Canadians expected to spend an average of $652 on holiday shopping this year, says a new poll.
It is the holiday shopping season, with busy malls, packed parking lots and the struggle to find that perfect something for everyone on your Christmas list.
It may seem easier to hand over an envelope on Christmas morning with cash or a gift card in it, but Bradley Ruffle, an associate professor of economics at Wilfrid Laurier University and expert in gift giving, says to brave the crowds and keep looking for a thoughtful and meaningful gift this year.
“Gift cards are an interesting phenomenon,” he said. “Cash isn’t accepted sometimes. Gift cards are almost cash, yet they tend to be accepted increasingly. I don’t think they show the thought that buying an actual present or gift does. If you actually go into a store and find that particular item they like, I think that gives you a little more bang for your buck.”
Even though they don’t show as much thought or personalization, Ruffle says that gift cards at Christmas are on the rise, and have been for the last few years.
“[They] are certainly becoming more popular and I expect that trend to continue,” he said, adding that they are becoming more popular in conjunction with online shopping rather than braving the busy holiday crowds. “Certainly, in the digital age, where we can find whatever we want, it makes it more difficult for gift-givers to find something that is unique and special to the recipient. We are all busy, so gift cards are an easy go-to.”
Giving gifts at Christmastime is so widespread, many don’t question the reason behind the tradition. According to the Canadian Museum of History, the practice of giving gifts used to centre around New Years rather than Dec. 25. Slowly, as industrialization took hold, Canadians had more expendable income, and gift-giving moved to the tradition we know today – unwrapping presents on Christmas morning in front of the decorated tree, surrounded by family and friends.
Ruffle says the custom of giving gifts on Christmas has become the commonly accepted practice.
“To not give a (Christmas) gift is very awkward,” he said. “It breaks that social norm.”
Whether it is a gift card or a wrapped present with ribbons, Ruffle believes the act of gift-giving is a way to boost, or even maintain, relationships. It doesn’t even have to be a Christmas present.
“[Gift-giving says], ‘here, I care about you,’” he said. “It might be giving a gift to someone that doesn’t expect one, or it might be giving a gift that signals, ‘I really know your tastes.’ That person thinks, ‘they really took the time to think of me and really know me well.’ A lot of gifts are thoughtful, and it doesn’t need to be Christmas specifically. Maybe we travelled somewhere and thought of someone, or we think of something that is unique. Those kinds of gifts are very much appreciated. It is all about relationships and indicating our interest in maintaining or even furthering the relationship.”
That drive to give a meaningful gift, especially at Christmas, accounts for 3.5 per cent of Canadian spending. Last year, a Bank of Montreal survey found that shoppers spent an average of $1,810 celebrating the holiday season, around $500 spent exclusively on presents.
CIBC this week released the results of a survey that show Christmas spending has increased to $652 this year, with the majority (55 per cent) making an effort to stay within budget. Ruffle says the amount may be a bit more than the average Canadian can afford.
“Credit cards certainly facilitate that,” he said. “Buying things on credit and worrying about paying the bills in the new year is a common phenomenon.”
Ruffle says that as a result, retailers see a boost just before the holiday season.
“I think the impact is concentrated right around Christmas,” he said, adding that if the gift-giving tradition wasn’t centered around the winter holidays, Canadians would probably spend more at other holidays, cementing the importance of showing someone you care with a thoughtful present. “If we didn’t give presents at Christmastime, would we give them at another time of year? If there was no Christmas, we would just give bigger gifts on birthdays. Would we create extra holidays to make sure that everyone is getting a gift at some point?”