"That's it! I won't be sending any Christmas cards this year!"
When I first heard these words, I couldn't help but think how mean, scrooge-like and downright un-Christmassy they sounded -- all the harder to swallow because they were emanating from my own mouth.
In the fourteen years since, however, I haven't sent a single Christmas card, and at last count I haven't lost a single friend as a result.
It seems there are two extremes when it comes to sending Christmas cards. At one end of the scale are those who genuinely want to send a heartfelt message of goodwill to their friends and family, and take time, joy and pride in doing do. At the other end are those who feel a sense of seasonal anxious obligation. A sense of not wanting the potential embarrassment of bumping into someone over the festive season who has sent them a Christmas card, but they themselves have committed the cardinal sin of not reciprocating.
With the torrential river of mail that flows through our letterboxes every December, I finally reasoned that I'd never even have a clue as to who hadn't sent me a Christmas card -- and I'm sure I'm not the only one. What's more, if anyone I knew was to monitor their incoming festive mail with a checklist, chances are that I wouldn't want to be on their Christmas card list anyway. For me, that's not what friendship or Christmas are about -- again, I'm sure I'm not the only one.
This Christmas will be my third since I finally rid myself of the black dogs of anxiety and depression. Previously, I'd endured many years and many festive seasons living a secret life of needless irrational worry which, amongst other things, resulted in me burning through a box of biros every December.
When I stopped sending Christmas cards, apart from saving me a fortune on ink, the added benefit was that it also removed a massive anxiety-inducing task from my to-do list at what is already an anxiety-inducing and busy enough time of year.
With so much focus on perfect presents and a plethora of parties, Christmas can be an especially challenging time for anyone doing battle with the black dog. There seems to be such an expectation for everyone to be sporting smiles the size of Santa sacks and proclaiming endless joy to the world.
Speaking from experience, those who don't feel so joyful within their own inner world do feel added pressure to not put a dampener on the festivities for those around them. Christmas also shines a spotlight on the fact that they think something is "wrong" with them if they can't find it within themselves to be cheery for Christmas. Which is why even those surrounded by friends and family at Christmas often use a single word to describe how they feel -- lonely.
I'm pleased to say, however, that my Christmas from 14 years ago also has a positive, dare I say un-scroogelike spin. Every day that December, I walked past a small charity Christmas tree in the foyer at work. It was decorated with brightly-coloured labels, and written on each label was the name of a child, their age, and their wish list of presents.
All these children came from poorer families in town, unlikely to receive what they wanted for Christmas. Unless, that is, someone picked their label off the tree, bought the presents on their list, and left them under the tree for the charity to deliver.
I picked off one of the labels as I headed out for lunch one day. On it was written the name David. He was 12 years old, and his wish list included a football, a cricket bat and some t-shirts. By the time I was watered, fed and back at my desk, I had also bought and wrapped David's presents, and left them under the tree. It was only a few days later that someone at work happened to mention that we were only expected to buy one of the presents on the list. Fortunately, not even a former tight-fisted Scot like me could bring himself to chance a refund.
And I'm glad he didn't. A few days later on Christmas morning, once the ceremonious opening of the presents was over, I sat in a sea of discarded wrapping paper. My thoughts then turned to David, and I smiled as I imagined the look of delight on his face as he opened his own presents.
And so, my best present that Christmas was realizing the full extent of the saying that the greatest and most rewarding gifts are always the ones you give. All the more so if they are given anonymously, without even the possibility of a thank-you in return.
I'm not suggesting that random acts of anonymous kindness are a one-stop cure for mental illness. But they are a start; their healing power should never be underestimated.
On that note, I have a dream this Christmas. My dream is that one day in the near future, the stigma of mental illness will be completely eradicated. That way, nobody need ever feel alone again on Christmas Day; everyone's Christmases may indeed one day be white.
I have one other dream this Christmas. My other dream is that sometime in the not too distant future, we will all be able to live every day like it's Christmas.
An ideal way to serve water to dinner guests (and use as a vase in a pinch!). <a href="http://www.ikea.com/ca/en/catalog/products/00209311/">Mildra, $8.99, Ikea</a>.
So much classier than plastic, such a lovely piece to keep around for snowy winter days. <a href="http://www.homesense.ca/en/index.asp">Wooden dominos set, $16.99, HomeSense</a>.
This bottle stopper makes a great alternative to boring old cork. It also comes in a pickle version. <a href="http://www.urbanoutfitters.com/urban/catalog/productdetail.jsp?id=24016511&parentid=SHOP_STOCKINGSTUFFERS">Banana Bottle Stopper, $8, Urban Outfitters</a>. .
