I'm sure Christmas shopping used to simply involve exchanging hard cash for manufactured items. Some of which were gracefully received; others relegated to a pile of goods to be taken to the charity shop, or passed on to more grateful households over the course of the new year.
But either my perspective has changed since I started Our Time of Gifts, or there's been a subtle shift in the way spending is presented. This year, it often seems to be accompanied by exhortations to give something away to those who are less fortunate.
Take this week's shopping trip with Austin and Gwen, for instance. I decided to take them to the South Bank, to pick up some last-minute presents. And, as well as the obligatory German-style market, which sold aromatic mulled wine; tangy, flavoured cheeses from Snowdonia; snuggly scarves and an array of retro pocket watches; we also visited parts of the South Bank's Alternative Gift Guide, a range of different ways to get involved with helping out people in need at Christmas time.