Christmas should not simply be about material valuationsflickr - Howard Lake

As an ardent devotee of fashion, shopping, and ‘things’ in general, the advent of Christmas has always filled me with joy and trepidation. In our society, writing a lengthy Christmas list to Father Christmas is drummed into children from the second they can hold a crayon. As you get older, however, Christmas becomes less about presents – and not just in the sense that you become less materialistic or desirous. What you want changes, and for many this morphs from wanting ‘things’ to wanting experiences, memories and time for yourself.

When I was little, I craved ‘stuff’ perenially, and once dubbed this impulse ‘the desire to acquire’ when trying to defend it from a judgemental relative. I had more keyrings than Hagrid has keys, and Saturday afternoon was a time for visiting Claire’s Accessories and purchasing obscene amounts of highly perishable bric-a-brac. When Christmas rolled around, editing the list was a source of great consternation. While I admit that I was a spoilt brat, I always tried to be charming and write thank you letters! 

“There is no reason why Christmas has to be a shrine to the material things in life alone”

In the last few years, however, my Christmas lists have been very modest. Indeed, this year’s, like the last, amounts to ‘nothing’. We no longer do stockings in our house, to halt the raging tide of tat which Christmas constitutes. As I grow up and mature, I want less tangible ‘stuff’, I value experiences and memories a lot more. This new ethos can be adapted to the Christmas context through plane tickets and money for travelling and enjoying university. I put money from last Christmas towards May Week, for example, as while these events only last a night they are hugely significant, due to the memories made and experiences shared with friends, which I will cherish my whole life, more than I ever would a fluffy unicorn keyring or ubiquitous Hollister hoodie.

The process of going to university also requires you to perform a critical analysis of your material ‘stuff’. Last year I was on the topmost floor and the prospect of carting countless bags up many flights of stairs was a doom-laden prospect capable of turning anyone into the Grinch. I know I don’t need more stuff, despite the story my bank statement tells, but everyone could use more experiences and memories. There is no reason why Christmas has to be a shrine to the material things in life alone.

"Understanding that the context surrounding an item is often more valuable than the item itself is all part of maturing"

In turn, the Christmas holidays themselves are such a gift after the insanity that we call Michaelmas. Yes, your DoS may tell you it is just a ‘vacation’ and the work must continue, but do ignore them if you can. Being able to relax is such a luxury it can feel worth all the stocking fillers in Boots combined. When did you last read a book or magazine for your own benefit, rather than for arbitrary Tripos requirements? We should treat material gifts as opportunities. A book may be a chance to completely unwind, a pair of trainers a show of faith in someone to actually fulfil their New Year’s Resolution. There needn’t be a total rejection of material gifts, but seeing them as more than ends in themselves is critical.


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This is not the tale of a materialistic child who had a zen awakening and stopped wanting material things. I still shop a very great deal – at first I didn’t realise you have to repay your student loan, and then I reasoned that I may as well look nice when I’m in penury repaying it. But I now feel that Christmas is just a day to spend time with family and to enjoy the unique experience. This holiday period, I would urge you to get some headspace and rest. The reading list is long, but it would be tragic to not be able to enjoy 2018 because I didn't rest, or frittered away money I could have put towards meaningful experiences.

Understanding that the context surrounding an item is often more valuable than the item itself is all part of maturing. Photographs and stamps in passports amount to infinitely more than an ‘I heart NY’ t-shirt, and, equally, a more personal set of experiences and memories is worth more than any gift set tailored to a generically-aged and interested person. Such things are fundamentally hollow, and, besides, you’ll receive enough of them in the office Secret Santa in a few years. Instead, while you have the chance to pursue your own interests and ambitions, please do. Christmas provides a wonderful opportunity for just this

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