Monday, December 18, 2006

A little bit of festive giving

I spent a very miserable two hours at the mall yesterday. It couldn't be helped. I had to finish my Christmas shopping. This happens every year - I get excited about the fun family activites and then remember that mostly, this holiday is all about stuff.

Even if you are a practising Christian, celebrating the birth of Christ is secondary to trying to show people you love them with extravagant gifts you probably can't afford. I am afraid the whole phenomenon brings out the Scrooge in me. Last year I even tried to forbid people to give me Xmas or birthday presents (my birthday is five days after....) I failed. There was too much rich food, which caused stomach upsets and the occasional inference from extended family that perhaps I visit the toilet a little too often. There was maudlin drunkenness (not on my part, but hey, I visit the loo too often.) There were kids high on sugar and toys, throwing tantrums. All in all a regular Christmas.

My thoughts always turn to what this celebration should be, rather than what it is, and I scrabble desperately to hold on to that spirit. Christmas, although ostensibly celebrating only the birth of Jesus, also incorporates other, older festivals like Yule and Saturnalia. Many of the traditions we observe have their origin in these earlier celebrations. Both were observed at or around midwinter, celebrating the turn of the seasons once again toward spring, and new life. I think that midwinter celebrations, although they tended to be more macabre than those of spring or summer, were a way for ancient communities to pull together and survive the colder, harder months, the ones where food may have run short. It is also interesting that most of these celebrations involved light or fires too - once again symbolically staving off the hardships at the dead of winter.

Of course, in the southern hemisphere, many of these traditions make no sense - it is the hottest, most fertile time of year for us, and the food, fires and mulled wine are completely out of place. Be that as it may, we all face similar challenges around fuss-free family togetherness. This year, both my husband's family and my own have agreed to give token gifts, so we can enjoy giving and receiving without the accompanying stress. I'll let you know how that worked out. So far better than any year before. We are also making many of our gifts - foodie things - which are usually welcome, and can be stashed until all the big eating is over.

Apart from being with family and actually enjoying it, my ideal Christmas also involves helping those less fortunate. You all know how many South Africans are in that situation. The nicest idea I have encountered came from a friend of mine, who makes sandwiches on Christmas morning, packages them up with a R20 note, then drives around with her husband distributing them to those homeless people unfortunate enough to still be on the streets.

My three tiny suggestions, which really won't add more stress to an already stressful season, are:

  1. Meditate on peace, or perhaps do a lovingkindess meditation. This will keep your stress levels down, and the calmer you are, the calmer those around you will be. South Africa really really needs this....
  2. Change search engines - use Goodsearch. You can download it to your browser, and select the charity you want to benefit from your searches - every click sends a cent or two their way. Most are American but many are active in Africa so you may want to choose one of those.
  3. Throw a party for charity - we have to throw them anyway so it may as well be for a good cause. I saw a great idea at Hip Tranquil Chick for a Signature Charitea Soiree. SO cute! You can download a complete toolkit, including invites and recipes for the snacks. I am definitely going to do this one in the New Year. Planning the fun gift bags is keeping me interested in the current hoo-ha.

Hope you all find a way to celebrate calmy, peacefully, safely.

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