This year's months-ahead reminder that Christmas will be here sooner than we think came with an unusual warning: do your shopping now or the shelves will be bare by the time December arrives.
Global supply chain problems are causing retail angst, with the likelihood of shortages of everything from toys to books, due to international freight gridlock, industrial action, the increasing rarity of some raw products and consequences of the pandemic, such as the difficulty finding shop floor workers.
Seems like a good year to decide we have too much stuff and don't need more. In 2019, The Australia Institute estimated that $980 million gifts go to waste. Most of this waste was in the form of unwanted or disliked presents.
The gift-giving aspect of Christmas has become for many an obligation, a burden and even a competition.
It would be socially healthier if we decoupled the consumer side from the celebration side, as Americans do with Thanksgiving, which doesn't involve gift-giving. (Although the shopping day after Thanksgiving, now known as Black Friday, has sadly now become a thing in Australia, for no reason whatsoever except that it's another excuse to tickle our wallets with sales.)
And yet, a third of Australians plan to spend more on Christmas gifts this year than last.
Much of the current panic about supply relates to international shipping, so buying local – the small suburban bookstore rather than Amazon, for instance – makes more sense than ever. We can support local retailers this way. And we dramatically cut down on the ridiculous amount of packaging and greenhouse gasses attributed to shipping services. (My building manager says cardboard waste in the recycling bin tripled during the pandemic.)
A different way to look at gift giving might be to think less about giving physical things you can wrap in a box and think more about giving experiences, creating memories that last longer than this year's shiatsu neck and back massager. That's the concept behind Tourism Australia's new holiday campaign "Give The Gift of Travel".
With most of the country champing at the bit to go somewhere, anywhere, a gift that enriches those travels, such as a voucher for a cultural walking tour, a foray into the bush with an Indigenous guide, a visit to a sustainable brewery or winery, or a one-day wildlife safari with the family, is thoughtful, personal, inspiring and fun. And much less of a risk than a perfume they don't like or a jumper in a pattern they hate.
And if those choices not only help our badly battered tourism industry but help struggling communities, conservationists and family businesses, it's not just giving, it's giving back.
Over at australia.com there's a torrent of ideas, many affordable, from glamping in the Clare Valley to a Sea Cave Adventure in Newcastle. Gift ideas close to home include kayaking on the Brisbane River or further afield, such as an Echidna Walkabout in the Top End or a four-day Wukalina Walk with the Palawa people of North-East Tasmania.
For those with the energy, there's the Trek Larapinta Volunteer Project, working alongside rangers in the Red Centre on land management over six days, and staying at a private eco campsite. Or a shorter Wildlife and Conservation Safari, teaming up with Australian Quoll Conservancy in the Daintree to help scientists learn more about the spotted quoll. Or perhaps a visit to the Port Stephens Koala Sanctuary, where entry fees go to support the hospital's work with sick and injured koalas.
Smaller gifts that sybarites might love include a visit to Moore's Hill Estate near Launceston, Tasmania's first totally off-the-grid winery, a cooking class at Cape Lodge Gourmet Retreat in Margaret River, a truly paddock-to-plate meal at the storied Lake House in Daylesford or a five-course bush tucker degustation, the Warakirri Dining Experience in Mudgee.
Accommodation gifts to consider include a stay at Elysian Retreat, the first resort in the Whitsundays to be totally powered by solar energy and which offsets 150 per cent of its annual carbon emissions, at Sky Pods, an eco retreat along the Great Ocean Road, or at Hutton Vale Farm, a family run sustainable farm and vineyard in the Eden Valley outside Adelaide.
One fabulous experience that caught my eye was Gay'Wu – the Dilly Bag Tour for Women in remote East Arnhem Land, home to the Yolnju people, custodians of the world's oldest, most intact and complex living cultures. It's a five-day women-only, female-led tour which immerses visitors in the rhythm of the community to exchange stories about culture, history and Country. It seems like it will be a rare and wonderful opportunity for real connection with the Yolnju sisterhood - and very possibly life-changing. I'm dropping big hints about this one.
I don't even need it gift-wrapped.