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Wellbeing: Give The Gift of Time this Christmas

Anya Hart Dyke and her friend Ruth Nicolle promoting The Gift of Time idea by climbing Hill of Tarvit.
Anya Hart Dyke and her friend Ruth Nicolle promoting The Gift of Time idea by climbing Hill of Tarvit.

Whether you are appreciating the time you have been able to spend with close family this year or are counting the days until you can be reunited with loved ones, there has never been a better time to get creative with gifting ideas.

Anya Hart Dyke, author of Our Throwaway Society, will be taking part in a simultaneous fancy dress hill climb with families from all over the UK on Sunday December 6. Together, they aim to encourage people to give the gift of time this Christmas. The message is to give fewer physical gifts, which leads to less waste, less debt and better memories and everyone who takes part plans to take a selfie at the summit of their hill and pledge to give the gift of time to family and friends. “After the event, I will put together a collage of all the selfies to show just how many people want to celebrate Christmas differently,” explains Anya.

Anya Hart Dyke is promoting the idea of The Gift of Time this Christmas.

Last year, in a December before Covid, Anya visited crowded shopping streets dressed as a Christmas present to promote her idea. “It certainly sparked conversations with friends and family when I told them what I’d been up to at the weekend,” she recalls. “It was a way of telling them that I wanted to do Christmas a bit differently, without any confrontation or finger wagging. It’s easy to forget that people won’t necessarily come up to you and say that they agree with you. It’s a bit like an iceberg I think, in that most behavioural change happens out of sight.”

Anya believes that changing tack on our approach to the festive season is not only good for the planet, in terms of a reduction in consumerism, but also reduces the stress around gifting. “There’s definitely an appetite for buying less,” she explains. “At the same time as I was dressing up last year I wrote to 120 parents – friends and members of relevant Facebook groups – to sound them out about gift-giving to children. I was quite surprised to discover that 9 out of 10 parents had had to re-gift or pass to charity unwanted presents given to their children and almost half of parents wanted to see the number of gifts their children receive limited to two! Even parents who did not think this was desirable or realistic reported their children getting ‘far too much’ and that the volume of presents was ‘overwhelming and stressful’.

“What’s really powerful in all of this is finding people, even if you’ll probably never meet them, who are trying to tread a slightly different path too. It really spurs you on. I find it very helpful when a parent with an older child shows you how your efforts to establish a tradition of time over stuff, can pay off. That you’re not depriving your child of an advert-style ‘magical’ Christmas. And that you hope your child will grow up understanding that what others want most from them is their time; this can show love better than a physical gift.”

Tidings of gifts of time

This year, Anya hasn’t been able to take to the streets dressed as a pressie, so came up with a new way to spread her message. “We haven’t been able to hand out gift of time ideas to shoppers on the high street this year but the coordinated fancy dress hill climb has had a much better response actually. It’s much more accessible than asking someone to dress up with you on a busy high street and talk to strangers! It’s also a bit of light relief in these dark months, something to do on a weekend with limited alternative options, plus a bit of exercise to lift the spirits.

“Knowing that it’s a coordinated simultaneous effort is quite powerful I think. A kind of togetherness. And when I collate the selfies afterwards into a collage, it’ll be great to celebrate just how many people want a cultural shift in how we celebrate Christmas!”

But how do the kids react to the idea of not getting lots of gifts to open? “Well the trick of course is to start by making a list of the handful of toys/games/books that your child really wants from the grown-ups in their lives who are the most keen to give physical presents.” explains Anya. “So they know that there will still be presents. Then you move onto planning ‘gift of time’ fun over the year ahead.

“My six-year-old has been really receptive. We had fun last year plotting bike rides, beach trips, fossil hunting and hill climbing with various friends and family, and we popped the ideas onto star-and heart-shaped Christmas card cut-outs and hung them up to look forward to.”

Anya has made a New Year Tree for the family to hang their Gift of Time ideas on.

“As you will see from the 40+ free ‘gift of time’ ideas on my website, these are really simple things that you think you’d do anyway. But tapping into the Scottish tradition of Hogmanay rather than Christmas, this planning for the year ahead is an exciting way to countdown December until the New Year, as well as mitigate against the great big anti-climax that comes after Christmas present-opening.

“I think younger rather than older children get given the most amount of unwanted stuff because there’s just so much on the market for young children that loving friends and family are tempted into buying for them, and their interests are still developing so they themselves don’t always know what they will actually like for more than a couple of months or maybe just days.”

