How to opt out of over-indulgence at Christmas

‘My family’s excessive Christmas disgusted me – what can I do?’

Moral Money: our reader wants to inject some altruism into family get-togethers

Dear Moral Money,

At my house last Christmas, there were so many presents for the children that they literally fell asleep while opening them. There was so much food that we had to book a slot at the household waste site because our bins were overflowing and the uneaten food was rotting around us.

At one particularly poignant moment the television was broadcasting death and destruction in Gaza, people homeless and starving, while my family waded through wrapping paper and gifts moaning about whether they had room for it all.

I want to opt out of this obscene over-indulgence next year, but I don’t know how to do it. I feel I contributed to the problem, and next year I want to do something different.

Moral Money: our reader wants to inject some altruism into family get-togethers

There has to be a better way to use my money rather than buying presents for people who need for nothing – money I could use to reduce my debt or contribute to reducing world poverty. 

I love my family, and the best part of Christmas for me is that we all congregate, but it does also seem to encourage the overdoing that has become normal. How can I make a stand without alienating them?


Dear reader,

I really identified with your dilemma – it does seem that Christmas traditions have evolved for many families into a bit of an orgy of excess – and I also hear your concern for those who don’t even have the basics. This led me to think about “distribution”, and ways one family’s excess might be shared. 

As one option, there are some charity voucher schemes where you can give a donation as a gift. It is quite nice to give the recipient a choice of which charity is to benefit from the money. The voucher can be in the form of a physical card and voucher or e-voucher. 

This seemed a useful option when considering the dynamic of my family, as my youngest granddaughter doesn’t yet have an email address, and my eldest granddaughter does everything digitally.

Some of the platforms that facilitate charity donations have a more specific range of charities or causes that the voucher can be redeemed in favour of, while others cater for any UK registered charity. 

You can also just select a charity and let your family know you made a donation from them all based on your Christmas present budget, but I think this misses an opportunity. 

I believe that encouraging everyone, especially children, to think about how to make someone else’s life a little easier is a viable part of what you seem to be keen to achieve – changing how your family thinks about and uses money. 

You can also lead by example and set up your own charity account with someone like Charities Aid Foundation (CAF) or one of the facilitation platforms. 

When it comes to next Christmas, or your birthday, you can then let your family know that you are feeling blessed with abundance, and ask for any gift they were considering bestowing on you to take the form of a contribution to your charity account because you have reached a stage in life where helping others gives you the most joy.

Moral Money: our reader wants to inject some altruism into family get-togethers

The over-catering is also a situation I recognise, although my family have made good use of WhatsApp this year and we all agreed to supply different elements of the feast. 

One person was on drinks, another on dessert, another got the cheese board and so on. There were 12 of us to feed from four family groups and, with a bit of messaging back and forth, we made sure we had everyone’s favourites covered, but all contributions were part of the whole. 

It worked better than in previous years with much less doubling up and over-catering, although I still gained a few pounds and hit the antacid quite hard.

Expectations of a lump of coal and a satsuma in your stocking on Christmas morning have long been surpassed, and I note the trend towards using the gifting season to ensure further get-togethers during the year, with “experience” gifts proving popular: trips to the theatre, spa days, trips to the seaside or a theme park and so on. 

This would honour your joy of congregating with your loved ones, and might be another way of giving that supports your values. 

I realise not much has been mentioned about the birth of baby Jesus here. I have to say I found the run-up to Christmas manic this year, and when I collapsed into a seat at the Christingle service on Christmas Eve, I suddenly realised that I hadn’t given the religious connotation much consideration until that very moment, yet I had been planning, buying, wrapping and partying for well over a month.

Thank you for sharing your dilemma with us. It has made me reconsider how to play things next year, and I hope you find something useful in these musings.

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