It’s supposed to be the ‘happiest time of the year’, but the festive season has – justifiably so, really – come in for a lot of criticism over the past few years for it’s negative effect on collective mental health, as well as the environment.
I’ve spent my own fair share of years bemoaning christmas festivities but I’ve made peace with the season in recent times, developing my own traditions and setting personal boundaries that allow me to enjoy the holidays in my own way without over-extending myself and risking burn-out. There’s no one-size-fits-all formula to this, so I’m afraid I won’t be departing too many pearls of wisdom in terms of how to achieve this peace of mind for yourself, the only thing I can recommend is really being mindful and considered in everything you agree to over the season, both from a financial and mental state of mind.
It would be easy to say that to avoid playing into the consumerism of the season you should just forgo buying any gifts and instead focus on spending quality time with your loved ones. This is something my friends and I have done for years now; spending the money we might have used for gifts on travelling from our four corners of the country to ensure we all spend time together in the run-up to the festive season, and on good food to enjoy together. But not everyone has the luxury of having loved ones nearby and I don’t think you need need to shun gift-giving entirely if the process is one that brings you joy — and in turn brings joy to the recipient.
There’s also a third-party in play when it comes to the joy of gift giving, and that is the person from whom you have purchased the gift – which doesn’t have to be a small business or independent maker either. The high street comes in for a huge amount of flack at this time of year, but I think its important to remember that your local high street retailers employs a large number of people from your region – including temporary staff over the holidays who don’t usually have permanent employment – and the purchases you make in these stores can help give people a steady paycheck at a time of year, when every penny counts.
Having spent a number of years when I was younger working at a high street department store over christmas I know firsthand how hectic retail can be at this time of year, but also how important the holiday season is in keeping staff in secure employment for the rest of the year. Things are rarely black and white in this world, and while it is so easy to paint high street retailers as villains and encourage everyone to shun them in favour of supporting smaller local businesses, the reality is they often contribute far more than you know to your local community. I’m a firm believer in supporting local makers and neighbourhood boutiques where you are able, but the most important thing is to be making to right purchasing decisions for you.
Ok, festive rant over. The items I’ve pulled together in this year’s guides come from the incredible wealth of Northern-based designers, makers, craft extraordinaires and curated boutiques I’ve uncovered over the past few years living up here in Manchester. I’ve written before about how I like to dedicate a good chunk of time to considering the people I’m shopping for this season, thinking about times we’ve spent together, things they’ve expressed interest in and anything they may have said that could spark an idea for a gift for them. All too often in the past I’ve just headed out to the shops without a clear idea of what I might want and been left bewildered and panicked trying to find something meaningful in the sea of shelves jammed with gift ideas.
So, my advice is to set aside an evening, pour yourself a mug of something warming, light a candle, put on some music (festive, or otherwise) and take some time thinking about what you want this Christmastime, who you want to share your festive cheer with and how best let them know how much they mean to you..
A lot of people consider scented candles to be a ‘lazy’ gift idea but they are often one of the first things I consider for my friends. Most people I know like to throw a cheap scented candle from IKEA in their trolley as they make their way around the marketplace, but would baulk at the idea of spending a little more on a premium quality locally-poured candle made with environmentally-friendly natural ingredients, because it feels a little too extravagant to indulge in for themselves.
To me these are the kind of things that make the perfect gift: luxury toiletries, a premium spirit, indulgent chocolate, fancy stationery. all of these make great gift ideas in my opinion, no matter how ‘cliché’ they may feel, because they are telling your loved ones that they are worth it.
The same goes for jewellery, which I always think is a winner provided you’ve considered the aesthetic style of the recipient. It’s so easy to go wrong with jewellery but when you get it right, it really hits the spot. Small independent makers are always a winner in my book because you have a great story to accompany the piece; from how you discovered the craftsmen to how you came to choose the piece you settled on. be sure to consider the usual style of jewellery your loved one usually wears, as well as the colour (gold, silver, copper etc.), and then let yourself be drawn to the maker or the piece you feel truly captures their spirit.
Coffee cups are my weakness.
I have a million of them (only a slight exaggeration) but if you find a beautiful handcrafted cup, believe me I’d be happy to receive it! One-of-a-kind contemporary ceramics are definitely my new go-to when it comes to unique gift ideas for my close friends and family, many of whom are just getting on the property ladder and have new homes to decorate.
A quirky handcrafted original gift is always a fantastic way of letting your loved one know you consider them to be one-in-a-million too. There are loads of handcrafted makers markets happening all across the country in the coming weeks so my advice would definitely be to check local listings and head on down to be inspired by both the local craft and the artisans themselves, who will be out in force manning their stands.
I can’t think of anything more festive them visiting a christmas market and strolling the aisles with a mug of mulled wine in hand, chatting away with the makers to discover their processes, inspirations and passion for their work. Far more enjoyable that a scrummage in a department store any day!
And don’t underestimate the power of a good stocking filled with goodies on christmas morning, or a small ‘secret santa’ gifting scheme in your workplace.
A lot of the time people overlook small gifts as insignificant because they don’t believe they can find anything of value under, let’s say, £10, but I disagree. Its really not about the price of a gift, but the thought behind it. Many of my most memorable and cherished gifts were handmade by loved ones, but if you’ve not quite got the crafty genes (or the time) there are still plenty of fabulous small gifts that can be just as gratefully received.
Whether it’s something small and decorative, or small and functional, as long as you’ve considered your purchase and the reasons why your recipient will love it, you’ll be fine. Colourful resin jewellery, a posh bar of chocolate, beautifully scented incense, a quirky key ring. I once bought a multi-pack of candy canes and gave one to every person I worked with (department store days, I had 50+ colleagues!) each tied-up with a little bow, and felt satisfied I had spread some festive cheer amongst my team.
It’s the thought and intention that counts, my friends!