Fashion Practices: On Holiday Shopping

I have a complicated relationship with the holidays.

I used to love them as a young kid, probably because Christmas celebrations gave me the perfect excuse to dress up, sing, and dance around as I performed in school, family events, and at the cultural center of the town where my parents grew up. Later on, during my teenage years, my sister became ill, my cousin died, and my parents got divorced—making the holiday season quite heavy emotionally for me.

In addition to my own personal matters, I still find it shocking that the holidays seem to reveal everything that’s wrong with our contemporary societies. In my home country of Colombia (and perhaps all around the world), the holidays are a time when social inequalities become most evident: poverty is rampant even as the wealthy elites engage in lavish celebrations and violence increases behind the facade of the “happiest” time of year. Additionally, the culture of “giving back” is nothing more than a charitable pursuit that doesn’t really question why social inequalities exist—and of course does nothing to actually improve living conditions for thousands of people in the long term.

And then there’s holiday shopping and gift giving.

There’s nothing I love more than giving—stuff, of course, but also time and attention—to the people I love and I’m grateful for. But somehow shopping for holiday gifts seems to feel more like an obligation and a preoccupation for a lot of people around me. Is it because of the spending associated with buying gifts? Is it pure overwhelm with all the gift guides and discounts available during the holiday season? Is it a concern with the capitalist nature of it all?

I don’t think I can answer these questions for everyone I know, but whenever I feel worried about holiday shopping and gift giving, my answer would be a resounding “yes!”

But, as I’ve been trying quite consciously to return to my childhood love for the holidays and enjoy them in my own ways over the past few years, I’ve also adopted some strategies to make holiday “shopping” a bit easier for me. Although it might be a bit late, I thought I could share them with anyone who’s still battling the holiday overwhelm.

I wrote “shopping” (in quotation marks) above because one of my first strategies is to shop for nothing at all. Almost a decade ago I started this practice with my family where we exchange used gifts that are filled with personal and sentimental meanings and don’t require us to spend more money during an already expensive season. So, for example, I once gifted my sister an emerald green bag that she loved, my mother gave me her favorite winter coat during my first Christmas in New York, and last year we joined some of our bracelets to make a necklace for my aunt.

Another thing I’ve started to do is to shop in advance throughout the year. This is especially helpful because I don’t get to spend all my money at once and, instead, spend it little by little as I find special gifts for the people I love. This year, for example, I got something for my mother while I was in London in September (but I won’t tell you what it is just in case she reads this post). Last year I got an exhibition catalog for my best friend while I was in New York for the summer. And a few years ago I bought my grandmother and aunts some vintage brooches in different fairs I attended throughout the year. (In a similar act, my Ph.D. supervisor gave me for my graduation a beautiful pair of earrings she bought back in the 70s and never wore—although this is not exactly a holiday gift.)

Recently, I’ve also started to buy more consciously and support brands that, I believe, are doing things differently and contributing to redressing the contemporary fashion system or making an impact even outside of fashion. For example, I shared a list of my top 5 Native American-owned shops to buy from at The Fashion and Race Database a few weeks ago.

Finally, there’s the giving of time and attention, which I mentioned above. In 2018, I celebrated Christmas with my family in London and, instead of giving each other physical gifts, we decided to take the time to spend an entire day together walking around and pausing to have a slow and very nice meal. Some years ago I also had an anticipated holiday celebration with a group of friends—not all of whom celebrate Christmas—to have tea and pastries together and write letters to each other, expressing what we’re most thankful for.

In addition to these shopping strategies, I must disclaim that I am very privileged to be able to actually take a break and recharge during this time. For five years now, I’ve also been able to spend the holidays in Colombia, surrounded by the greenest mountains and my family, which also feels like an immense privilege lately.

And this inevitably leads me to one last thought before I close—which I actually shared with one of my closest friends a few hours ago. However we’re feeling during the holidays, it’s essential that we allow space to sit with our feelings (even the negative ones) and treat ourselves and others with compassion. These can be very difficult times for many of us and, if there’s one thing that the “holiday spirit” should be all about is finding light even in the darkest of times.

As always, please share your thoughts and your own strategies for dealing with holiday shopping overwhelm in the comments below. And don’t forget to subscribe to my email list to receive my weekly blog posts directly in your inbox!

Thank you for reading and until next time,

—L 🩷

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