure to spend. Many families face a bleak choice between borrowing money or feeling guilty if they can’t fund the perfect day.


picture of presents wrapped in white and gold paper

Smaller piles of presents

Keeping Christmas special with less spending

So I suppose I’d like to wave a flag for less spending at Christmas.

Yes I would like my children to have a nice Christmas. But I reckon a happy Christmas isn’t measured by cost.

As a kid, I enjoyed Christmas, but not because of the price tag attached. Sure I liked getting presents – but it was also about seeing the extended family and all the familiar activities. Singing carols, decorating the tree, watching Christmas TV specials, playing cards, going to see the Christmas lights, baking Christmas biscuits, eating chocolate before breakfast, all the stuff that hardly costs a penny.

Previous post on Christmas traditions

As someone who tries to strip down spending to essentials, the orgy of consumption is overwhelming. It makes Christmas seem expensive and exhausting. I reckon my kids will enjoy it more if I can spend time with them, rather than shopping, decorating, cooking and stressing. (My husband certainly will). A single day shouldn’t drive up debts that take months to pay off.

So this year, I don’t want a perfect Christmas. I want a bit less Christmas, a lot less spending, and maybe actually a bit more fun.


Now – over to you. Are you going all out for Christmas? Or do you think Christmas can still be special without a massive spending spree? Do share in the comments, I’d love to hear.

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  1. Sarah
    5th December 2018 / 2:44 pm

    This is exactly how I feel! This is also the first year I’ve managed to persuade my husband to commit to a budget for Christmas with an upper limit on spending for everyone. Can’t tell you how relieved I am to not be worrying about how much it will all cost! Previous years the kids haven’t even remembered what they were given by Easter. I’m also boycotting tit for tat gifting and Christmas cards which has also lightens the load.

  2. Gill
    5th December 2018 / 3:22 pm

    I’m in full agreement with you Faith, I’m slightly older so in my day there was even less Christmas. I tried to keep a sensible lid on it for my children when they were small and I hope that they’ll continue to have a similar Christmas with their children when they arrive.

    I really despair that it’s only going in one direction, how can it ever be reigned back in? As you say, each year there is something else new and shiny dangled in front of people to tempt them, there will never be less.
    I know that it’s an old cliché but The Good Life Christmas Special should be compulsory viewing each year, as Margot says ‘Christmas doesn’t come in a van’

  3. Gardengoddess42
    5th December 2018 / 3:52 pm

    Amen to all that Faith.
    My childhood Christmases included the early post-WW2 years.
    The differences between then and now are exponential in every way. Including the downsides post-Christmas as a result of over-spending, over-expectations, over-eating, over-indulging.
    With all the pressure, learning to put on the brakes or say no is very difficult.

  4. Sam from Swimming
    5th December 2018 / 4:01 pm

    I am definitely guilty of a lot on your list! I think it’s because I am so excited…

    We try to rein it in by wrapping a lot of stuff they need- after the summer school holidays everything needed gets put by for xmas, even socks (apart from anything else, they are stocking sized!). Toothbrushes, flannels, hair bobbles… It all gets wrapped up.

    You’ve definitely given me. A lot to think about…. May be more salt dough decs this year…. Our own traditions rather than taking on other people’s! xxx

  5. Pamela
    5th December 2018 / 4:35 pm

    I agree. My special hate is Christmas jumpers and when our local church insisted we wear them for Christmas services, with a prize for the best, that really was the limit

  6. Susan Wilkie
    5th December 2018 / 5:46 pm

    Oh Faith this is just what I was talking about to friends earlier today. We were all born during or just after WW2 when there was very little material stuff around but we all said we had wonderful times at Christmas, my Parents bought me one main present which had to be saved up for through the year and my Mother would fill the most amazing stockings with little trinkets she had collected all year. This year there seems to be more advertising than ever before and why do we now needs Christmas Eve boxes, we don’t but the shops will do anything to part us from our money!

  7. Sue Cuthbert
    5th December 2018 / 6:38 pm

    Phew, so glad I’ve never been in debt because of Christmas. This year all bar 1 of the Grandchildrens presents are secondhand, adult presents hampers with home made and cheap goodies, packed into a useful Jute bag (not a basket for £7 or more if you go to Lakeland!) or money for some . Christmas cards come from charity shops – but last January in their sales.
    My new pet hate was seeing those Christmas Eve boxes – new this year I think, old pet hate is being bought something that will go straight in the car-boot box – hate others wasting money buying me tat!
    Despite a different sort of Christmas – my first without Colin after 39 years – I’m looking forward to a family day together.
    (PS if the Sue Wilkie in the comment before me is the Sue Wilkie from Birmingham then ” a card is on the way soon and how come you don’t comment on my blog!!”)