Gift ideas

For Anya and her family, one of the advantages of lockdown and it’s subsequent restrictions has been that: “I’ve actually managed to do a lot more than with my children than I’d planned to. The highlights have been a picnic in the woods, camping in the garden, playing Vets with a homemade kit (complete with red food colouring ‘blood’), setting up a biscuit stall on our road to raise money for the food bank, building  and storytelling in a wigwam den made form bamboo canes, a blanket and fairy lights. Sadly none of these involved our friends or family, which makes 2021 even more special as we look forward to making memories with some of our favourite people.”

Taking the time to send a family member a handwritten card promising to spend time with them.

Anya’s passion for the idea is certainly contagious, not least because she sees so many benefits for our wellbeing as well as that of our planet. “Brainstorming with your child the ‘gift of time’ activities they might like to do with their favourite grown-ups and friends in 2021, means the focus of Christmas is on relationships rather than just presents,” she enthuses. “Setting what I call ‘planetary boundaries’ for what we buy sounds like more boring rules so it’s important to remember that this is about having more fun, creating better memories and gently reminding your children just how valuable family and friends are.

“The environmental benefits of this approach are secondary, though it’s still important to explain to children why buying less is better for the natural world. It’s easy to forget or simply not realise that there’s a direct link between shopping and climate change. A happy by-product of buying less at Christmas is that we generate less waste for the bin and less pollution from the manufacture, transport and packaging up of all the stuff we buy. When you’re talking to young children about this it’s as simple as saying that making and transporting stuff makes the air stinky (just like cars do – yuk) and the stuff we throw out then gets buried (poisoning the earthworms) or burned (making the air stinkier still).

“So giving the ‘gift of time’ is about the ‘pull’ of having fun with your favourite people and the ‘push’ of protecting our planet.”

Spending time on creative projects like this one can help to make wonderful memories – and some very cute photos!

Fiona van Aswegen from Perth got involved in the campaign last year when she come across a post from Anya on social media. “I knew she was a person I had to reach out to as her drive and passion are inspirational!” she enthuses. Fiona, who is a self-employed consultant working with nature based travel and sustainable construction, loves the idea because: “the message is just so simple and genuine – it’s about quality not quantity. Added to that is that the quiet, underlying message about reducing consumption, which in turn reduces waste and therefore landfill. All of these motivations are close to my heart as I work in nature tourism and sustainable, carbon zero, manufacturing.”

For Fiona the message has become even more pertinent in 2020. “There are many parents out there who feel they have had plenty of time with their children this year – perhaps more than enough!” She jokes. “Seriously though, many reflect back on the earlier months of 2020 and appreciate these extras moments with their kids. Extended family have really suffered though. So many grandparents, aunts, uncles and close family friends that have simply not been able to spend time with those that mean the most to them. The restrictions have impacted everyone. As we look towards 2021 with a degree of hope and optimism that vaccines may be on their way this is a great chance to really bring home the message about the Gift of Time. That’s what we’ve all missed, really simple things that this time last year we took for granted – a family meal, a birthday party, or just simply meeting with more than one friend at a time.”

Getting the teens on board

On Sunday December 6, Fiona will be proclaiming her support for the Gift of Time from the top of Kinnoull Hill with any family members who are willing to join her. Her children are now in their teens, “for me, it is less about trying to get them on board with receiving a gift of time – it is as much about getting them to think about giving the gift themselves.

“Last year one of my three gave Granny a hand written invitation in an envelope, to go out for coffee and cake, that they would pay for (not Granny!). Granny was absolutely thrilled and they did go out and have that little treat and bit of special time together. I think Granny’s joy and delight in opening that gift on Christmas Day was a bit of a surprise to all of them – but it really brought it home that just sharing time can bring so much pleasure.”

Time with teens is especially poignant for grandparents.

“As a mum of teenagers just about any gift of time from any of them, and willingly given, would be a pleasure! I can’t think of a parent of a teen who wouldn’t love a promise of being taken out for a hot chocolate, a hike, a cycle, even just a walk around the block. Even to be brought a cup of tea every Sunday morning for a month! We cherish the moments our teenagers choose to spend in our company.”

Time together

Clare Horner, who is a landscape artist based in Fife, will be taking to the hills with her husband and two sons, aged 13 and 9. For Clare it will be a welcome opportunity to spend some time as a family, “Home life, school life, working etc means that often time together during the week, and at weekends can be busy. We were keen to take the time to plan a walk together, somewhere new on our doorstep in Fife.”

“Despite families being at home together more this year, with home school and home working, perhaps it has not been the most quality time,” says Clare. So, time in the outdoors is really important, our boys enjoy time in the outdoors anyway, but they do value time together. Working from home I am aware that they tire of seeing my working at home on my laptop. So time out of the house, away from work and screens is something we all cherish. Walking a hill will have its grumbles, but they will enjoy it!” she laughs.

Find out more about Anya’s Gift of Time campaign and how you can get involved on her website Big Dreams, Little Footprints.