This gift may not be perfect for everyone, but come on, the social media lover on your list will be extremely happy. <a href="http://www.urbanoutfitters.com/urban/catalog/category.jsp?id=SHOP_STOCKINGSTUFFERS&startValue=73"> Like and Dislike Stamps, $14, Urban Outfitters. </a>
This iPad case is made with a rigid foam backing — the perfect accessory for travelling. <a href="http://www.bestbuy.ca/en-CA/product/ifrogz-ifrogz-neofirm-burst-case-for-ipad-marine-ipad-nfb-mrn/10143848.aspx?path=cdbdfa52310ecb833d14c9188c9e6849en02">iFrogz Neofirm Burst Case for iPad, $20, Best Buy. </a>
For the people who love office supplies but can't keep them organized, surprise them with this practical test tube holder. <a href="http://www.urbanoutfitters.com/urban/catalog/productdetail.jsp?id=24979593&parentid=A_ENT_BOOKS_STATIONERY">Test Tube Office Supply Set, $20, Urban Outfitters. </a>
Besides having a beautiful design, these spoons are stoneware and extra sturdy. <a href="http://www.anthropologie.com/anthro/product/home-kitchen/24673519.jsp">Pop-Print Measuring Spoons, $18, Anthropologie.</a>
Take your dog bowling with these interactive rubber pins that also squeak. <a href="http://www.petsmart.com/product/index.jsp?productId=3201360&lmdn=Type&f=PAD%2FpsNotAvailInUS%2FNo">JW Pet iSqueak Bouncin Bowling Pins Dog Toys, $7 to $10, PetSmart.</a>
Everyone loves a cute case when they're pulling out their phone — and at this price, it's easy to switch it up every month or two! <a href="http://www.winners.ca/en/index.asp">Printed iPhone case, $7.99, Winners</a>.
If you need something to keep the Christmas spirit lingering in your kitchen, try this balsam candle by Bath & Body Works. <a href="http://www.bathandbodyworks.com/product/index.jsp?productId=15776146&cp=12586994.12936192.15285206">Fresh Balsam, $15, Bath & Body Works.</a>
How sweet would this set look framed up on a wall? <a href="http://www.ikea.com/ca/en/catalog/products/50209403/">Kort art cards (set of 5), $4.99, Ikea.</a>
This festive and colourful apron has adjustable straps to fit any chef in the kitchen. <a href="http://www.fruits-passion.ca/kitchen-apron/">Kitchen Apron, $8, Fruits & Passion.</a>
Used as centrepieces or candle holders, this set of three will make any space look elegant. <a href="http://www.ikea.com/ca/en/catalog/products/90167439/">Blomster candle holder (set of 3), $19.99, Ikea.</a>
Get cooking and baking with these adorable oven mitts from Canadian Tire. <a href="http://www.canadiantire.ca/AST/browse/8/KitchenBath/3/Textiles/OvenMitts/PRDOVR~0429997P/For+Living+2-Pc+Oven+Mitt+Set%2C+Red+Rooster.jsp?locale=en">Red Rooster Oven Mitt Set, $10, Canadian Tire. </a>
A three-in-one table that lets kids build and play, it also takes up minimal space in your living room (and even better, folds up easily).<a href="http://www.walmart.ca/en/ip/mega-bloks-play-n-go-table/157327?trail=&fromPLP=true&ancestorID=&searchString=&startSearch=&fromSearchBox=&addFacet=">Mega Bloks Play N' Go Table, $18, Walmart</a>.
This is perfect for that friend who always manages to get hurt. Or maybe someone just going through a tough breakup — these bandages would easily put a smile on their face. <a href="http://www.urbanoutfitters.com/urban/catalog/productdetail.jsp?id=17244070&parentid=SHOP_STOCKINGSTUFFERS">Bandages Keep Calm, $8, Urban Outfitters. </a>
Keep your guests full with this four-piece glass appetizer set — ideal for dips or desserts. <a href="http://www.stokesstores.com/en/entertaining/urbain-9-piece-appetizer-set.html">Urbain Appetizer Set, $10, Stokes.</a>
Let the smell of maple syrup waft through anyone's home ... with the help of a yummy candle that will conveniently work with pretty much any decor. <a href="http://www.drakegeneralstore.ca/products/retro-tin-maple-syrup-candle">Retro tin maple syrup candle, $15, Drake General Store</a>.
Remember these? Well if you do, add them back into your life and under your favourite mug. <a href="http://www.modcloth.com/shop/tabletop/nice-save-coaster-set">Nice Save Coaster Set, $12, Mod Cloth. </a>
For running or even just face-washing, this bang-holding headband won't fall down on you. <a href="http://shop.lululemon.com/products/clothes-accessories/women-headbands-and-hats/Bang-Buster-Headband?cc=7356&sli=1">Bang Buster Headband, $14, Lululemon</a>.
For the people you love who love to watch movies and TV on their tablets, this cute stand (which comes in a slew of colours) will be their new favourite accessory. <a href="http://www.futureshop.ca/en-CA/product/podsta-podsta-tablet-stand-holster-2563-12-blue-2563-12/10224643.aspx?path=972d8d36ec3f39eae5169dd9df6f8117en02">PODSTA Tablet Stand Holster, $14.99. Future Shop</a>.
The subtle side of monogramming is on full display with this adorable — and kind of intricate — mug for your hot beverages. <a href="http://www.potterybarn.com/products/alphabet-stoneware-mugs/">Alphabet mug, $13, Pottery Barn</a>.
