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Seasonal Shopping: A Nightmare Before Christmas?

Christmas is once again upon us, whether we like it or not. This particular time of year splits people into two defined categories: there are those who despise and detest the garish merriment, and those who pretty much douse themselves in fairy-lights and whack ‘Fairytale of New York’ on as soon as the clocks go back. Personally, I fall into the latter category, and actually held my annual ‘wrapping and Elf’ night as early as September this year! (I know, I know – call me mad!)

The connotations of Christmas range from mince pies (love them or hate them!), the scent of natural pine, valuable family time, and endless Christmas films playing on a joyous loop. And of course… The inevitable task of Christmas shopping!

Christmas shopping can be as much of a burden as it is a festive staple of fun. The idea of Christmas shopping is a pleasant one: we envision snow-clad streets, melodic carol singers accompanying our methodical gift buying, rounded off by a hearty helping of mulled wine as we embark upon a peaceful journey home, filled with accomplishment and contentment…

The reality of Christmas shopping is more War of The Worlds than it is Miracle On 34th Street. Every year, we seem to think that we will be the only person with the ingenious idea of heading to town early, and every year, we are taken aback by the several thousand people who have seemingly all had the same idea. Patience is of short stock, and tensions become fraught as we stand in yet another mile-long queue just to buy a pair of Star Wars hand-warmers for a cousin we haven’t seen for twelve years. Do they even like Star Wars? Do they have cold hands? Who knows, but at this point, we are so past caring.

Throw buying for the kids into the mix – studying that rambling wish list devised from the pages of the Argos catalogue – and The Nightmare Before Christmas takes on a whole new meaning!

Kids seem to think the infamous Bank of Mum & Dad hits new levels of infinity over the Christmas period, and the lists they so lucratively scribble are painfully lengthy.

Time is also of the essence around this time of the year. Christmas parties, nativity plays, the village tree lighting, and Aunty Jean’s 60th – it’s hard to keep track of every single event that comes hurtling our way during the month of December.

In-between scouring the house to find an unused tea towel for the kids’ Shepard costume with just half an hour to go until show time, and painfully searching through 100 pages of results for ‘little black dress’ for work’s Christmas do, it’s a wonder we find time for Christmas shopping at all!

Here a few tried and tested tips for surviving the Christmas shopping epidemic without declaring both insanity and bankruptcy!

Seek to shop out of peak times.

Typically, Saturdays and Sundays are the busiest days of the week for shopping at any time of the year, especially around Christmas. If you can set aside a night after work to visit the town, you will reap the rewards. Mid-week is usually the best. Some shopping centres even offer late-night weekday shopping leading up to Christmas.

Shop online.

This is the perfect alternative to hitting the high-street, and can save so much time! The sheer beauty of online shopping means that you can get that ‘mission complete’ feeling from the comfort of your own sofa. Select a delivery option to suit you, or order your goods to work.

Amazon sells pretty much anything and everything, from the latest must-have books and DVDs, to quirky, ‘not on the high street’ staples. The variety of gifts online is much more varied. You can type pretty much any desired gift into Google and it will throw up a result. For example, the other day, I absently searched ‘shell shaped hairbrush’ for a friend with a passion for mermaids, and voilà! It has arrived, and is now safely wrapped and stashed in my present bag!

Make a list and create a budget for each person, and stick to it.

Going in blind will likely result in the purchase of nine Reindeer mugs with flashing noses and a tin of shortbread, bought in a frazzled attempt to simply tick people off the present list after an unsuccessful nine hours of trawling around town.

Before you head out, devise a list of everyone you intend to buy for, and set a budget. Have a browse on shop’s websites or in Christmas gift guides for inspiration so you know exactly what you are going for.

When it comes to pandering to kid’s spiraling lists, aim to buy one ‘main’ present, and then stock up on smaller items and stocking fillers. There is no need to go mad or let guilt take a hold – we all know kids are just as happy with a pack of gel pens, a bouncy ball, and a cardboard box!

We’ve all had that mini panic on Christmas Eve whereby we are convinced that we haven’t bought enough (which, if you’re anything like me, ends in a frantic dash to the local Co-Op to buy a £9 box of Roses). Carefully mapping out a clear buying plan for everyone near and dear will save a lot of time, stress, and last minute mania.

Think outside the box.

Struggling for ideas? Why not give the gift of an experience? Companies like Red Letter Days and Virgin Gift Experiences offer a wide range of days-out and activities up and down the country, and cover everything from afternoon tea and spa weekends, to more adrenaline-fuelled adventures such as motorcar racing. Last Christmas, I bought my partner an Eagle Experience, which we attended in March. It was incredible! We fed eagles, flew vultures, and cuddled owls - a very different way to spend a Sunday afternoon! It was also nice to have something to look forward to after the hype of Christmas had fizzled out.

A work friend of mine is taking her children to Harry Potter World in the new year, and is planning on telling them on Christmas Day, via the aid of pop-up balloons and a personalised Hogwarts letter!

How about Alton Towers vouchers for a roller-coaster mad mate? Or a pamper and photo shoot token for any budding Beyonces out there?!

Get personal!

There is nothing quite like a personalised gift, and there are a whole host of options available.

Boots offer a fab range of personalised photo gifts, including cushions, mouse-mats, and even calendars.

Why not make your bestie a memory book, full of photos and quotes? And Grandma and Grandad would adore a photo cushion embellished with a picture of their little darling. You could even aim to show Dad’s softer side at his workplace by making him a mug with a picture of the cat on it!

Home-made gifts are always special, so get the kids onboard and take Christmas crafting to a whole new level!

Happy buying! Remember - Christmas should be categorized by its true meaning, not an impending stress surrounding shopping.

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