How (+ Why) I Opt Out of Christmas

How (+ Why) I Opt Out of Christmas

December begins next week, and already many of the bloggers, instagrammers and creatives I follow are telling me what I can gift others or ask for this Christmas (all eco-friendly, ethical and low waste, naturally). I ignore them all. The idea of shopping and more stuff and gift lists and wrapping overwhelms me, and I’d rather not take part.

Instead, I’ll promise you that this is the last you’ll hear from me about the C word. We can have a lovely December talking about other interesting and non-gift related things. If you’re a gift giver, no doubt you’ve got plenty of inspiration elsewhere. And if you’re not, hopefully you will appreciate the silence you’ll find on my pages.

But as well as telling you that I’m opting out of Christmas, I want to tell you why, and what it looks like for me.

I’m not here to persuade you to opt out of Christmas. If it’s your thing, and you love it and get joy from it, fantastic. Eat, drink and be merry! On the other hand, if you find it all exhausting and expensive and overwhelming, I thought you might like to see a different way of doing things.

What My Christmas Used To Look Like

I don’t hate Christmas. In fact, there are many things about it that I like. I like the getting together of people, the baking, the eating, the board game playing (a Christmas must!). I even enjoyed the gift planning, and trying to think of meaningful gift ideas for the people I love.

I’ve always favoured a DIY approach. I’ve made (mostly edible) gifts for years. I’ve even made Christmas crackers (to ensure the fillings were useful – or edible at least – rather than that pointless plastic!)

That said, I’ve also purchased chocolate advent calendars with individually wrapped chocolates, plastic-wrapped Christmas crackers, wrapping paper, cards, brand new gifts, and food in ridiculous packaging.

Once I embraced plastic-free and zero waste, of course the excess packaging declined and the DIY approach went up, but so did my uncomfortable-ness with Christmas. Because, for all the things I love about Christmas, there’s also a bunch of things that I don’t love.

In the end, the things I didn’t love far outweighed the things I did. I decided opting out was the best thing for both the planet and my sanity.

Why I Opted Out of Christmas

As I mentioned, this is the time of year when we are bombarded with gift ideas and catalogues, and encouraged to buy stuff. However green this stuff might be, in truth, buying anything, however eco-friendly, has a footprint and an impact on the planet.

Of course, going 100% DIY and opting or second-hand can alleviate this a lot… but not completely.

And just because we give these “eco-friendly” items, it doesn’t mean we will receive eco-friendly items in return. As much as we like to gift our friends the zero waste reusables that we love, homemade tie-dyed hankies and batches of jam, our friends can like to gift us back the mass-produced Chinese-made big box retailer branded junk that they love and we don’t.

Maybe it isn’t as extreme as this, but the point is, at Christmas there tends to be a misalignment of values. Which can lead to resentment (from both sides) and unwanted gifts in cupboards, heading to the charity shop, or worse – in the bin.

By taking part in the ritual exchange of gifts, I open the door to this happening. I can give gifts that aren’t appreciated, and I can receive gifts I don’t want. Neither of which is much fun.

The idea of writing a gift list (something I did in the past) makes me feel greedy, and pushes me to think of things to ask for that in truth, I don’t really need. Not writing a gift list opens me up to receiving things I do not need, want or like.

This is why I choose not to take part.

The other thing I find stressful about Christmas is the sheer volume of stuff. It’s not like a birthday when one person receives a few gifts. Everyone receives heaps of gifts, and it’s a crazy consumerist extravaganza. To me, it feels excessive. There’s obligation, pressure, stress – and I don’t want to feel these things at a time that is meant to feel joyful.

I like to buy things only when I need them. I just can’t bring myself to ask for things or encourage consumption solely because the date is 25.12. It just seems too arbitrary to me. I’d rather give someone something they need when they need it, not on a predetermined calendar date.

In short, the reasons I chose to opt out of Christmas:

  • No guilt.
  • No resentment.
  • No obligation.
  • No wasted resources (unwanted gifts, unneccessary stuff, packaging).
  • No buying stuff for the sake of it.

Of  course, I don’t have children, and if I did I’d probably reconsider this in light of different circumstances. I remember the joy and excitement of Christmas as a child, and would probably want to find a way to pass this on – just without the excess and plastic cr*p.

As an adult, I much prefer it to not have Christmas at all.

