Thursday, November 15, 2007

The Spirit of Christmas


With an emphasis on gifts, the spirit of giving is an obvious one at Christmas time. Unfortunately it's also the one that commercialism has exploited the most. But there are so many great ideas out there that involve giving without adding to peoples clutter and that still fit well within the ideals of simple living.

One of my favourites at the moment is the wide range of charity gifts that are now available and becoming more well known as each year passes. Last year I used Oxfam Unwrapped and World Vision Smiles Catalogue. This year I've used TEAR useful gifts. For those of you not in Australia, I'm sure there are similar projects available overseas.

These make great gifts for those "hard to buy for" type people. I also enjoy using them to go with a smallish handmade gift. I love the way the charities have set them up so that there is a great range in prices (and they don't usually include how much you've paid on the gift card they send so it's more like a "regular" type gift and there's not the pressure to spend "more" in order to impress/not feel cheap). I enjoy choosing things that I think the recipient will appreciate and writing a note to go with them as to why I've chosen that particular gift for that particular recipient (therefore making them more personal).

For example, last year my grandparents moved into a retirement village. They had always enjoyed a large garden and giving away lots of produce from that garden. So I bought them a vegetable garden for a family living in poverty and expressed how much I appreciated their giving spirit and that I thought they'd enjoy knowing they still had a garden somewhere and it was feeding people who really needed it.

This year I have bought $5 student packs for each of my child's teachers and will include that with some homemade goodies. I'm hoping that given their passion for education, they will enjoy the thought that a child somewhere in the world is being given an opportunity to learn. It doesn't need to be a lot of money to make a big difference and with LOTS of people making small contributions, BIG changes can be made in our world. :-)

Extended family are getting train a farmer packs (since DH is a farmer). We really LOVE the programs that give people skills and resources to go on and "help themselves". We also have started a tradition of purchasing something for our own family - to help our children maintain an awareness of others that don't have all that they do. This year I've purchased a vegetable garden pack because our children are so interested in our own vegetable garden at the moment.

I have had so much fun browsing online and selecting these gifts. It's such a "simple" way of Christmas shopping and truly embraces the spirit of giving.

I'm venturing a little more into homemade gifts this year. I've done some things in the past and at times have struggled with the concern that people would feel this is me being "cheap". At that point in my life, I didn't really place a high enough value on my time. Now that I understand a bit more about the value of time, I feel more comfortable in myself about giving homemade gifts.

One thing I am learning as I make this journey toward a simpler lifestyle is the fact that all time isn't created "equally". Many people would argue that the time it takes to make something really isn't worthwhile. That it would be better to go out to work, earn the money and purchase the item. I've been thinking about this one lately as I'm in the process of knitting a dress for DD's barbie doll. My intention was to knit a couple of items to use as a gift for her at Christmas time. I think I've lost count of the number of hours it has taken me so far. Yes, I will save a few $$ over buying something. But that isn't really the point is it? There are many, many hours of love poured into that tiny little garment. And while I've been knitting it, not only has love been poured into it, but the love in my heart has grown. It's been an interesting experience really and not at all like I expected it to be. There is also the factor of how much more I'm enjoying it than I could ever imagine enjoying working to earn the money saved, then having to go out shopping to buy a product that might be cheap but also wouldn't be as nice (I hope). But the way the love interaction has worked - that I didn't expect. It's not something that money can buy.

There are an almost endless number of ideas out there for homemade gifts. You only have to do a search on the internet to find many more than you'd ever have time to use. LOL. I will mention one of my favourite websites though (no doubt many of you have already seen and/or used it).

Organized Christmas

I particularly like the printable labels they offer - it's a way to make your gift look that little bit more "finished" (unless you're incredibly creative and can do your own - which I'm not really).

Giving doesn't stop at gifts though does it. You can give the gift of time. There are plenty of charities and community organisations out there desperate for an extra pair of hands at this time of year. Sadly time is something that we all seem to be short of these days, especially at this time of year.