  8. Cathy R
    6th December 2018 / 9:49 am

    I so agree. I feel it’s expanded massively this year. I was shocked to see the recent Oxfam survey that said 8 million items of clothing are being bought for Christmas and then only worn once. A lot of things seem designed to whip kids into a frenzy (hate the idea of Christmas Eve boxes). But it’s hard to withstand the pressure- my friend criticised my three year old wreath bought from a charity shop and said it should go in the bi and I should buy another, as she’d seen a lovely one for £50. I put some extra holly on mine and called it done. There are so many lovely things about Christmas that aren’t driven by consumerism and I am completely with you on the idea of a little less Christmas.

  9. thrift deluxe
    6th December 2018 / 12:03 pm

    A thousand times yes!

    I consider myself fortunate to work with lots of older people who remember Christmas from many years ago, long before my time. Not only are they very measured in their view of most things they also make me feel a bit less of a grump for not getting sucked into the more outlandish of festive treats – huge bows on the front door seem to have taken over from wreaths in my circles!

    I see the waste side too, working at a charity shop we benefit from the annual colour theme changes and demand for new. but there is just so much stuff! I think at this point I’m about 35% glitter I’ve dealt with so many decorations.

  10. Kathryn Hipkin
    6th December 2018 / 10:20 pm

    Ha! I still keep my advent calendars with pictures and recycle them every year (my mum used to do this). The kids do have chocolate ones but they’re the £2 Dairy Milk ones. They like the picture ones too.
    Forget Christmas Eve boxes (what?); if we do anything on Christmas Eve it tends to be children’s Mass at church them maybe a visit to the fish and chip shop. They like that better anyway.
    And we still have stockings, not pillowcases (ever) because the stockings were filled with little goodies and any bigger presents (clothes!) are not opened til after breakfast.
    I don’t really care what anyone else is doing, if people don’t like your holly wreath, so what? I don’t have lots of money to spend anyway so I’m not going to be coerced into spending it.
    Thanks for post, interesting reading everyone else’s replies too.

  11. 10th December 2018 / 3:58 am

    A few thoughts. We avoid advertising wherever possible, which helps limit the exposure to stuff like you described. We have a budget & a small list of people we buy for at Christmas. Each year I try to find one way to cut back, even from our small list. For every dollar I’m able to cut from the Christmas budget, I donate to charity. Meaning, if I find a good price or use a coupon on a gift, I don’t just spend more on people, but I make it a game to find great deals in order to increase my donation.

    We did end up buying our kids expensive Christmas gifts this year, which is unusual for us. They are skis, so we can go on a few ski trips together. Other than that, they are getting: a book, a rain coat & gum/mints/candies for one child, and a book/shin guards for soccer & gum/mints/candies for the other child. We are paying for my nephew to enter a relay race, and the kids really wanted to get my parents coffee mugs from Hawaii this year. That’s it’s.

    We decorate our tree, I bake one kind of treat (cardamom bread), we have one bin of decorations we use every year. We don’t exchange gifts with any adults (my parents as the exception this year), we do put up a strand of lights on the outside of the house, we skip the corporate holiday parties, I avoid shopping malls like the plague. . . we just don’t focus on the spending element. We love spending time with family, relaxing, doing puzzles, & enjoying great food.

  12. Alice strang
    22nd December 2018 / 9:46 am

    Totally with you on it getting ever more commercial. I consider myself pretty disciplined about xmas spending – and eating – but have found there is more temptation and pressure at every turn this year. Very hard to teach your kids the real meaning of xmas – about love and family if not the birth of Jesus.
    Fave line this time is clean tablecloth!!

  13. Caroline
    3rd January 2019 / 2:07 pm

    I’ve been involved with a community takeover of the second hand bookshop in the town where I live towards the end of last year. We weren’t expecting to have great sales in December as everything that we’d read indicated that our type of shop didn’t do well at that time of year as people want to buy new for presents. We were pleasantly surprised though that we did ok. Hopefully this indicates some change in spending habits. we did jump on the Christmas Eve bandwagon a little by doing a Jolabokaflod promotion (Icelandic tradition) encouraging people to purchase second hand books to swap on Christmas Eve.

    • Faith
      4th January 2019 / 12:25 pm

      Glad the community bookshop is going so well, that’s brilliant. Jolabokaflod promotion sounds a great idea with the book swapping, I’d love to do that myself.

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