What My Zero Waste Christmas Looks Like Now

When I say opt-out, that doesn’t mean I cancel Christmas completely.

It’s more that I do nothing proactive (or very little) for the occasion.

I’m lucky that all my friends consider Christmas to be a super low-key affair, so don’t get drawn into gift-giving and parties. (Well, I say ‘lucky’ but maybe this is exactly the reason we are friends!)

But I’m not a complete killjoy (honest!) and I’m not going to give gifts back, refuse invitations to events or spoil the fun for everyone else. Here’s a breakdown of what I don’t do, and what still happens:

Things I Don’t Do for Christmas

  • I don’t write and send Christmas cards
  • I don’t buy Christmas gifts for any adults (and any presents for children that I buy – only direct family members – are experiences, not things)
  • I don’t have a Christmas tree
  • I don’t have any Christmas decorations
  • I don’t write a gift list, and I ask people not to give me anything (this was tricky at first for others to understand, but now we’ve reached a place where everyone accepts it)
  • I don’t buy or make special Christmas food
  • I don’t organise Christmas events, parties or get-togethers
  • I don’t feel obliged to spend Christmas with family – I might, I might not, but there is no obligation at all.

Things I Still Do at Christmas

  • Accept invites to parties, so long as they are not going to be overpackaged, novelty gift, consumerism-at-its-worst affairs – and none of my friends would dream of holding a party like this anyway!
  • Spend Christmas lunch with family – sometimes. Not every year (that would be too much) and I ensure I don’t arrive until all the presents have been opened so I can avoid the frenzy and waste
  • Eat Christmas food if offered – I do like a good mince pie, and the spicy gingerbread flavours of Christmas, so if someone offers me something tasty and Christmas related, I’ll take it. But overpackaged and overprocessed foods, no thanks.

As I said, I’m not here to be a Christmas killjoy. If Christmas is your thing, that’s great. It’s just not my thing. If you too find Christmas a little overwhelming, you might find making Christmas a little more low-key works for you, too.

Honestly, I have a much happier Christmas without all the trimmings. Opting out is my choice, it’s a choice that works for me, and I wanted to share what that looks like.

If you love Christmas, or sit somewhere in the middle, enjoy the festivities! (Just don’t make too much trash…deal?!)

Now I’d love to hear from you! Do you love Christmas, hate Christmas or somewhere in between? How has that changed over time? Have have you made Christmas more sustainable over the years? Anything you still struggle with? Anything you love too much to give up? Share your thoughts in the comments below!

How and why I choose to opt out of Christmas: zero waste living is about less stuff. Plastic free living is about refusing single use and avoiding plastic packaging. Minimalism is about living with less, being content with what we have, doing stuff not buying stuff. To avoid the excess, live sustainably and live green, the most eco-friendly option - for me - is to opt out of Christmas. Here's how I do it. #minimalist #minimalism #zerowastechristmas

49 Responses to How (+ Why) I Opt Out of Christmas

  1. I think it’s awesome that you’ve found a way to celebrate (or not celebrate) Christmas in a way that suits you and that you don’t feel constrained by social traditions. We’ve scaled back our version of the silly season over the last few years. We celebrate a Buy Nothing Christmas with the adults in our family and do either experience, secondhand or homemade gifts for the kids. It’s all pretty laidback and I have to say what a joy it is to have stepped off the festive consumer treadmill. We have a 5 year old daughter, so we still like to celebrate the season, just in a much simpler way – a way that focuses on family/friends, gratitude and love rather than Santa stuffing himself down a chimney with a crap load of stuff (we have Christmas Pixies instead, who encourage our daughter to do cool things for other people!). Thanks for sharing your thoughts on Christmas, Lindsay. Feel free to have a read of the post I wrote a couple of years on this topic :) https://www.earthsavvy.co.nz/blogs/earthsavvy-blog/buy-nothing-christmas-1

    • Hi Kristy! Thanks for sharing the link, I had a read (please tell me the tree pic is not from a previous Christmas of yours!!!). Go your dad! I absolutely loved this post. Ahhhh, so refreshing :) I honestly think I feel so much more joy for not taking part than I ever did with the actual taking part. For me it feels like a really relaxing time of year :)

