According to the front page of the Times on Monday this week, a new poll of UK adults’ Christmas gift choices reveals that we prefer receiving experiences over physical presents. We would rather have concert tickets, a day at the race track, beauty treatments, sky diving or skills training over the more traditional clothes, books and gadgets.
The surge of interest in gifts of “experience”, according to Barclaycard which published the findings, is driven by millennials (roughly those in their 20s and 30s). A third of those questioned said that they were likely to buy an experience for someone — possibly with the hope of an invitation to take part in it themselves.
For many in this age group the challenge is to constantly capture, post and share events in daily life to fill their news feeds, creating “exciting content for social media channels”.
There is a positive aspect to this; giving this kind of present might be a better use of money than an unwanted gift, and as Christians we recognise the enjoyment of rich life experiences as a good gift from God.
But it is symptomatic of our restless society that so many desire entertainment and affirmation to make them feel whole and valued. Most (but not all) millennials have all they need in terms of material possessions in our wealthy, instant gratification society – and yet they still exhibit an existential emptiness. Many need the buzz of new experiences and the admiration of their social media audience to feel better about themselves.
It would be easy for us to look down on the superficiality of this generation, but Jesus is moved with compassion, seeing them as sheep without a shepherd, needy and unsatisfied.
And we know what everyone is really searching for, whatever their age or gift preference. Jesus is the ultimate friend who presents us with the best possible experience at Christmas – the opportunity to be friends with God forever.