Recently, while writing a short article on holiday gift-giving, I interviewed a woman who equated stockings to “socks full of trash.” “Hahaha,” I thought, and then: “hmmm.” In one hilariously blunt phrase, she articulated a sentiment I have felt since my youth, but would never have dared utter at the risk of costing myself precious knick-knacks: “Stockings — why?”
Once upon a time, I was told they served a very important purpose: finding out whether you were naughty or nice. And my mom had flawless stocking game, which, through a child’s eyes, is usually a perfect ratio of chocolate to toy-filled chocolate to small, colourful toy (ideally also filled with chocolate). But to child me and my friends, stockings served a very specific function: They were an adrenaline-packed prelude to presents, a diversionary pit stop on the way to Barbie Town. Now, at 31, I see the process from the vantage point of friends with kids, who trawl the aisles of Dollarama in a haze.
Unless you belong to a family for whom stocking stuffing is steeped in a warm, cozy sense of tradition, this year, you have my written permission to say: screw it. If you’re met with resistance, back yourself with these not-exactly-cozy facts: This year, Canadians are poised to spend an average of $1,563 while holiday shopping (up 3.7 per cent from last year). And, for some science, we produce a lot of garbage. Dark, yes, but do you really want to toss more Pez dispensers onto the pyres of climate change and plastic pollution?
Of course, heavy-handed economic and environmental arguments aren’t likely to placate a bereft, stocking-less seven-year-old — though they may traumatize them. Better for you, and for them, to zoom out a bit: The best gifts are gifts with intent — the ones you care about giving to a person you care about — a spirit we’ve naturally divorced ourselves from in the unconscious rush to turn our lives into living, breathing Goop gift guides. Doffing stockings can also be a gentler gateway to the more radical notion of no-gift Christmases, though if you’d rather slide slowly into that policy, I’d recommend experiential gifts — like museum passes or concert tickets — instead of heavily packaged stuff.
And the holidays, while peppered with some moments of togetherness and merriment, can be alienating for those who don’t have family — close by, close-knit, or at all — or who can’t afford to participate in the collective gift haul. If you can spend five minutes to peruse the stocking-friendly gift-card rack at your local grocery store, you can probably also take five minutes to ponder why you need stockings at all. Indeed, “why am I doing this?” is a question that should be asked regularly and year-round, but in December, in malls, especially.
Two weeks after that fateful phone interview, I texted my long-suffering mom to gently suggest we press pause on the stockings this year. Us kids are well past childhood, and in preparing to stick-handle our upcoming Irish Catholic get together, she’s got enough on her plate. At first, she called me a “rebel” and insisted she “wouldn’t go overboard.” But then her grip on the emotionally laborious tradition loosened. “Your brothers have ratified the no-stocking suggestion,” she said. The planet will thank us, I reassured her. In true holiday fashion, she told me to relax.