  2. So glad to learn that I am not alone. I stopped giving gfifts some years ago for all the same reasons as you did and I told all my friends in advance that they wouldn’t be getting any and that I wouldn’t be expecting any either and now I do my Christmas gift giving in 5 minustes on the phone when I give the money I would have spent to a charity for the homeless so somebody will get what they really want ie a roof ove their heads. All done and dusted without any hassle. I do have a tree a little artificial one that we have had for years and the decorations we have had for years too and a wreath on the front door. I do still send cards charity ones of course but an=m cutting back this year and planning to write letters and/or telephone my friends instead. I try not to go into town in December and my grocery shopping is much the same as normal we might push the boat out for a packet of good crisps and maybe a bottle of wine but that’s about it. I approach Cahristmas without all that dread and struggle I used to feel and am free to concentrate on the reason for the celebration rather than all the tat and waste. No lighting up the front of the house here of course either!Q Haave a peaceful happy Christmas.

    • Jane thanks so much for sharing! My favourite bit of what you wrote “I approach Cahristmas without all that dread and struggle I used to feel and am free” – that just sums up why we do things differently. If you love it, embrace it – and if you don’t, do things differently. I love that you have found which bits work for you and kept those, and cast aside all the non-working bits. It sounds so peaceful. I like your point about not going into town in December – great idea! Enjoy your relaxed Christmas :)

  3. hi Lindsay,
    Our family has gone part way, giving special food or drink such as a locally made chocolate or wine, wrapped in saved wrapping paper or newspaper resulting in comments like; “I read those headlines last year”. The gifts were accompanied with a Christmas card indicating that the giver had made a donation to a ‘third world’ community such as $10 for helping to set up an organic food garden, $20 for a milking goat and so on.

    I used to live in a small farming community and would be dressed as Father Christmas, parents would give me presents for their children. Our horse would be dressed in Christmas attire and I would deliver the gifts to the children. We all enjoyed the event (including the horse who loved the attention).

    That was about 40 years ago and was almost a ‘waste free’ Christmas.

    Last year I celebrated Christmas in Queensland and I estimated that the volume of packaging which was not sorted, ended up in the RUBBISH bin and probably exceeded the bulk of the presents. How the other half live – not for me.

    • Hi Adrian, thanks for sharing – and the thought of your horse dressed up for Christmas made me laugh. Santa on horseback, that;s different!

      Yeah, I woudn’t want to see other people’s bins after Christmas – I’d probably have a heart attack. Not for me, either!

  4. I’m singing from the same hymn sheet as you and have been now for a decade
    I hope many more take inspiration from you and give themselves permission to opt out
    I now celebrate the winter solstice and pay reverence to Mother Earth

  5. Your Christmas sounds like total bliss. I wish I could join you. I have a husband and children that adore the traditional Christmas with all the trappings and they sort of hate that I’m now on this anti-consumption buzz.

    I used to make presents but soon realise they weren’t being appreciated. I have now stopped buying gifts for adults and I give cash to my godchildren in lieu of gifts. Santa brings new toys to my children and they get additional second-hand gifts, sourced in charity shops, from me. I do still send Christmas cards because the local school get ones with your kids artwork printed on them, which you buy. I haven’t the heart to refuse to do it just yet. We don’t do special Christmas outfits (can’t believe my family used to do that) and I make sure we don’t go crazy on food and that every bit of food brought into the house is eaten.

    Still it’s exhausting and i find witnessing everyone else participate in the excess that is Christmas frightening.

    • Hi Elaine – oh that must be frustrating! Great to see them enjoying themselves but rubbish that they create all the rubbish in the process! I totally agree with you about handmade gifts – you really need to think about your receiver. I tend to go for food things, but even then I’ve had relatives turn their nose up and friends forget about homemade gifts and leave at the back of the fridge until inedible.

      Still, it sounds like you’re trying to find balance, and I’m sure as the years go on it will become easier. Have faith that it will!

  6. That’s great you found a way to celebrate that works for you. I’ve simplified my Christmas and even reduced gifting; but trying to get others to adopt your approach to the festive season is hard. I can’t stop people gifting me things, I’ve tried. So I ask for wishlists of things people really want and I give them mine, to make sure the gifts we exchange are not a waste of money.

    There’s a lot I don’t participate in over the holidays, like decorating a tree or buying lots of pre-packaged food. I keep the season as simple as possible.

