New Year is like Christmas without the presents.

It's a good excuse for a get-together and it is more relaxing on the whole, without the frenzy of buying and wrapping gifts, preparing a big meal, rounding up all the family, exchanging the gifts and trying to ensure the children are duly appreciative or, in the case of younger ones, at least realise who it is from.

At New Year people simply exchange the most enjoyable gift they can give - the pleasure of their company. And if the subject of Christmas presents comes up, someone is liable to say, "Why do we bother."

Why indeed? A letter we published on Tuesday asked this question.


Orewa resident Sophia Gunther reminded us there was a time Christmas presents were genuinely appreciated because people did not have all the "stuff" they have today.

She was referring to the era when most things were more expensive in real terms than they are today.

It is not that most people's incomes are much higher but rather that goods became so much cheaper when import barriers were removed and manufacturing moved to less developed countries where labour was cheaper.

New Year is not the time for yet another debate about the merits of free trade but it is a good time to wonder whether we need to adapt the culture of Christmas to the abundance of goods that clutter our lives now.

We all have so much stuff that we cannot give it away. Even charities are refusing it.

In pre-Christmas appeals for donations of gifts for children in poverty they stress, quite rightly, that the items must be new. It is the least every child deserves and it is not asking very much at the price of goods today.

For the majority of families, though, Christmas presents have become superfluous. They buy or replace items as they need them and treat themselves to all the luxuries they can afford whenever they want them.

We no longer need Christmas as an excuse to acquire something special, and we certainly do not wait in hope somebody will buy it for us, not unless it really is the thought that counts.

Increasingly, it has to be the thought that counts.

We open a present knowing we are probably going to appreciate the gesture more than the item chosen for us, and we give with the same expectation that our carefully chosen gift probably is not really wanted.

It would be some comfort to know the reason it is not really wanted is that everyone has too much stuff.

But that cannot be so, for Christmas is followed by the Boxing Day sales.

Boxing Day was last Saturday but the shopping malls have been packed for most of this week. Post-Christmas purchasing seems to be as heavy now as the "rush" before the event and it cannot all be cashing in gift vouchers or exchanging unwanted goods. Retailers reduce their margin to make it up on volume and consumers respond with enthusiasm, buying yet more stuff.

If we are ever to reduce this waste, which is what most of it will be, Christmas presents are probably an easier target than the sales. We do not need them.

As New Year reminds us, sharing the occasion is all we really need to do.