Written by Hazel Burke


My charity shop Christmas

All Hazel Burke wants for Christmas is a fibre-optic One Direction lamp. Good job, because in the Burke family, Christmas begins at Oxfam.

Illustration by Louise Boulter.

Illustration by Louise Boulter.

I love Christmas. The thing I can’t stand is the shopping. Even the thought of Christmas shopping makes me feel a bit sick.

It’s not just the crowds, the stuffy shops and the pressure of finding The Perfect Gift for all my family and friends (all with the same deadline, for Pete’s sake!). The reason it makes me feel sick is that it feels as though I end up buying stuff out of desperation, often for people who appreciate the thought but who aren’t that keen on the actual gift. It feels as though Christmas is more about Boots, M&S and John Lewis, than me and my family and friends. Where’s the Christmas spirit in all of this?

Luckily, my family has found an antidote. While some folk skip presents altogether, or opt for Secret Santa, we have a different solution: just buy all your Christmas presents in charity shops. Compared to the average Christmas it’s cheaper, less stressful, less wasteful and a lot more fun.

The shopping experience itself is much less frantic in charity shops. There isn’t the same Christmas crush and lots of the bigger charity shops sell new stuff. So you can head to Oxfam and buy all your cards, wrapping paper, decorations, sweet treats and gifts without having to fight to reach shelves.

I think of this as Charity Shop Christmas Lite. Fewer crowds, less mind-melting choice and some decent Christmas knick-knacks. You’re still buying your sister a candleholder but the profits go to Oxfam rather than Next.

The next level is Charity Shop Christmas Full, where you venture into the magical world of preloved presents. This step comes with a health warning. If you have a Kirstie Allsopp approach to Christmas, step away now for your own sanity. This is not for people who dream all year of creating the perfect Christmas.

Even if the idea appeals to you, you do still need the full agreement of your giftee. If you suggest the idea and there is even the tiniest flicker of sadness in their eyes it’s probably kindest to stick with what you know. Sometimes it really is best for everybody to swap the annual shower-gel set. Small kids seem to love the mayhem of a charity Christmas but you’ll need to tread carefully with older ones and most likely plan for the usual iTunes vouchers or Xbox games, even if you are giving them a preloved pirate costume too.

That's 99p well spent in my book. Would really add to the Christmas feeling.

That’s 99p well spent in my book. Would really add to the Christmas feeling.

Let’s say though that you have fully assessed the situation and get a friend or two, or even your whole family, to agree to try a Charity Shop Christmas Full. What random pleasure awaits you. In essence, you have two routes to choose from: nice stuff or quirky stuff.

Buying the nice stuff is easy. Over the years I’ve been given some real secondhand gems. I’ve got favourite hats, scarves, bags, clothes and homeware, all from charity shops. Plus loads of books, CDs and DVDs. It’s all lovely stuff, made even lovelier because it’s done a little bit of good on its way to me.

“A lot of our more outlandish presents are really just rented from the charity shops for a few weeks, which means less post-Christmas clutter in our houses and double the profit for charity.”

To score some seriously good quirky stuff just keep your eyes and mind open for something a little different. My family has a running competition for the most ‘special’ handbag, once memorably won by a handbag made out of a high-heeled shoe.

We also search out the worst Christmas novelty items we can find. We pounce on neon pink arm warmers, huge ‘fur’ hats, teapots in the shape of crying clowns, suggestive keyrings, Cyberman helmets, specialist books (1970s guide to improving your badminton skills, anyone?), spectacular jewellery, handcuffs and fibre-optic One Direction lamps.

Teapot, for redonation: classic quirky.

Teapot, for redonation: classic quirky.

Of course, when I buy a long pink wig for my dad, I’m not imagining that he will keep it and treasure it, but this is part of the appeal for me. I know he’ll have a bit of a laugh with it on Christmas Day and then cheerfully return it to the charity shop in the new year, where, with luck, somebody else will buy it. So a lot of our more outlandish presents are really just rented from the charity shops for a few weeks, which means less post-Christmas clutter in our houses and double the profit for charity.

Charity Shop Christmas has put the fun back into Christmas for me. I love the idea that the money I spend on presents goes to a good cause. I love sidestepping the Christmas shopping treadmill. I love opening presents that are a bit out of the ordinary. I love that I don’t feel obliged to keep presents that I don’t want and I love donating the stuff I’m not keeping back to another charity shop. It’s not for everybody, but it might be for you. Try it.

With thanks to Oxfam (Withington), Age UK (Withington) and Wesley Community Furniture Project.


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Written by Hazel Burke

Hazel likes seed catalogues, maps and toast. She lives in Manchester. @oxpecking