    • Hi Sophie, thank for sharing! I found the “no gifts” idea took a few years to embed, and it probably helps that all of my family live over the other side of the world, which gives us all an excuse not to do gifts. Were I close by, I wonder if it would be different?

      I loved your last sentence. Here Christmas is called the silly season (is that an Australian thing or a worldwide thing?)… anyways I wish it was called the simple season, where we all just focussed on the important things :)

  7. Well, I’m happy you have found s s plsce where you are happy but it wouldn’t suit me. I adore Christmas and indulge to to thr full. We share presents (because it’s fun), we eat Christmas food (although we are vegan and eat organic, do nothing gets killed and we source locally) and we have a tree with decorations (though it is over 30 years old and all the decorations have a special meaning as they are part of our family history)

    Our presents consist of Amazon gift vouchers that are usually spent on ebooks, we don’t drink and we don’t like parties. Against that, we do like walking around enjoying the late night Christmas shoppers and the lights.

    Do we harm anyone, anything or the planet? Well we don’t think so. Oh and I forgot to mention that I am Jewish and my wife is Christian, so we have the best of both worlds – Hannukah and Christmas.

    Happy holidays everyone

    • Hi Derek, thanks so much for sharing your perspective! I totally agree, if you love Christmas, embrace it! (But in a sustainable way of course – less novelty and more meaning.) I definitely wouldn’t encourage anyone to give it up. For all the people out there who do find it overwhelming and stressful, I just wanted to share what I do. Thanks for sharing what you do – you have some great ideas and I love that your tree is 30 years old!

  8. Thank you, Lindsay. For over twenty years I do not buy a thing for Christmas (and every festivity) and I appreciate your social commitment and much more…

  9. I agree, Christmas has become very commercialized. It is supposed to be the season to be jolly, but many people get very stressed out, getting to the point of fighting for a parking spot at the shopping center, so I avoid them even more than during the rest of the year.

    I do decorate, with things I bought maaany years ago (and I will be donating part of them) Only my grandkids receive gifts.

  10. Lindsay, I think this is a very fair perspective on a tradition which has, in many cases, morphed into a frenzy of consumer excess at its worst.

    I know many people who just do Christmas because it is an expectation and secretly hate the whole stress of it all.

    It is valuable to consider that alternative approaches are acceptable. So many people have this fantasy in their head about the day being perfect and somehow this requires the inclusion of all those consumables… In a large proportion of cases, regardless of anything, Christmas is full of angst and disappointment.

    I grew up in a very Catholic family, where the religious significance of the occasion is a major focus, with festivities still very much enjoyed. I haven’t practised religion for many years and the ridiculous levels of materialism which is left over seems all the more hollow to me.

    Giving can mean so much more than store bought gifts etc.

  11. I really appreciate your thoughtful approach to Christmas. As a Christian, I have often thought the same . I do love singing Christmas carols-a capella,please.. Some friends of mine and I went caroling on our block and someone tried to pay us! Gift giving originated in helping poorer neighbors make it through a tough season of no crops and a general disparity in income. I figure most of us who have enough need to share year round anyway. I do find most of your ideas lead to a greater sense of community and joy for everyone. Hooray!

    • Loved your thoughts, Melie! And you and your carol-singing friends sounds fun! If someone tried to pay you, you must do a good job :) I didn’t actually know where the gift-giving origins came from, I’d never actually thought about it – and that makes sense. Imagine if we limited our gift-giving to only those who really needed stuff?! Ahhhhh…

  12. I do send cards (about 10-15, namely to those who are overseas or interstate, and usually cause I’ve not been in touch much in the past year).

    I do buy gifts for immediate family, and from lists (for siblings) and from brain for parents – this years parents are getting zero waste upgrades for their home I’ve been living in (stainless steels pegs and plastic free cotton buds – things they never knew they wanted but will use!). I remind my friends I DO NOT WANT GIFTs, and admit a meal out that they shout would be a-ok. I provide my family with a short list (ie, a certain candle, a certain hand wash, a pink linen shirt and a ‘nice’ backpack for work). I often add URLs to make it easier on them. It lessens the chances I hate it/don’t want it. None are pricey; I consider items from about October that would fit a gift list and are wants more than needs.

