The true value of Christmas gifts

Woman wearing a santa hat making the thumbs-down sign © Thinkstock

By the time you read this, you may be wishing you were more like William Bradford’s mother. Just before the holidays, she told the Daily Mail that she was “cancelling Christmas” in order to save money for her son’s school fees.

If she’s stayed true to her word, William will have received a single gift – a £9.99 Miranda DVD – and skipped Christmas lunch in favour of tucking into “whatever they can find in the fridge at their home in Ashford”.

This story sounded horribly ‘bah humbug!’ when it was published. But what now, after a good 2,000 presents will have been listed under eBay’s unwanted gifts section in the UK on Christmas Day alone? It may start to sound quite admirable.

Economists will certainly tell that you it is, pointing out that you know what you want better than anybody else does. That means that giving someone a present can at best be as welcome as giving cash – and that’s assuming you give them exactly what they would have bought themselves. If you didn’t, you wasted money.

Looking out over your sea of discarded wrapping paper and unwanted tat, you may feel that’s very true. But think back to Christmas Day and you may feel differently. After all, a gift isn’t just about the gift. It’s about the anticipation. It’s about the surprise (hopefully good) you feel on opening the package. And it’s about somebody thinking of Christmas gifts that you didn’t know you’d want until you saw it. These all makes a present worth far more than its cash value.

A pricey way to toast the New Year

To take an example, I’m guessing that William’s mother would be unimpressed with the world’s most expensive Christmas hamper. This has been “exclusively presented” by veryfirstto.com and contains “some of the most luxurious coveted and delicious food and drink for the festive season”.

That means Almas caviar – yellow albino eggs carried by just one in 6,000 sturgeon (“the true treasures of the caviar world” apparently).

It means the “bold black and the much desired white Alba truffles”, some Joselito gran reserve ham (we’re told this has “mythic status in Spain”), and a 25-year-old bottle of balsamic vinegar.

It means expensive alcohol, including the champagne served at Prince Charles and Diana’s wedding, a bottle of “over 200-year-old Cognac Jules Robin 1789”.

Finally it means some “desirable accessories” too. You’ll get a “striking” mother of pearl bottle opener and some champage flutes “nestled” in your “wicker vessel” too. All for a mere £85,600.

I certainly didn’t know I wanted this hamper until I saw that it existed. I have already hosted a good many people this Christmas (one big drinks party and several dinners) and there are many more to come.

But anyone coming over for a drink who wants to be treated with considerably more respect than the other hangers-on could do worse than bring me any elements from it (bar the vinegar). No wrapping paper required.

Tabloid money: If the Scots had gone solo, they’d be in meltdown

• George Osborne may believe the garbage he spouts, but no one else does, says Kevin Maguire in the Daily Mirror. “The Tory posh boy is a disaster as chancellor.” Judge Osborne by the tests he sets himself, and he fails every one. He has borrowed more in four and a half years than Labour did in 13.

Fiddling while he counts allows him to claim that Britain’s economy is expanding, but most workers will be worse off by May’s election than when Osborne moved into the Treasury. Jobs numbers are up, but millions are in part-time work when they need full time, or on zero-hours contracts, or are scratching a living “self-employed” after being made redundant. “That’s Tory failure.”

• Alex Salmond, the leader of the Scottish Nationalists, has somehow parlayed his defeat in the independence referendum into a heroic triumph, says Trevor Kavanagh in The Sun. Party numbers have boomed, and his “rampaging” party is tipped to grab dozens of seats from Labour next year. “The cheeky chappie is already offering to prop up a Miliband minority government on a vote-by-vote basis.” Yet the basis for Salmond’s reputation collapsed with the oil price.

Just a few months ago, Salmond was trying to make a case for building an independent Scotland on “black gold” – claiming oil would bring in £1.5trn. Today, the industry is shutting wells and cancelling or mothballing plans worth billions. He insisted Scotland would flourish with oil at $113 a barrel. It’s now $60. Had the Scots chosen to go solo, they would today be facing Greek-style meltdown.

• Betty Williams, aged 86, booked an entire Devon pub to treat 40 needy people to a slap-up Christmas dinner at her expense, says Peter Hill in the Daily Express. Her generosity inspired donations from all over the world, enough for another dinner next year. “I just thought it was the sort of gesture I could make to people in the local community who might be in trouble,” said Betty. The true spirit of Christmas is, it seems, alive and well.