Anya Hart Dyke: give time – not stuff – this Christmas

Anya Hart Dyke graduated from the University of Edinburgh in 2002 with an MA in Social Anthropology with Development and worked in the University’s Department for Social Responsibility and Sustainability from 2012 – 2015. 

Conscious of the waste created and items accrued at Christmas, Anya explains why she’s encouraging people to give the gift of time this Christmas.

I am promoting ‘Less stuff, less waste, better memories’ this Christmas, to try and normalise giving time to children in place of physical gifts. The environmental impact – deforestation, climate change, pollution – associated with the manufacture, transport, wrapping up and disposal of all the things we buy, is huge. I think it’s easy to forget that. And while most parents bemoan their homes heaving with under-played-with toys as well as the cost of some of the most popular toys on the market, giving only 1 or 2 presents to children is the least socially-acceptable sustainable choice at Christmas.

“My children were given, with so much love, in the range of 15-20 presents last Christmas. Almost all of which they have long since outgrown, all of which were brand new, none of which were needed.”

Every Saturday in the lead up to Christmas I’m dressing up as a giant Christmas present in different parts of Scotland to give shoppers free ‘gift of time’ present ideas for children. We need to teach children to value the friends and family in their life for the fun you can have with them, and what you can learn from them, not for what they can afford to buy for us.

I don’t want to opt-out of Christmas because I love it and it’s actually the perfect opportunity to take stock and think about what’s important. I want to create our own unique family traditions on our own terms, that aren’t purely focused on ourselves and don’t generate oodles of waste and clutter. And Christmas debt is a rotten way to start the New Year anyway.

Children love Christmas and with the prolonged build-up to the holidays there’s plenty of time to talk about what we can do as a family to have a positive social and environmental impact at this time of year. It’s about moving away from Christmas-as-usual and creating new traditions that steel children against the dangers of excessive consumerism. Some research suggests that materialistic children are more prone to anxiety, depression and selfish behaviours.

“It’s about moving away from Christmas-as-usual and creating new traditions that steel children against the dangers of excessive consumerism.”

You’re not stealing the magic of Christmas because Santa will still be visiting (with 1 present only) and there will be 2 or so presents under the tree to tear open, but it all just needs reined in. My children were given, with so much love, in the range of 15-20 presents last Christmas. Almost all of which they have long since outgrown, all of which were brand new, none of which were needed.

So the most important new tradition in our family is to ask loving friends and family to give the ‘gift of time’ to my 5- and 2-year-old in place of physical gifts. I see this as an investment in their future. I want to build a network of role models and sources of adult support for my children and this starts now with them spending as much as possible with my closest friends and family members. Activities might be in the form of joint outings with your child and other parents, which is what we plan to do since my children are still very young.

“The most important new tradition in our family is to ask loving friends and family to give the ‘gift of time’ to my 5- and 2-year-old in place of physical gifts. I see this as an investment in their future.”

It’s also injected the fun back into Christmas for me as my 5-year-old and I have come up with some great ideas for what she might want to do in 2020 with some of her favourite grown-ups. These involve plans for me to dress up as a waitress in her ‘café’, and going out for a posh high tea with one of her Grannies, where my daughter gets to choose what Granny wears and gets to do her hair and make-up too.

Designating this time as a ‘Christmas gift’ ensures it happens over the year ahead. It doesn’t all have to be crammed into the holidays. You scribble down that you’d like to go on a treasure hunt, write a story together or be shown how to knit – it absolutely doesn’t have to cost money – and then the recipient can open the envelope on Christmas Day. The excitement is in the planning, the anticipation, the doing and then the remembering.

I want my children to enjoy Christmas primarily for the fun they have with family and friends and in the process also develop good habits around mindful consumption. With any luck, this is how they will celebrate Christmas with their own children one day.

What can you do?

Check out the free ‘gift of time’ ideas for children on my website and please get in touch if you have any ideas of your own. The best free ‘gift of time’ idea gets a 1-hour tutorial with me on how to raise kids to consume wisely, based on insights from my new ebook ‘Our throwaway society – raising children to consume wisely’. Post it online using the hashtag #wrapyourselfupthisChristmas. I’m also looking for volunteers who might join me in a Santa hat (box optional) to talk to shoppers over the next few weekends across Fife, Perth, Dundee and Edinburgh. I’ll buy you a hot chocolate!

Sign up on the website to get your free copy of ebook ‘Our throwaway society – raising children to consume wisely’. https://www.bigdreamslittlefootprints.org

Find out more about Anya’s “Gift of Time” campaign

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