Christmas Gift Spending by Country

The Economist features an interesting chart this week, showing the correlation between a country’s wealth, and the average amount its citizens spend on Christmas gifts. Note the two outliers, the Netherlands and Luxembourg.

Despite their considerable wealth, the Dutch have clearly maintained their minimalist austerity chic. Not the case in Luxembourg, which has the highest GDP per capita in the EU, and the third highest in the world. So, while you may get a pair of wooden shoes for the holidays from that Dutch relative of yours, that Luxembourgian uncle stands to be much more generous.

It’s also worth noting America’s position. Despite considerably less per capita wealth, we appear to be spending only about $70 less per person than the Luxembourgers. Interesting also that despite their crushing debt woes, the Irish are big givers, at least compared to their PIGS companions: Portugal, Greece and Spain.

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COMMENTS: 31


  1. mhenner says:

    You omitted the comments in the Economist posting:
    - the first of which noted that the Dutch also do a lot of gifting on December 5, their Sinterklaus day, so of course the figures of what they give for Christmas are skewed.

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  2. Andreas Moser says:

    And Christmas spending doesn’t even have any positive effect on the economy overall: http://andreasmoser.wordpress.com/2010/12/23/economics-of-christmas/

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  3. Shane says:

    Regarding Ireland, the debt concerns are a relatively new thing, while the drift towards spending lots at Christmas built up over many years. Cultures are not necessarily very responsive to economic climate I guess.

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  4. Donnie says:

    Given that trend, you would expect the Luxembourgers to be giving ~$1250/person, rather than only ~$800/person.

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  5. Kevin says:

    Since only 10 people live in Luxembourg, that country’s results are bound not to be statistically significant.

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  6. Gangstead says:

    Why is GDP on the Y-axis and spending on the X-axis? Seems backwards.

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    • Mike says:

      Completely agree. The message I get out of this are that both the Dutch and Luxembourgians are stingy when it comes to holiday gifts, in relation to how much money they have at their disposal.

      Interchanging the axes would show that very clearly.

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  7. Marcel says:

    Treating the Netherlands as an outlier, you most probably ignore the fact that the Dutch spend most of their gift money on Sinterklaas (Saint Nicholas), whose birthday is celebrated on December 5th and is THE children’s event of the year. Therefore, Christmas spending concentrates on food, as the majority of Dutch families have no money left to spend on gifts.

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    • Adam says:

      If I’d read this post prior to posting mine, I wouldn’t have needed to post. Nice work Marcel :)

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    • Rob says:

      Well, actually Sinterklaas’ birthday is on 6 dec, but all gifts are unpacked on ‘sinterklaasavond’ (Santa Claus Eve).

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    • Xenos says:

      As a parent in Luxembourg, I can report that the main day for Sant (‘Kleeschen’) presents is also on December 6, so the Economist must have accounted for that. Additionally, Legos are very expensive here, as are most consumer products.

      Wine and beer, however, are quite cheap. So presents cost more but parties are much cheaper to put on. Not a bad trade-off.

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  8. Adam says:

    I believe the Dutch austerity measures have played a role in the Netherlands being in the bottom. However, considering the modern day Santa Claus was derived from the Dutch, what might this say about the adopters of said figure? Might the Dutch simply be keeping with tradition in celebrating St. Nicholas on December 5-6 and buying presents mainly for children instead of all family/friends? That would certainly keep spending lower than other countries…

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  9. Jesse says:

    Luxembourg is always destined to be an outlier, it’s essentially a banker city. Whereas the rest of the countries have within them plenty of variation, Lux. is relatively uniform.

    And while I’m ranting, I feel the axes should be switched. /rant

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  10. Maurice says:

    All families with kids in The Netherlands give presents on Sinterklaas (Dec 5), not Christmas!
    I am disappointed that this “research” doesn’t take this into account. It is not a secret or anything.

    Oh and we don’t wear wooden shoes. In fact you can only find these in tourist shops!

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  11. Gijs Nieuwenhuijs says:

    Believe me, there often is little “dutch minimalist austerity” involved in the dutch Sinterklaas festivities, which (as a previous reader pointed out) falls just before Christmas, and is the main gift giving celebration.

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  12. mhenner says:

    My initial comment, the first one posted, noted that the Dutch Sinterklaas explanation had been mentioned as the very first post on the ECONOMIST web site, where this article came from.

