Foregoing Traditional Gifts, Canadians Prefer Giving a Gift That Will Help Someone Else

Feeling Pandemic Pinch, Parents More Likely to Reduce Spending (84%), Buy Fewer Gifts (39%)

The author(s)
  • Sean Simpson SVP, Canada, Public Affairs
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Toronto, ON, December 1st, 2020 — We are all expecting a holiday season unlike any other this year. COVID-19 and the need to social distance and stay safe have effectively cancelled the traditions of the office holiday party or dinners with extended family. But how has coronavirus impacted our gift giving habits? Data from a new Ipsos poll on behalf of World Vision Canada shows that the pandemic and its subsequent economic consequences are hitting home with Canadians this holiday season, as cash-strapped families find themselves having to scale down their celebrations this year.

Canadians Happy To Receive a Charitable Gift, With Pandemic Recession Affecting Holiday Spending For Many

With 2020 being such a difficult year already, it is perhaps no surprise that three-quarters (75%) of Canadians agree that they would prefer to receive a meaningful gift that would help someone else, rather than a traditional gift like clothes or electronics (+6 pts from last year). While this charitable sentiment is certainly admirable, it seems that some Canadians either won’t or can’t translate their good intentions into action, most likely an indication of just how much the pandemic has put a financial strain on many families. Compared to 2019, Canadians are less likely this this year to say they will donate to charity (67%, -8 pts from 2019), give a charitable gift in someone else’s name (42%. -2 pts from 2019), or volunteer for a charitable organization (32%, -13 pts from 2019).

When compared to the aftermath of the 2008 Financial Crisis, Canadians are more likely during this holiday season to show signs of financial strain. Two thirds (64%) of Canadians say that recent changes in the economy have caused them to re-evaluate this year’s Christmas spending or traditions (+6 pts from 2009). With this knowledge, it is no surprise that 78% say they will be reducing their holiday spending, and a third are opting to either give out fewer gifts (31%) or buy less expensive gifts (33%).

The impact of the pandemic on the holidays is not only financial. Canadians cite a variety of lifestyle changes that will affect their Christmas, including 80% who say they will avoid in-person holiday events or gatherings this year or 44% who will stay home instead of travelling to see friends or family. Smaller proportions cite other anticipated changes including buying gifts for fewer people (24%), buying more gifts online (24%), making more homemade gifts (17%), and giving more to charity (15%).

Many Choosing to Focus on Those Less Fortunate, In Spite of Own Fears of Loneliness

For three-quarters (75%) of Canadians, the holiday season will be a welcome distraction from the challenges of 2020 and a slightly larger proportion (80%) are optimistic that next year will be better than this year. But in spite of their eagerness to turn the page on this year, Canadians are also putting aside their own troubles and making time to think about those who have had an even rougher time over the past year. Nine in ten (88%) agree that we need to spend more time at Christmas focusing on those who need help (-1 pt from 2019) and eight in ten (82%) agree that they are thinking more about those less fortunate in the midst of the abundance of the holiday season (+2 pts from 2019). With COVID-19 hitting the global economy hard this year, it is hard to ignore the fact that there are many more Canadians who are struggling financially during this time; over 8 in 10 (84%) say they are worried that Canadians who have been financially impacted by COVID-19 will not have a joyous holiday.

Nine in ten (89%) think that this Christmas season will be very different from last year’s, but Canadians will do their best to have some kind of normalcy during the holidays. Many remain optimistic, with 87% agreeing that they are hopeful their family can still celebrate a great holiday season this year, and 84% saying that they will do everything they can to keep the holiday spirit alive this year. However, in a time when unemployment, school closures, and increasing COVID-19 cases are on everyone’s minds, it’s not surprising that many feel less optimistic. Four in ten (44%) expect to feel lonely this holiday season or feel that Christmas 2020 will be the worst Christmas they’ve ever had (43%).

Spirit of Christmas Remains Strong During Pandemic

While it would be easy to think that coronavirus has changed every aspect of our lives, Canadians shows that our attitudes towards the holiday season might be the one thing that has remained the same. When asked what best describes the spirit of the Christmas season, the results were clear- bringing family together (50%, -3 pts from 2015) and demonstrating love and caring (17% +5 pts from 2015) are the priorities for most at the end of the year. Encouragingly, the data shows that not much has changed in the past 5 years: despite changes in Presidents and Prime Ministers, shifting pop culture and the onset of a global pandemic, Canadians are just as likely as they were in 2015 to highlight the holidays as a time for giving gifts to loved ones and helping those less fortunate.

Parents Struggling With Spending and Gift-Giving

While it’s clear that we all have some adjusting to do this season, parents will likely bear a larger burden. In any year, the holidays are a marathon for parents, between gift buying for their children, organizing family dinners, and setting out cookies for Santa. However, in 2020 this all has to be done while also navigating the perils of remote schooling, working from home, and socially-distanced Christmas shopping, not to mention the financial stress many will be feeling with unemployment, reduced hours/salary, and layoffs a continuing reality for many. Is it any wonder then that while parents are most likely to say they will be doing everything to keep the holiday spirit alive (93% vs. 82% non-parents), and that they are hopeful their family can celebrate a great holiday season (93% vs. 86% non-parents), they are also more likely to say they will be reducing their holiday spending (84% vs. 76% non-parents), giving fewer gifts (39% vs. 29% non-parents), and less expensive gifts (42% vs. 30% non-parents)? Parents are also significantly more likely to express that the economy has required them to re-evaluate their spending and traditions (72% vs. 61% non-parents). So in the spirit of giving perhaps Canadians will look to bestow their most generous gifts to their own parents. After all, who is more deserving than Mom and Dad?


About the Study

These are some of the findings of an Ipsos poll conducted between October 30th- November 2nd, on behalf of World Vision Canada. For this survey, a sample of 1,003 Canadians aged 18 years and over was interviewed. Weighting was then employed to balance demographics to ensure that the sample's composition reflects that of the adult population according to Census data and to provide results intended to approximate the sample universe. The precision of Ipsos online polls is measured using a credibility interval. In this case, the poll is accurate to within ±3.5 percentage points, 19 times out of 20, had all Canadian adults been polled. The credibility interval will be wider among subsets of the population. All sample surveys and polls may be subject to other sources of error, including, but not limited to coverage error, and measurement error.

For more information on this news release, please contact:

Sean Simpson
Vice President, Canada, Public Affairs
+1 416 324-2002
[email protected]


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The author(s)
  • Sean Simpson SVP, Canada, Public Affairs