Have Yourself a Very Minimalist Christmas!


For some of us, December is the best time of the year. The streets are decorated in red, green, and gold. Buildings are decked out in festive lighting. Shops put out their most spectacular and expensive displays, boasting blockbuster sales. People are rushing to make last-minute purchases for family and friends. Even for those who don’t subscribe to the Christian tradition, it’s hard to resist participating in the festivities and enjoying the holiday spirit. After all, Christmas is the season of giving – what’s the harm in that?

Each year, the holiday becomes increasingly tied to excess materialism and loses a little more of its spiritual meaning. During the Thanksgiving to New Year’s holiday period, Americans throw away 25% more trash than during any other time of year, amounting to 25 million tons of extra garbage. In the UK, more than 2 million turkeys, 5 million puddings, and 74 million mince pies are thrown out every Christmas. And in Hong Kong, where I’m from, over 2000 live Christmas trees are imported each year only to end up in the landfill a week later. For an event that lasts only for a few days, Christmas accounts for more than 5 per cent of our annual carbon footprint. Despite all the green that we surround ourselves with, we surely are not green.

We’re also not much happier either. For many of us, Christmas is a stressful time as we scramble to get the ‘perfect’ gift for loved ones, organize and host fancy parties, and cook up huge feasts while our wallets protest in vain. And though we often find ourselves with a mountain of unboxed, unwanted gifts and a month’s worth of leftovers at the end of it, we never fail to do it all again the next year.

Why? Is it because we’ve convinced ourselves that this is what Christmas is about? That as good citizens of society we feel obligated to take part in the holiday traditions? Or is it because we give material items to make up for the time we don’t spend with the people we love? “Hey cousin, I haven’t seen you since last year but today is December 25th so here’s a pair of fluffy socks and an oven mitt. What did you get me?”  

Now don’t get me wrong - I’m not trying to kill the holiday mood by saying we should stop giving each other gifts just because it’s terrible for us and the environment. Instead, I’m saying that we can do so by taking a less materialist and more minimalist approach to Christmas. This includes giving your time rather than material items: going ice-skating with your family, seeing a movie with your friends or even volunteering at your local soup kitchen. Research has continually shown that experiences not only make people happier and for longer compared to material goods, but they also help us build stronger relationships. After all, the best present is presence.  

So this Christmas, I challenge you to take a less wasteful and more minimal approach to gift-giving. Rather than buying and wrapping endless presents that you hurriedly bought at the store, why not spend more time with your loved ones? And when someone asks you for your Christmas wish list this year, consider hitting them with this reply: “your presence is the best present you can give me.”

On that note, I wish you a happy and minimalist holiday season!