    I also have Christmas decorations – which I use and reuse year on year. They bring me joy. And browsing the decoration offerings in store yesterday also brought me joy, even without buying any!

    • Oh and I prefer a set date of Xmas to birthday’s sneaking up on me! I feel I have better runway to think and consider gifts with Christmas.

      I do hate the proliferation of injection moulded plastic trays for gift sets of three items etc, like cosmetics, that are so Christmas focused

    • Ah Sarah, as always, your organisation shines through! Thanks for sharing. I agree that if you’re going to do Christmas, it is so much better to start early – that way it is possible to plan properly, spread the cost, and be thoughtful. Argh yes, I’d totally forgotten about all those pointless “gift packs” that stores produce this year. And then discount by 75% in January. The waste!!!

  13. I think the important part is opting out of the consumerism of Christmas. The true meaning of Christmas seems to have been forgotten in our society that is thinks that the only way to celebrate is by giving and receiving gifts and eating huge meals together on paper plates with plastic cutlery. Christmas has become such a commercial holiday that I don’t even know if people realize why we celebrate it any more……just my two cents!

    • Exactly. We are Christians and have never had a tree or presents with Christmas all our lives. Because those things have nothing to do with what we celebrate! Instead, we go to church, to a school concert and have a family meal. That’s it. Low waste and stress free.

    • I’m happy to say I have never had a Christmas with a paper plate and plastic cutlery – although no doubt in the day I went to Christmas events and drank out of plastic disposable wine glasses :( (I wonder if growing up in the UK it is freezing so people host Christmas inside. Here there’s plenty of outdoor events, and disposables must be more common…) Just the thought of it gives me palpitations!

      Thanks for sharing!

  14. Just this year I asked my family not to purchase gifts for me. Often I’d end up with items I didn’t love or use but felt I had to hold onto as they were gifts. This year I told them that i have everything I need and Xmas to me is about spending time with family so their company and us coming together is enough of a gift. Like you I still give gifts to children but make sure they are practical and of use.

    • This is great! From my experience, it might take a few years to really embed the idea. Your family might think they should still get you something, or they might think you’re having a year off but normality will prevail next year. I found that over time things got easier, now I don’t need to have the conversation or worry about unexpected gifts. Maybe your family will nail it first time though – I hope so!

  15. I wanted a Christmas tree last year to hang my tiny box of Christmas decorations that survived the massive cull a couple of years ago on. (My kids are now 20, 16 & 15). I then became so overwhelmed because I could not find anything that wasn’t ethically or ecologically iffy or super expensive. So after much agony I bought an old timber fold-out ladder (I love vintage things) and decorated that with the lights and decorations. The only compromise was the children wanted tinsel (which is not great but will last for a good few years if we are careful and the cats don’t eat it!). I do cook some special foods that have become tradition and we usually give money to the children and not much else to anyone else unless I have actually seen something that I know they will love. It was hard to stop the present thing with our family and friends to begin with but it becomes more normal after a while. We also are Roman Catholic so we go to church and celebrate Advent and Christmas in that way.

    • Oh Noni, you made a Christmas tree out of a old ladder – I LOVE it! I’ve seen some very cool Christmas “tree” ideas made with old bits and bobs and there’s some real creativity out there.

      I agree about it taking a while to normalise the no-present thing, it is a bit strange to people at first, but in the end everybody wins so people get on board eventually!

  16. Hi Lindsay

    We are just like you. It has taken a few years and their are still some sticklers, but for the vast majority we just buy for children and try and make it experiences. Normally take the grandkids to a theatre experience like The Gruffallo. We are house/pet sitters so have not had a home for 4 years anyway, so no decorations or xmas tree. We focus on making it a time to get together with family and friends.

    In fact we have made a positive change on my side were the normal xmas get together at my sisters is a couple of weeks before xmas and present free, even with the kids. Just the get together.

    I find it a much less stressful, debt free, stuff free, family experience.

    • Hi Michael and thanks for sharing. You’re right that it takes a few years to embed these ideas, and for people to realise it isn’t a fad. I bet your grandkids will remember those experiences with you far more than they’d remember some overpackaged plastic toy that broke within 3 days of receiving…

      Yes, as you say, people are the important bit! Stuff is not!

