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Dear Nicola...

Should I compromise my values at Christmas to keep the peace?

Written by . Published on December 17th 2010.

Dear Nicola...

Nicola Mostyn

Friday 17 December 2010

Should I compromise my values at Christmas to keep the peace?

Dear Nicola

I’m quite different to the other members of my family, but usually I go along with what everyone else wants just to keep the peace. But I dislike the commercialism of Christmas and so last year I stood up for my principles and bought my family ethical gifts like donations to charities and adopting animals. But, surprise surprise, my parents, brother and sister in law looked completely appalled, made snide digs for the whole day and totally ruined it for me.

My husband says it’s not worth the hassle and that this year I should just buy them all ‘normal’ presents. I don’t want any more stress and am inclined to agree, but then I think, if I can accept them as they are, as I have done all these years, why is it so hard for them to respect my beliefs?

Nicola replies:

Oh dear. I feel for you, having to enter the tawdry commercial circus that is festive gift giving just so you can have an argument-free Christmas Day, but then I also feel for your family, getting a goat for Christmas when all they wanted was a nice body scrub.

This raises an interesting question: should a present reflect the giver, or the receiver? I would venture that the answer is a bit of both.

Unless the recipients are blatantly ethically minded, there’s something quite insistent and a little bit preachy about giving ethical gifts like charity donations, an act that can’t help but come across as a comment on the receiver – almost as though you don’t trust them to give of their own accord. It is, after all, their gift – your money, yes, but their present – and it should in some way reflect who they are and what they enjoy, otherwise what’s the point in giving a present at all?

But then, possibly you’re just secretly getting your own back for years of having to pretend to enjoy all that conspicuous consumption when you’d really rather have been somewhere else doing something more meaningful. Are you not, perhaps, getting just a slither of sadistic pleasure out of your family’s horrified reactions to your more moral purchases?

If so, then you’re doing this for the wrong reasons. Giving ethical gifts is a great idea when we all already have so much stuff we don’t want or need, but there’s no point chucking them into the mix, like gift hand-grenades, and then becoming disgruntled when they blow up in your face.

If you want your family to accept who you are as an adult, this is not the time to fight this battle. Christmas brings out the 12-year-old in the best of us, and anything done ‘on principle’ during the festive period is tantamount in terms of maturity to having a prohibited piercing and then, when it kicks off, flouncing upstairs telling your mum you didn’t ask to be born. Put simply, if you need an adopted orang-utan to prove to your parents that you’re a grown up, then you’re not there yet.

Once you are there, you’ll probably feel more sanguine about a compromise. Because the only real way to get close to making everyone happy (this itself being a veritable mission impossible) is to find gifts – actual tangible ones - that your family can enjoy but that also meet your principles.

This will admittedly take a lot more time that just resentfully buying three for two on smelly stuff or popping online to get your sister in law a shipment of mosquito nets for Africa, but it is a good option in all senses of the word - there are plenty of green Christmas present options which will give your family something delightful to unwrap, but won’t make you feel like you have to hide who you are. Who knows, if you choose them carefully enough, you might even convert a few family members to your way of thinking.

And tell them if they don’t like the gifts they can take them straight to a charity shop. At least that way they can experience the joy of giving first hand.

Disagree with our columnist's advice? Have your say below....

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Nicola Mostyn
Manchester Confidential
Suite 2B, 2nd Floor Quay House
Quay Street
M3 3JE

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