It’s the most wonderful time of the year, goes the carol. I am inclined to agree. I love Christmas, the days leading up to it and the weeks following, not just for the celebration of the birth of Christ (important as that is), but also for the opportunity it gives us to spend time with family and friends.
Even more than Christmas Day, those precious days between Boxing Day and New Year—and the handful of days after—provide an excellent time to see people whose schedules are otherwise difficult to coordinate during a busy year.
One of the most enjoyable gatherings of friends during this period is with four of my high school friends, in a tradition we have come to call “favourite things.” A relatively recent addition to our Christmas traditions, “favourite things” is a time- and cost-effective way to celebrate Christmas and exchange gifts. The rules are simple: you buy the same gift for each person in the group; there is a cost limit of around $10; the gift is supposed to be something that you have discovered in the previous year and enjoy yourself.
The exchange works a treat. Given that we have maintained our friendship since high school, we are all of similar age and stage and have similar interests, so if one member of the group likes a certain product, it is likely that all of us will also get a kick out of it.
In my humble opinion, it is a much better variation on Kris Kringle than the increasingly popular “Bad Santa,” which encourages people to buy inappropriate and somewhat offensive gifts for their Kris Kringle recipient. These gifts end up usually just being thrown away after they elicit the awkward-yet-obligatory laugh from those gathered.
Over the years, “favourite things” has yielded some really great gifts. There have been hand creams and make up tools, handmade bath crystals and shopping bags, snagless hair ties, gifts of home-made sweet and savoury dishes (with recipes included), cocktail kits, tea bags, scented candles, portable speakers with a suggested playlist, DVDs of a tearjerker movie and more.
From reliable cleaning products to a supermarket-bought sauce that tastes like you’ve slaved over the stove for hours, there are plenty of time- and money-saving gifts that any 40-something woman running a household will love.
As each gift is given and unwrapped, the giver explains why they chose it and why they thought everyone would like it. Often, the explanations are much more entertaining and meaningful than the gift itself. Apart from the discovery of new products and treats, the exchange also gives us all an additional insight into the lives of our friends.
Since this tradition began, friends of ours who we know from other parts of our life have come to know about the “favourite things” exchange and have offered suggestions for what we might buy. Last year, my gift to the girls was a Woolies-bought refillable oil spray bottle to replace the disposable ones we all buy for frying and baking.
It was the suggestion of another friend of mine, who phoned me in March to tell me she had an idea for December. For those looking for a different way to exchange Christmas gifts with family or friends, particularly as increasing prices on everything make it difficult to spend lots at Christmas, I would like to suggest you do something similar.
The budget can be as low as you like (some of the best finds are those that cost just a few dollars) or even a budget of zero, and instead get friends to recommend a free app they have found useful or entertaining, or a YouTube video that inspired them or had them in stitches. I’ve found that this type of exchange takes the pressure out of finding the “right” gift while not doing away with the notion of gift-giving altogether.
If you adopt this tradition along with us, don’t be surprised if it changes the way you look at gifting. It will keep giving at the front of your minds all year, not just at Christmas.
I’ve noticed that I am more conscious of whether an item I am really enjoying or finding useful is something another of my loved ones would like, and if so, I will pick up another for them. I have found it makes us more likely to give small gifts for no reason or occasion at all, and simply because we think another will get a kick out of it.
I also love this tradition of exchanging small gifts with great meaning because it is also helps us savour the Christmas story of the creator of the universe becoming a baby small enough to embrace.
A blessed Christmas to all of you and your favourites!