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I don't need material gifts for Christmas

Virginia Ironside

I am a widow, and getting on a bit. Rather than wanting more material possessions, I am trying to get rid of them, so I really don't want any Christmas presents!

I'd like to ask my friends to give money to my favourite charity this year, instead of giving me presents. But how do I go about doing this without causing offence? Yours sincerely, Lucy

You might be able to get away with doing this with some of your friends without causing offence, but I have to say that if you told me the same, I'd be prickling all over with fury. Being a polite sort of person, I might not show it, but underneath I'd be screaming: "How dare she dictate what I give her? And how dare she tell me that she doesn't want a present but would I give a present to someone else? I don't want to give a present to someone else - I want to give it to her! It is she who is my friend, not Macmillan nurses or the NSPCC! And anyway, if she wants me to give to charity, she could at least let me give to charities I myself approve of, not something designated by her. If she wants to give to charity, fine. If I want to give to charity, fine. But the whole point of giving is to afford the recipient some pleasure, personally. We have enough of corporations, charitable or otherwise, in our daily lives. Christmas is a time for individual giving and caring and love..."

As I listen to my internal rant, I can feel the steam rising from my head, and feel as outraged almost as if you had actually asked me such a thing in real life. If I want to give you a yellow cashmere twinset that makes you look like death, that's what I want to do. You can either change it, or give it to a charity shop yourself - in which case, someone can buy it and get pleasure out of it, and the charity can get some money, too. But at least there will have been a middle-man involved - you, the centre of the stage in this transaction. You'll know I've bothered to get your right size, you'll know I've staggered out in the cold to the shops to buy it, you'll know I've spent quite a lot, and you'll know that I've put some thought into the whole thing, even if I have got the colour wrong.

And anyway, isn't it a bit presumptuous, telling your friends what you want? (Unless, of course, they ask.) Maybe this year they had no intention of giving you a present. Maybe they were planning on making a deliberate point by cutting you out of their list. And if they do ask, couldn't you request something that, rather than cluttering up your cupboards, might be something that you would like? Isn't there anything in this world that gives you pleasure? A bottle of wine? Marrons glaces? Oil for your bath? Some mad fireworks? A book of cartoons? Even a moth-proofing kit?

Frankly, you sound like a modern-day Scrooge, parading your nobleness of mind over us spiritual peasants and dumbos who get a kick out of material things, however small and silly they are. Give me a nail-through-the-finger joke, or even some bubbles to blow over the Christmas dinner table (around £1.20), and I'll be happy for the rest of the day.

Christmas is for loving and giving between friends and relatives, not writing out cold cheques to Oxfam and ticking the Gift Aid box, which is something that we can and should do at any time - or, even better, all times - of the year.

Readers say

Don't give or receive

You can't really ask your friends to give to a charity. It would be tantamount to asking them to give you money instead of giving you presents. You have not said what you intend to do in return. Will you carry on getting and wrapping presents for them? That will make them feel uncomfortable, too.

The only solution is to tell them that you won't be giving any presents this year, and you don't want anything yourself. Simple! I stopped receiving and giving presents to adults about 10 years ago, and it is so stress-free! If your friends want to give to charities, that's their affair, they don't have to do it in your name.

Mrs Barbara Phillips, Beeston, Notts

Make a token gesture

My sister has made the same request and I am entirely happy about that, but unfortunately, she and I disagree as to the choice of charity. So I send her gift tokens related to her interests - books and gardening - on which she would spend money anyway. She can then save on her spending and send that money to her choice of charity.

Michael Marston, Bristol

Delusions of virtue

Oh dear, here we go again, deluding ourselves that we're being virtuous by imposing our need for our friends to think how self-sacrificing we are by asking them to give money to charity instead of to us, thereby acquiring virtue themselves. Lucy is confusing two separate issues. If she, for whatever reason, no longer wants to receive Christmas presents then she should simply say so. What her friends do with the money they won't be spending on her is their business.

Conversely, people who decide to give money to charity instead of giving Christmas presents should simply announce to friends and family: "We are not giving Christmas presents this year." They may, or may not, decide to give a reason, eg "We're broke", or "It's a matter of principle", or "We prefer to give to charity", etc.

Giving to others, either financially or through active help and support, is and should remain a personal and private matter. Blatant self-advertisement and glorification is rarely commendable. So spare yourself unwanted presents, Lucy, but don't impose your own values on your friends.

Mary Lettington, Stroud, Gloucestershire

Pass gifts on

Rather than cause offence to your friends and family, why not just let people get you the presents and then you can give them to charity. Charities are not just about money - they would love to receive some gifts as a gesture of goodwill.

Angie Marriott, Wallasey, Merseyside

Ask for cows

I can sympathise with Lucy's problem - my mother feels the same way. However, as Lucy so rightly indicates, people who feel affectionately towards her mustn't be made to feel that their gifts are not appreciated.

This calls for tact but it can be done. If anyone asks her what she would like, she could say "a tree" or "a cow" - these are alternative gifts supplied by charities via the net or mail order, and destined to grace a UK woodland or to fund a cow in a developing country. The charity sends an acknowledgement, and the donor will feel that a real present has been made (in Lucy's name), while Lucy will know that the gift has made the world a bit better.

Rosemary Pettit, London W6

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