How Women Shop for the Holidays Around the World
Shopping for the holidays can be an overwhelming experience. What begins as a fun, exciting pursuit for perfect, thoughtful presents for family and friends can quickly turn sour. There’s the never-ending crowds, soaring prices, and the stress that occurs when there’s one person on your list who’s impossible to shop for. (You know who we’re talking about.)
But year after year, we Americans endure it. It’s a tradition and even on the level of sport. Find the best deals on a unique gift, wrap it up in a gorgeous bow, and—voilà!—you can call yourself a winner. Love or dread this time of year, this left us wondering: Is holiday shopping such a big deal in other parts of the world? Curious to find out, we recruited women who’ve lived in all corners of the globe, including the UK, Dubai, and Taiwan, to fill us in. We asked them what holiday shopping looks like when you leave the U.S. The differences may, or may not, surprise you.
Scroll down to find out what they had to say.
“Shopping in Dubai is a wishful experience. I wish there was a Target. I wish there was a Kohl’s or Macy’s. There are no middle-class or even upper-middle-class stores. There are, however, two British stores which could fall into this category: Debenhams and Marks & Spencer.
“Everyone here shops in two very large and very luxurious malls: The Mall of the Emirates and the Dubai Mall. There you can find many restaurants and even grocery stores, as well as ski slopes, skating rinks, and an aquarium. In these malls, you will also find very high-end couture stores from every designer in the world. The window-shopping is fabulous and the prices are astronomical.
“One thing I have noticed after living here for 12 years is the amount of Christmas décor that is now available. Previously, you might find a few things but they were cheap-looking and kind of ‘corny.’ Now you have beautiful and expensive Christmas items. Christmas has become very big here in the Middle East, at least in Dubai, UAE.” — Debi
“They’ve started holding Black Friday events in the UK but I don’t think they’re as popular as they are in the US. We do have really big Boxing Day sales, though, where some shops open at, like, 3 a.m. for the most determined shoppers. My mum likes to buy stuff throughout the whole year that she can give to people for Christmas, especially stocking fillers, but I’m not positive that’s a British thing. We do shop more with our families than my American counterparts seem to—it’s less of an independent mission and more of a familial bonding event.” — Madison
“We get a head start on holiday shopping with Singles Day, which is the biggest online shopping event in the world—raking in more than five times the money of America’s Cyber Monday. It began in 2009 and takes place on November 11 every year and is hosted by Alibaba, which is sort of like China’s version of Amazon. Even though things sell out quickly, people do tend to participate because the deals are so amazing.” — Sue
“Since we don’t celebrate Thanksgiving, we have no Black Friday, but we have Boxing Day on 12/26 where people wake up early to shop major sales. I’ve lived in the U.S. for a couple of years and feel that the level of commercialism is the same in Australia. The day before Christmas is just as manic with last-minute shopping, but because it’s summer there during the holidays, there’s not the cozy winter Christmas element that you experience in the States. Gift sets (like the kind at Sephora where they package beauty products together) are very popular here, but there aren’t nearly as many options on offer in Australia—that could be related to our smaller population, though.” — Claire
“Japan celebrates Christmas, but not really like West does. Most Japanese people aren’t Christian so it’s more about the decorations and exchanging of gifts between significant others (and I haven't seen any rendition of Hanukkah here). Think Valentine’s Day but with Santa Claus and reindeer instead of hearts and Cupid, and I think it’s also only practiced by the younger generation. However, there aren’t little Japanese kids waking up to a tree with presents underneath it.
“The gifts are generally smaller in nature—chocolates, jewelry, flowers, etc. From what I’ve seen in stores, malls, and bigger cities, like Tokyo, [people] put up decorations and sell Christmasy stuff but I haven’t witnessed or heard about the crazy shopping like we have in America. New Year’s Eve is a bigger deal here—the locals spend time at home with their families, reflect on their ancestors, and gift each other with money. But still, there doesn’t seem to be any crazy shopping.” — Pat
“Germany celebrates Christmas in a big way with giant outdoor markets that last all day and night. There are lots of little stalls selling gifts and delicious food. The nighttime is the best time to visit because all of the lights are lit up and people are roasting chestnuts on an open fire just like in the song. It’s truly magical and by far the greatest Christmas I’ve experienced.” — Martine
“I lived in Taiwan up until 2001. There really was no ‘holiday shopping’ because Christmas was not really a big thing there. Christmas really only became a more commercial ‘event’ in the past five years or so. I say ‘event’ because it’s not a holiday in Taiwan. People get 12/25 off because it is Taiwan’s Veteran’s Day. However, people are obviously aware that a holiday named Christmas exists, with Santa Claus and presents and all that, but gift exchanging was never really a big thing. To be fair, I’m not Christian, so I don’t know how Christian Taiwanese people celebrated Christmas—e.g., mass.
“In the past five years or so, I’ve begun to see end-of-year sales starting in department stores in the name of Christmas. But they tend to start a week or so before Christmas and usually only last for two weeks. These are just department store sales—nothing too crazy, and nowhere near what goes on on Black Friday in the U.S.
“For the more affluent Taiwanese people who can travel, it’s very common to go to Hong Kong to shop for the holidays. Holiday shopping in Hong Kong starts around 12/19 and it’s major discounts galore. Even the luxury brand names go on sale for up to 30% off—think Gucci, Saint Laurent, Prada, etc. There are some major department stores/malls in Hong Kong that get SUPER crowded—like Black Friday crazy, except instead of buying electronics at Best Buy, people are buying fur at Fendi.” — Jacqui
“My perception has been that Europeans in general are way more chill about the holidays. Whereas I obsess over getting gifts for my kids for each night of Hanukkah, and then for Christmas my French and British friends rely more on a few gifts that they pull together at the last minute. In France, especially, I’ve noticed more handmade gifts: placemats, bookmarks, lavender sachets, beautiful boxes of perfectly pressed fall leaves, key chains with little homemade hearts filled with lavender, knitted sweaters, etc.” — Amy
Do you have any special holiday shopping habits? Sound off in the comments.
This post has been updated by Gina Marinelli.