Read this before buying candles for Christmas

Font Size:
Gary Mortimer, Queensland University of Technology and Jana Bowden, Macquarie University

Christmas marks a peak in consumerism across the West. Despite the COVID downturn, this Christmas the spending frenzy is unlikely to be dampened.

One consumer sentiment survey showed about 12 per cent of people expect to spend more this Christmas than in previous years. About one-third expected to spend less – a similar result to previous years. And retailers are also feeling optimistic: more than one in three expect Christmas sales to exceed 2019 by more than 5 per cent.

All this festive spending creates significant waste, particularly in the form of unwanted gifts.

So before you finish your Christmas shopping, it’s worth considering why we feel forced to spend big on gifts during the silly season, and whether there are better, greener alternatives.

Items dumped at charity store after Christmas
Unwanted Christmas presents can pile up in landfill and at charity stores. AAP

Really, you shouldn’t have

Research by ING found $400 million worth of unwanted presents were gifted in Christmas 2018, comprising about 10 million items.

Topping the list were novelty items (51 per cent), candles (40 per cent), pamper products (40 per cent), pyjamas or slippers (35 per cent) and underwear or socks (32 per cent).

Charity groups are inundated with unwanted goods directly after Christmas. Not all of these are resold – charities reportedly send about 60,000 tonnes of unwanted items to landfill every year.

This waste comes at a huge cost, not only to household budgets but also to the environment. Recent research on the topic is hard to come by, but in 2007 researchers from the Stockholm Environment Institute examined consumption over the festive season, and found 80kg of carbon dioxide per person could be saved if unwanted gifts were not purchased.

Some people don’t like receiving candles at Christmas. Shutterstock

Why do we feel obliged to buy?

Gift-giving is a complex emotional process. And it’s not necessarily always a positive experience: a 2016 survey found 43 per cent of Australian shoppers felt forced to spend money at Christmas.

Research suggests Christmas gift-giving is less about altruism, and becoming more about social pressure to reciprocate – the expectation that when we receive a gift, we will give one in return. And reciprocity does not necessarily bring happiness. One study dating back to 1990 found those who gave an obligatory gift had negative feelings about the act afterwards.

In particular, some respondents felt their freedom to choose a gift was curtailed by perceived obligations – that they had to reciprocate with a gift of similar type, price or brand. This triggered psychological “reactance” – the unpleasant arousal people experience when their free behaviours are threatened.

Read more: How to choose the right Christmas gift: tips from psychological research

Gift-giving can be a way of showing appreciation, but you don’t necessarily need to spend up big. Research shows while gift-givers might expect a gift to be appreciated more if it was expensive, recipients reported no such association.

Or you could spend nothing at all, by regifting an unwanted present. In some circles of contemporary society, regifting is frowned upon. Respondents in one study went so far as to describe regifters as lazy, thoughtless and disrespectful.

However in some cultures, regifting is considered normal. For example, a classic 1922 ethnographic study describes a ritual followed by people of the Massim archipelago in Papua New Guinea. Called Kula, it involves people travelling to a nearby island and presenting residents with shells and necklaces. The recipients would keep the gifts for a time, then pass them to others, and on it went.

To these islanders, keeping gifts destroyed the value created by the act of giving, while regifting maintained it.

A toddler looking unhappy at gift
Regifting is a sustainable option to dealing with unwanted gifts. Shutterstock

Five ways to have a green Christmas

There are lots of ways to give a gift without hurting the planet. And since the COVID-19 pandemic forced many activities online, the options are even greater. Here are a five options:

1. Virtual and digital gifts: these range from electronic gift vouchers that allow the receiver to buy what they really want, to subscriptions to streaming services, audiobooks and even virtual bouquets.

Due to COVID, virtual travel, which began for many as a temporary measure, may now be around to stay. Or you could gift a virtual Christmas event such as cooking classes, cocktail-making experiences and virtual craft workshops.