You can give the gift of a smile. How many people do you see rushing about the stores wearing a smile. I wonder what would happen if you were to wander through a crowded shopping centre just giving people the gift of a smile? I remember when I was in year 12 and having a particularly stressed out day. I went down to the library to "study" (or attempt to lol). We had a section of the library set aside for the year 12's to use during their free lessons. I walked into the library and the librarian gave me the most wonderful smile. He didn't have to say anything. I very much doubt he would even have known my name to say hello to. But he gave me something very special that day. So much so that I wrote a poem in my English journal (yes, it was study - lol - we were supposed to write in our journals every day). I won't frighten you with my version of poetry (lol) but here we are more than 15 years later and that experience was so profound for me that I've never forgotten just how powerful a simple smile can be. It certainly turned my day around that particular day.

I'm sure we could come up with quite a list of ideas for giving. Feel free to share your own ideas in the comments section (or feel free to blog about it yourself and link back to here if you like). Interestingly enough, as I was reading my regular blogs yesterday I came across this post on A Bootyful Life . There are some wonderful ideas listed for ways in which we can give. Perhaps some that you haven't thought of. I know there were some that I hadn't really considered as ways of giving.


This one isn't an easy one and is such a complex subject that we could probably fill a novel on the ins and outs of forgiveness. There seems to be something about Christmas that can make us that little bit more open to the idea of forgiving one another. I guess perhaps it has something to do with the love that abounds at that time of year (sometimes ;-) ).

I won't go into great depth about this but just wanted to share a couple of quotes with you.

"When I chose to forgive, I realised a prisoner was set free...and that prisoner was me!" (Debbie Morris: Author of Forgiving Dead Man Walking - at 16 she was kidnapped by 2 men and raped repeatedly over the course of 36 hours)

"Forgiveness does not remove the fact or event of wrongdoing but instead relies upon the recognition of the wrong having been committed, in order for the process of forgiveness to be made possible." (Joanna North, "Exploring Forgiveness" p17)

"Forgiveness is another way of saying, 'I'm human. I make mistakes. I want to be granted that privilege, and so I grant you that privilege'." (Philip Yancey)

"What is annulled in the act of forgiveness is not the crime itself, but the distorting effect that this wrong has upon one's relations with the wrongdoer and perhaps with others". (Joanna North, "Exploring Forgiveness" p17)

Is there someone you could extend the "spirit of forgiveness" to this season?


Sadly, Christmas seems to have become for some the "season of obligation". The feeling of dread over family get togethers and all the family politics and conflict that may arise (or just be an undercurrent of tension the whole day). The "I HAVE to buy a present for so and so" type issues. And of course, the dreaded Christmas card list. :-)

I'm not condemning anyone for having those feelings. Most of them have come about for a very good reason. Families do often have tensions - add some alcohol into the mix and some very hurtful things can be said. Present buying out of obligation really isn't much fun at all. And there is some validity to the whole "Christmas cards just add to landfill" argument.

I see a couple of issues that seem to get in the way of the Christmas spirit here. One of them is the spirit of "me". We look to Christmas for what we get OUT of it rather than what we could GIVE. The other is the spirit of obligation. If you give because you feel like you HAVE to rather than because you WANT to, the spirit of giving becomes overwhelmed by the spirit of obligation.

This year I want to challenge you (and I'm challenging myself in this one as well) to take the time to tell someone how much they mean to you (or have meant to you at some time in the past). How often do people touch our lives and we never tell them? I know there are plenty of people in my life that I've failed to tell them how special they are and/or were to me. It's easy to assume that people don't want to hear how much they mean to us. Perhaps that's too mushy or too personal. Perhaps we think that it wouldn't mean much to someone that appears to have it all together. Let me tell you, it matters. It makes a difference.