    I should have been clearer. I meant to be critical of Levitt or Dubner. They should not have put up this article without also including some of the info from the posts on the ECONOMIST site, which provided such explanations.

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  13. Andor says:

    A small note, orginaly in the Netherlands no gifts were given at christmas, this was done at sinterklaas. The last 20-25 years there is a shift towards christmas, however families with small children always will have their presents as sinterklaas. This will put the numbers above in a different perspective because the dutch spent their money in 2 shifts in december (5 sinterklaas and 25 christmas december)

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  14. Bart Schaminee says:

    The reason the Netherlands spends so little on Christmas gifts, is because the children get their presents at 5 or 6 December, at Saint Nicolas celebration. Christmas is about family and friend dinners.

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  15. Caleb b says:

    The reason the Dutch…SanterKlauss..what? That’s already been commented on 18 times?

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  16. Manfred Reiter says:

    A possible reason for Netherlands being a outlier could be another holiday in December.

    St. Nicolaus day on Dec 5th is celebrated also with significant gift-giving (while remaining Europe only gives small things e.g. chocolate). Since there is only a gap of some weeks between St. Nicolaus day and Xmas day, people may generally give less to those who have already received a “big” gift for St Nicolaus.

    The question is if St Nicolaus spending is included in the anticipated Christmas spending data.

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  17. JJ says:

    Correction: I don’t think the outlier for the Netherlands is caused by any stinginess or austerity chique on our part. The more probable cause is cultural. In the Netherlands, we celebrate St. Nicholas Day on December 5th. St. Nick is to us what Santa Claus is to you – in fact, historically speaking you basically ripped our idea and combined it with Christmas. People with small children in the Netherlands almost never give gifts for X-mas but do that on December 5th instead, and they tend to really push the boat out, at least for as long as the children still believe in the existence of St. Nicholas. I bet if you would count the St. Nicholas spending along with the rest, we wouldn’t be that much of an outlier. Once all the children are grown, some families move the gift giving to X-mas because it is easier to get everybody together when there’s an official holiday (December 5th is a normal working day for us when it’s on a weekday), and because it means only 1 family get together to organise in December instead of 2, or they abandon gift-giving altogether – but there are tons of people who continue to do their family gift-giving on or around December 5th for the rest of their lives, and hence never give any X-mas presents to anybody.

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  18. Tom says:

    The Dutch are not as much outliers as would seem at first sight. The main explanation for this is ‘Sinterklaas’ , which is celebrated on the eve of the 5th of December and is the main gift-exchanging moment in the Netherlands, keeping Christmas more ‘sober’ instead.

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  19. Tom says:

    The real story here seems to be that the comment section is not utilized as the wonderful tool for discussion it could be. The amount of double posts suggests that many did not bother to read the other comments, i.e. “listen” instead of “speaking” first. And thats even though there is the great thumbs up button.
    Maybe this could be amended by placing the “Leave a comment” box at the end of the comments section for i assume many of the double posters thought they were actually the first to leave that specific comment.
    And enlarging the “like” and “dislike” buttons might help, too

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  20. eannie says:

    Unless you included Sinterklass buying statistics you are inaccurate on the spending in the Netherlands.

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  21. Tim says:

    After reading this post and the associated comments, I have concluded that the Dutch are bad at reading other’s comments before posting.

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  22. Benjamin Welby says:

    Did this get done last year, or the year before? Would be interested to see whether austerity measures or gloom and doom have changed spending habits at all

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  23. Cheap_Cheese head says:

    It is true that the Dutch place Christmas on a secondary present giving spot in December. We have a different feast being Sinterklaas at the fifth of Dec.
    See: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sinterklaas

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  24. Jen says:

    Is this really spending per citizen? Or spending per inhabitant. If it’s the latter, the Luxembourg high may be explained by the large number of expats living there, who are going home for the holidays “with full bags”.

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  25. Joost says:

    Lying statisics:

    First of all it should be calculated on a ‘disposable’ income basis post Dutch 52% tax rate, second on December 5th the Dutch celebrate Sinterklaas, the biggest annual childrens event,
    Finally who still believes in St Claus… it must be the Americans and the Luxembourgers…

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  26. TaosBill says:

    Would like to see Christmas spending stats for 1% – 99% as a percent of salary. Think this would show how the “trickle down” theory is pure fantasy.

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