2. Give an experience: Experiences are events such as concerts, jet boating, spa treatments or a romantic evening cruise. Research shows experiential gifts contribute more to consumer happiness than material purchases.

Giving experiential gifts also strengthens social connections between givers and recipients.

Read more: Virtual reality has been boosted by coronavirus – here’s how to avoid it leading us to dystopia

3. Regift: Regifting, if done thoughtfully, can be a great way to avoid unwanted presents ending up in landfill.

The practice is actually quite common. One consumer survey shows when people receive unwanted gifts, 25 per cent give them to someone else. And on websites such as Gumtree, you can even buy other people’s unwanted gifts. At the time of writing, products for sale included an unworn Maurice Lacroix men’s watch, an electric drum kit and a new Samsung smart TV.

Screen shot of virtual cocktail making class
Virtual cocktail making classes, such as these offered by Melbourne bar Laylow, are a green gift option. Laylow

4. Go handmade: Handmade gifts are unique and help forge a connection between the giver and the receiver. And even when you purchase the handmade gift rather than make it yourself, research shows recipients usually perceive that the gift symbolically contains ‘love‘.

Etsy has become the global marketplace for handmade gifts and vintage treasures. But keep in mind that if you order a handmade gift from the other side of the world, transporting it will generate carbon emissions.

5. Upcycle: Upcycling prolongs the life of old objects by creatively reshaping them into new products. For example, an old jar might become a hanging plant pot, or a reclaimed door might be repurposed as a table top.

Research has found when people are told about the past identity or ‘story’ of an upcycled product, the person feels ‘special’ and demand for the product increases.

Read more: Your Christmas shopping could harm or help the planet. Which will it be? The Conversation

Gary Mortimer, Professor of Marketing and Consumer Behaviour, Queensland University of Technology and Jana Bowden, Associate Professor of Marketing and Consumer Behaviour, Macquarie University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons licence. Read the original article.

How do you feel about regifting presents? What are your favourite gifts to give and receive at Christmas time?

If you enjoy our content, don’t keep it to yourself. Share our free eNews with your friends and encourage them to sign up.

Join YourLifeChoices today
and get this free eBook!

By joining YourLifeChoices you consent that you have read and agree to our Terms & Conditions and Privacy Policy


Christmas gift guide – Under $10

Stocking-stuffer and fun, low-cost gift for family or friends

DIY Christmas decorations

Watch these DIY tutorials and make your own festive gift tags, candle holders and a wre

Creating a Christmas tree, without the tree

Sick of the annual decorating duties? And the dismantling? We have a solution.

Written by admin


Total Comments: 0



    continue reading


    Small bedroom tips to maximise space and style

    For many of us, house space is a fiercely contested commodity, and you need to squeeze the most out of...


    Aussies much more willing to be vaccinated than Americans

    The United States has had nearly as many COVID-19 cases as Australia has people. More than 400,000 have died of...


    Goldie Hawn at 75: The Hollywood star's fashion and beauty evolution

    Goldie Hawn, one of Hollywood's most beloved stars, is famous as much for her acting talents as she is for...


    US still reels from the deadly consequences of 'alternative facts'

    Jennifer S. Hunt, Australian National University Every four years on January 20, the US exercises a key tenet of democratic...


    Tennis stars call Australian Open quarantine 'insane' and like prison

    Entitled, pampered, whingers. Elite sports professionals victims of the greatest overreaction to COVID-19 in the world. Those are the poles...

    Finance News

    RBA reveals why retirees have to bear the brunt of low interest rates

    The Reserve Bank of Australia (RBA) knows that the negative consequences of low interest rates disproportionately affect retirees, but believes...


    Blood pressure medication helps even the frailest seniors live longer

    Taking blood pressure medication as prescribed helps seniors aged 65 and over people live longer. And the healthiest older people...

    Estate planning & wills

    Common mistakes when writing your will

    It can be daunting and even overwhelming at times, but writing your will is an essential part of planning for...