Of late I’ve been pondering the idea of practicing a gift-less Christmas. Or more to the point, an emphasis on less mega gift giving and more attention focused on the simple joys of this season.
I don’t believe in banning of all gifting at Christmas. I grew up with the practice and western culture is throughly drenched with the commercialism of Christmas, making this a stiff current to swim against. Yet, at the same time, the deeper meaning of this season appears lost to me. December 26th rolls around and I’m left with a box of stale cookies and the sinking feeling I missed out on the best bits of this season – again.
What I’m searching for are new traditions that balance celebrating the season and gift giving. It’s past time to remove layers of superficial glitter, uncovering the essence of this season. I’ve come up with a few ideas over the past year and this season I’m going public with them. Maybe these changes will inspire others, leading to less stress and more joy this Christmas season. Here are, in no particular order, my new Christmas traditions to try this year:
1. In lieu of presents, I would prefer donations to the following charities:
Passover League of Philadelphia. A good friend of mine and talented photographer informed me of his work with this organization which provides Passover Seder to elderly who have no place to go to celebrate Passover.
St. John’s Hospice. St. John’s Hospice is a short-term residence for homeless men. Noon meals are provided daily. Case workers are available to help address issues behind homelessness. Showers, clean clothing along with toiletries are provided to those who seek them. This hospice provides a much-needed service to homeless in our community. I first became aware of the Hospice through winter clothing drives at work. There are many opportunities to help this organization through volunteering or donations of cash, clothing or toiletry items.
Philadelphia Animal Welfare Society. PAWS is dedicated to rescuing homeless, abandoned and unwanted animals. It is Philadelphia’s largest NO-KILL shelter. They also have two veterinary clinics providing access to low-cost vet care for pets. PAWS recently opened a new place in NorthEast Philly, a chronically underserved section of Philadelphia, expanding their reach to help animals in need. I’ve come across volunteers from PAWS walking adoptable dogs while on a run in Pennypack Park and was impressed with their organization.
Philabundance. Celebrating 30 years of brining fresh nutritious food to area residents at risk for hunger and food insecurity. Integrating with Philadelphia Food Bank has made Philabundance the region’s largest non-profit hunger relief charity. Food insecurity cuts across all income and racial lines, and it is something we can find common ground to work on a solution.
2. Invite family and friends to spend a day volunteering a food bank
3. Take photos for a Christmas greeting card.
4. Hand write notes in each greeting card.
5. Invite family and friends to go caroling and sing as off-key as possible. Also, take in Handel’s Hallelujah Chorus – I don’t care what your religious or non religious affiliation, the performance will blow you away!
6. Spend a day (or days) baking cookies. I’m determined to bake an edible batch of Scottish shortbread cookies this year.
7. Spend a day or two with family doing fun stuff, such as ice skating followed by hot chocolate at a local Christmas market. This would need aspirin, as it is a fun thing, I’m told, to count how many times I fall while skating.
8. Stockings stuffed with small gifts, chocolates and a Clementine orange are an essential part of Christmas. This is a non-negotiable tradition.
Simplifying the season to reduce stress is the first benefit I can see from this list. It reminds me of marathon training, where I had to pare down my activities to essentials when the weekly mileage got crazy. You quickly discover what you value and what was just noise cluttering your life. I hoping for the same discoveries with this project.
So, what do you think? These are just a few ideas I’m tossing out, if you have other ideas, feel free to leave a note in the comment section.
Added bonus: Failed Christmas card photo shoot with Buster, who was thoroughly over the Christmas card experience.
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