Are Christmas cards simply landfill? If they're written with a sense of obligation, yes. If they're written with the intention of reaching out to others, then I say no. I have to admit that I'm often not all that great with sending out Christmas cards. It gets put off until it's too late. But just sending 1 card with heartfelt meaning will mean more than sending out 50 hurriedly written "out of obligation" cards.

So there you have it - just a few thoughts from me on the "spirit of Christmas" :-)


Anonymous said...

What a well thought out and interesting post. Do you mind if I link to it?

I've been planning the Oxfam/Tear approach myself this year for the kids' teachers. It's a great idea. I nearly did a post on this topic earlier this week (before getting distracted) so thanks for the reminder.

River said...

I do the presents under the wishing tree thing every year. All year long when little things suitable for gifts are on special I pick up one or two things for the Target wishing tree.

lightening said...

Links are always welcome. :-)

There really are so many ways to give aren't there? We've never actually done the wishing tree one. Mostly because we're not often around stores that do them at the right time of year (November and December are very busy months on the farm).

It's interesting (and wonderful) to hear of what others are doing to engage in the "spirit of giving". :-)

Kelley said...

We always pool our money at work and instead of doing a Kris Kringle we choose items out of the catalogues. We call it 'Choose a chicken' :)

I always make something for my kids for Christmas (as well as the usual junk) and they really really appreciate and treasure the items.

Thanks for this post, it helped me stop and think for a change rather just panic when anyone mentions the 'C' word :)

Lis said...

I think as my children get older our christmas has become more minimalist. We celebrate teh tradition and try to add something new and meaningful to it each year. This year I am making home baked baskets of goodness, so in that way I am giving of my time as well as something yummy to my friends and family :)

lightening said...

Kelley - I love the "choose a chicken" idea!!!! LOL. What kinds of things do you make?

Lis - just wondering how one qualifies to be included on that list of "friends"? LOL. Hmmmm.....I couldn't think of anything better than a basket of your home baked goodies!!!! :)

Alexia said...

I am new to your site and wow! I love your post about Christmas. We are a family of five and this year we are going to tone it down. My kids are heavily involved in sports and it takes up so much of our time, that this year during the holidays we are all taking a break from hockey and basketball. Hubby will have an entire week off and we are all going to just chill. It would be almost perfect with a huge snowstorm:) Thank-you for such an thoughtful post.

thebutcherswife said...

i really love reading your blog, your ideas for giving are wonderful. making gifts was a necessity for me when my children were younger as we really couldnt afford to buy, i made crocheted mini stockings that held a candy cane or two for their school freinds. to this day i still get comments from these very same kids who are now adults about how much they loved them, some even saved them for their trees.

Tiffany Stuart said...

I'm touched that you took the time to process and type your response to my questioning blog post about waiting vs. stepping out.

Bless you for your thoughts. I'm thankful for your kindness!

lightening said...

Alexia - welcome. I'm so glad you stopped by. :) Your plans for Christmas sound wonderful.

Thebutcherswife - thanks so much for reading. I really appreciate all my readers and comments. :) We had those crocheted type stockings on our tree as kids and they had lifesavers in them (my grandmother gave them to us I think). I can't crochet (but not that long ago I couldn't knit either) but one day would love to make some for our tree. Do you have a pattern?

Tiffany - you're more than welcome. :)

A Juggling Mum said...

Thank you for joining in on my Christmas meme. I love your post, you have really thought about it and shown us what christmas is really about :)

I love the idea of giving the Student packs to the kids teachers. I hadn't thought to do that, but I will be doing it this year!

Thanks again,

Rachel xxx
A Juggling Mum

baby~amore' said...

I came by today via the Carnival @ Mad Goat lady - It is a very thoughtful and inspiring post . love it - we gave to Tear. WV Smiles, OZFam Upwrapped and Blind Christian too -

My husband's family aren't exchanging real gifts but I will be giving them these and your idea of homemade stuff is a winner. It has inpsired me .Thank you.I might print a copy for them too of your blog.