  17. My husbands family is visiting us for Christmas, this is a first, in our newly built ( by us) home. I suggested to them that we could not exchange gifts, and pool money for a fun experience instead. My father in law instantly said no he likes gifts… So we sort of took a vote and we are each giving one gift for one person & stockings with small items. I’m happy I was able to at least speak my intent for Christmas, otherwise it would have been a full on gift giving affair to which they are accustomed.
    When it’s just my husband and I, we do small stockings and head out skiing for the day.
    If I can be with family it makes the holiday special and memorable, if not it feels freeing to let it pass by without too much notice.
    I was stressing about having to make a Christmassy christmas for my in laws, but you’ve reminded me, my values and caring for the earth are more important :)

    • Hi Lysh, I love that you’re starting on your own terms in your new house, rather than opting for the status quo and then realising a few years on that you’ve engrained “traditions” that are harder to shift. It sounds like a good compromise. You might find next year you can make it smaller again as people get used to the new idea. I wonder does your father-in-law also like shopping for and choosing gifts for others, or just receiving? Because if he is no the present buyer, and someone else does it on his behalf, he may find himself outvoted!

      I hope the day is glorious and they have a lovely low-key Christmas that they love :)

  18. Good to know I’m not alone. I do a little less every year. I really dislike the almost transactional gift-giving between adults who don’t need or seldom want for anything. Luckily I’ve been exchanging less and less the last few years. I do like buying gifts for those who truly need them and am adopting a senior this year and find it fun.

    I do minimal to no decorations. I like having extra lights in the house so sometimes I put up lighted wreaths and decorate the fireplace. I haven’t put up the tree in years though. I bake cookies when I feel like it because everyone likes them so much. I do like to do a family thing the day of. Sometimes it’s just been inviting my mom over for lunch to skip the stress of the extended family event. It’s definitely a lot stressful doing less.

    • Thanks for sharing, Candi! Yes, I think I did a little less over a few years also, until I got to where I am. Adopting a senior?! I assume that is one of those Oxfam-type gifts and you don’t mean literally…?!

      Your point about lights was interesting, because I live in Perth where Christmas falls in summer. We have sunset around 7.30pm and sunrise around 5am, plus it is boiling hot so there is little appeal for Christmas lights. In the UK, I remember the extra lights a big comfort during December. where you live probably makes a difference for this :)

      Baking cookies, amen! But cookies are for life, not just for Christmas…

  19. Hello everybody,
    first of all I have to apologize for my bad English, haven´t used it for years. But I love this blog and try to understand as much as possible. I really, really understand why most of you don´t want to celebrate Christmas. I myself hate buying so many gifts for people who don´t want them and throw them in the bin after Christmas. I hate all the rubbish, the plastic and nonsense you can see and buy especially in this time of the year.
    My family and I have decided that we don´t buy gifts for us but that we spend money for poor people in town or an organisation who cares for the poor. And the grandparents get a voucher from us for “spending time” with them.
    We want to concentrate on the real sense of Christmas. We love Jesus and we celebrate his birthday on 25.12. That´s all that is important for us. He became Man for us, that´s the wonder of Christmas. I wish you all, that you might discover this one day. It makes life worthfull for me -and it sets me free from all expectations from society.
    Greatings from Germany

    • Hi Birgit, thanks so much for your message and do not apologise for your English, it is very good and completely understandable. I cannot say the same at all about my German!

      Thank you so much for sharing the meaning of Christmas for your family. The way you celebrate sounds filled with joy and you all living your values. I hope you have a great day on 25th :)

  20. For me this time of the year means the beginning of summer, which means more socialising, being outdoors and generally a fun time. I appreciate that the festive season means that most of my family and friends are available for social occasions, which I relish, and so I do love to cook for these occasions (though I don’t purchase packaged, processed, imported and aim for local, organic, ethical and in-season – yay for cherry season here in the south east australia!).
    I also enjoy this time of year not having to participate in the madness of the shops and avoid the city and centres at all times. I can’t bare to see the mindless consumption, I’ll be waiting at the bar with a drink for you instead – cheers!

    • Hi Sarah, thanks so much for your perspective. I have to say, even since living here since 2011, it still surprises me every single year that it is summer and Christmas at the same time. There’s always a “why are they putting up a Christmas tree the sun is shining” moment – I wonder if I will ever lose that?! But being summer definitely makes the new year more fun – everyone is relaxed and positive, and the sun is shining!

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