A gift of hope

Christmas is time for hope, says Alison Johnstone.

Amid all the glittering lights and parties, the festive period can be pretty stressful. This year, an election focused almost entirely on dodging debates and a bah-humbug Brexit hasn’t helped.

For those of us fighting to be heard in this election, buying presents and other preparations has been postponed.

But for many others, there is still an intense pressure to have the perfect Christmas which can take its toll, both on wellbeing and financially.

There are some alarming statistics on festive spending and debt. The Money Advice Trust has warned that a third of people in the UK are borrowing money to pay for presents this Christmas. Sadly, this also means even less money the essentials. One in five will be taking on credit to pay for food, while the Trussell Trust has predicted more people than ever are expected to need a food bank ahead of Christmas.

Starting a new year with such a heavy financial burden can be extremely stressful and the repercussions of over-spending can be felt long after the festivities have ended. Debt charity, Step Change, have warned that people in the UK will take an average of seven and a half months to pay back Christmas debts.

There is no sign of the pressure to spend abating, however. ‘Black Friday’ and incessant adverts encourage unhealthy levels of consumerism, and people in the UK are set to spend an average of two weeks’ wages in the run up to Christmas. How many of those panic purchases end up on landfill?

Notions like ‘second-hand Christmas’ or ‘buy nothing Christmas’ are gaining popularity, and no wonder. The rampant consumerism and feverish spending associated with Christmas is not sustainable. It can leave those who are struggling financially or who may be spending Christmas alone feeling left out.

Christmas is a time of giving, but this doesn’t have to mean expensive gifts. It could be our love, attention or even just our time. It could mean donating some food to your local foodbank or visiting a relative or friend who you know will be alone this Christmas.

Buying second-hand from your local charity shop can be an ethical, sustainable way to purchase high quality gifts for your family and friends. Not only will you save money, but you can feel good about the fact you are supporting a charity. Gifting experiences rather than objects is also an option. A picnic for two in the park (once the weather gets warmer!) or a free cookery class can say just as much as the latest gadget, and the memories they create may just be more permanent.

As for the election, with all the focus on Brexit you could be forgiven for thinking we were electing a government just to take us through the next few months. But your vote isn’t just for Christmas, it is to elect MPs who could sit for half the time climate scientists tell us we have left to keep global warming under control.

Perhaps the greatest gift you could give this Christmas is hope for the future.