What kind of gift giving culture reigns today?

What are we really appreciating? With all the hype around Black Friday, Christmas shopping sprees starting as early as October and my personal disdain for wishlists – I found myself wondering: in a world where the talk about climate change and plastic in the oceans are the topics of COP24, has consumerism won?

Drawing by Mia Sinding Jespersen

My team at KAOSPILOT just finished a course with Andy Sontag on Experience Design, and I got curious as to what people are giving each other for Christmas. I reached out to my KAOSPILOT co-students, some KAOSPILOT Alumni and students from the local community, to find out what people are giving each other for Christmas in general? I asked people:

1. What is the gift you were happiest about having given?
2. What is the gift you were happiest about having received?
3. What is the gift giving culture in your family?

I have often experienced how moods can quickly change if someone gives more expensive presents than others.

Frederikke J., Studies a Masters in Political Science
I am most proud of the Christmas present I gave to my father for Christmas in 2016. I gave him a special Japanese kitchen knife, which he became very fond of.

The best present I ever received was a handmade diamond bracelet, which my parents had a goldsmith create for my confirmation.

I believe that my family has a slightly complex culture when giving and receiving presents for several reasons.
Firstly, it can sometimes seem as if we almost order presents from each other rather than giving presents as a token of love, care, and affection. The best result will always come from following the wish lists!

Secondly, we also have a kind of “forbidden list” that contains specific types of presents that we can never give or receive from each other because they are considered being impersonal, shallow, and boring, e.g. gift cards and money.

Lastly, for some of my family members it is important, who gives the most expensive presents. In other words the bigger, the better.
I personally do not share this point of view but I have often experienced how moods can quickly change if someone gives more expensive presents than others. However, the core essence of when giving presents in my family is that everybody wants to make each other happy.

It was a photo of the two of us from when we first met, 15 years earlier.

Kasper Zederkof,
Kaospilot Alumni (Team 14) and Senior Project Leader at Culture Works
The best gift I have given was a Christmas gift for my daughter. We gave her a huge ‘creative box’ with several smaller compartments, filled with a ton of creative craft stuff; paint, glue, glitter, pearls, scissors etc. Not a day has gone by without her pulling out ‘kreakassen’ (Editor: the Danish word for the creative box) to create something. It’s really been the gift that keeps on giving.

The best gift I have ever received? On the morning of our wedding, my wife gave me a photo. It was a photo of the two of us from when we first met, 15 years earlier. Seeing ourselves so young, instantly started a crazy chain of thoughts, on all the things we had experienced together since then. I couldn’t have had a better start to our wedding day.

In my family, we replaced Christmas gifts eight years ago with something we call “The Family’s Great Experience Pool, anno 2011”. The background for this was an uncle who went bankrupt coupled with a general apathy towards the“gift-race”. I did typical KAOSPILOT styled research and found out that what was most important about Christmas was:

1. Being together as a family
2. The gifts never really meant that much
3. However, people didn’t want to leave out the gifts

Because of this, we chose to create a joint Christmas bank account where everyone transfers 35 DKK into this account every month. Every year, we choose two family members to plan a unique experience for the rest of the family. The experiences themselves are most often “secret” until on the actual day that they take place. The gifts beneath the Christmas tree are hints or leads as to what the experience might be.

One year, we all got a set of white headbands and an address we had to meet at, the following summer. The address turned out to be a tennis court where we played out a family tournament. The last eight years, we have created some extraordinary memories and I am looking forward to each year.

It has now become a tradition where we are dedicated to inventing a unique experience so it’s becoming bigger and bigger for every year. We certainly have come together a lot more as a family by engaging in this experience.

Drawing by Mia Sinding Jespersen

An added bonus is that I am now a hunter myself – I got so hooked on shooting clay pigeons that I wanted to do it myself.

Lina Fahrenholtz, Kaospilot Student (Team 25)
I don’t know if I can say that this gift is the one that I am the most proud of having given, but it is however, the one I treasure the most and I feel the most fond of.

A year ago, my younger sister and I created a joint travel account and gave it to our 3rd sister for her 25th birthday.
 Each month, we all transfer an amount, so that we jointly will raise enough money to go on a big trip together. A part of the gift is that oursister can choose when and where we are going.

The gift that I am the happiest of having received was two years ago,when my ex-boyfriend took me out on my birthday to shoot clay pigeons. He gave me this present because I was curious about his hobby of hunting, and therefore wanted to share this part of his life with me. I really cherish when someone puts time and effort to spend time with me, and especially when it is something that brings me closer to another person.

An added bonus is that I am now a hunter myself – I got so hooked on shooting clay pigeons that I wanted to do it myself.

In my family we give each other experiences, rather than materialistic gifts. This is something that we have been doing for years now. Presents can range from helping out in the garden, going to a concert, or a gift certificate for helping out. Spending time together, or doing something personal for each other, is something that we really appreciate.

Drawing by Mia Sinding Jespersen

.. we can transform the gift giving culture to be more focused on creating shared experiences together, rather than on the physical objects.

Andy Sontag, Kaospilot Alumni (Team 18) and Experience Designer
The gift I am the most proud of having given would be an experience I designed for my family. It took place on Christmas Day, where we went out and lit some lanterns and we heard stories told by my grandfather, by the river. There was genuine excitement in the family around this experience.

Later in the evening, we had dinner prepared by one of my mother’s best friends. We had lit hundreds of candles, cascading down a hill, creating a path where they walked down to meet around 30 of their closest friends and family by a bonfire. We had warm apple cider and lit Chinese lanterns, which soared into the sky and it was just so beautiful. I think I am proud of this experience because it was not just about my family, but also the community close to my family.

My grandfather gave me a present, an envelope saying he would come and build me a tree house. So, I got to co-design a tree house with him – it was a very experimental thing; having that tree house was sort of an extension to the experience. The tree house itself was just an incredible thing, although I fell off of it and hurt myself a bunch of times. But I remember just being so excited about it. My grandfather is a super talented carpenter, so it was just really perfect.

My parents love to give presents – maybe a little too much. We love creating experiences together. For instance, this Christmas, we’re meeting up in southern Spain, renting a beautiful house, and we have agreed to get cooking lessons and different experiences we share with each other and that will be the presents we exchange this year. We have agreed this, but I secretly know that my parents will probably still give us presents.

I think that is a really interesting transformation: if we can transform the gift giving culture to be more focused on creating shared experiences together, rather than on the physical objects. The person who really inspired me to pursue this transformation is Kasper. I can’t remember his last name but he used to work for DR (Editor’s Note: It is the very same Kasper, that figures earlier in this very article. Andy did not know this, when I questioned him!) but he told me this story about his family, where they all pay a little money into this joint bank account. It rotates around to everyone and then they choose someone to make an experience for everyone. (… Andy actually continues to tell the same story about the headbands)

In terms of giving presents to my daughter, you can’t really give experiences to a really small child but you can make nice spaces for her and do nice things for her. I am excited to show her the world, giving her experiences of immersion into some of the most beautiful nature in the world. I think that is what I am the most excited to do with her.

Drawing by Mia Sinding Jespersen


When I hear the answers from the people I interviewed, it doesn’t feel like consumerism has won – It seems there is a light at the end of the tunnel.

I will leave you with a
gift and a question –


What are you giving for Christmas this year?

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