Even if you're not the type to dress your pet in clothes, your best friend may be — and it does make for a darn cute holiday picture. <a href="http://www.homesense.ca/en/index.asp">Wool handmade dog sweater, $12.99, HomeSense</a>.
Elegance on the dinner table all year round (or at least, for the duration of the winter)? That's the kind of thing that'll get you invited back for holiday dinners. <a href="http://www.westelm.com/products/pinecone-salt-pepper-shaker-e435/?pkey=e%7Cpinecone%7C3%7Cbest%7C0%7C1%7C24%7C%7C3&cm_src=PRODUCTSEARCH||NoFacet-_-NoFacet-_-NoMerchRules-_-'">Pinecone salt and pepper shakers, $19, West Elm</a>.
As pretty a filtered water jug as you can imagine (it's clear, that's just a dark background), the Bobble Jug takes water from the tap to the table — and comes in a variety of colours for whatever your recipient's decor may be. <a href="http://www.waterbobble.com/jug/jug-bobble.html">Bobble jug, $19.99</a>.
Sure, socks sound like your boring, everyday Christmas gift, and $20 sounds like a lot of money for a pair — until you try out some of Smartwool's offerings. These least expensive options for adults that wick sweat and cushion your feet come in fun colours that won't only look good hiking, but everyday as well. <a href="http://www.altitude-sports.com/eng/products/womens-clothing/socks/womens-margarita?sw717">Smartwool Women's Margarita, $19.99, Altitude Sports</a>.
The only stocking stuffer that will keep you up all night. <a href="http://www.comeasyouare.com/default/index.cfm/shop/product/Dirty-Dice-Sex-Game/">Dirty Dice, $9, Come As You Are. </a>
Hoot hoot wouldn't want these ceramic owl mugs by artist Gorky Gonzalez? <a href="http://www.anthropologie.com/anthro/product/home-glassware/25989781.jsp">Handpainted Folk Owl Mug, $14, Anthropologie. </a>
This compact portable speaker hooks up to most smartphones, MP3 players and electronic devices. <a href="http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B008RJZIYE/ref=s9_al_bw_g422_ir01?pf_rd_m=ATVPDKIKX0DER&pf_rd_s=center-3&pf_rd_r=01R1RGMMCPPF8GK6QEV9&pf_rd_t=101&pf_rd_p=1436612662&pf_rd_i=172630">Philips SoundShooter Portable Speaker, $17, Amazon.com</a>
The perfect gift for a new mom or dad, this frame can also be customized with your little one's name. <a href="http://www.sears.ca/product/watch-me-grow-personalization-photo-frame/632-000896837-4086-4">Watch Me Grow Personalization Photo Frame, $20, Sears. </a>
Let your kids express themselves this holiday season by writing on the <em>coolest</em> canvas mother nature has to offer. <a href="http://www.chapters.indigo.ca/toys/Sno-Marker-colours-vary/026608083214-item.html">Sno Markers, $7, Indigo/Chapters. </a>
Give your child a New Year's goal: Remember ever single animal's name in this jar. <a href="http://www.sears.ca/product/jungle-animal-set/616-38809-38809">Animal Jungle Set, $10, Sears. </a>
Just think — if your friend ever runs out of mixer for the drinks, all she has to do is snag out of these ornaments from the tree, and voila! Comes in Apple, Cranberry, Blueberry and Pomegranate. <a href="http://www1.shoppersdrugmart.ca/en/Home.aspx">Coastal Cocktails Holiday Ornaments Martini Mixers, $9.99, Shoppers Drug Mart</a>.
120 sexy lottery tickets that can fit into your lover's stocking — or pocket. <a href="http://www.comeasyouare.com/default/index.cfm/shop/product/Kinky-Sex-Scratchers/">Kinky Sex Scratchers, $14, Come As You Are. </a>
Not only great for travelling, but also for those whose partners head to bed first (and are somewhat sensitive to light), this travel book light could very well be a relationship saver. <a href="http://www.mec.ca/AST/ShopMEC/Electronics/PRD~5023-329/lewis-n.-clark-travel-book-light.jsp">Lewis N. Clark Travel Book Light, $9, Mountain Equipment Co-op</a>.
Keep your eggs warm (and your tables festive) with these adorable penguin covers. <a href="http://www.chapters.indigo.ca/gifts/Penguin-Egg-Cozy-Set-2/882709079590-item.html?ikwid=egg+cozy&ikwsec=Toys">Penguin Egg Cozy Set, $15, Indigo/Chapters.</a>
Go back to your college and university years with this drinking game set that includes four shot glasses and drinking games. <a href="http://www.arentwenaughty.com/adult-novelties/adult-games/drink-till-you-drop-game-coffin-p1668.aspx">Drink Till You Drop Game, $18, Aren't We Naughty. </a>
For the outdoor and drink lovers, this metal bottle opener is perfect for any home bar or cocktail cart. <a href="http://www.modcloth.com/shop/kitchen-gadgets/wise-guise-bottle-opener">Wise Guise Bottle Opener, $13, Mod Cloth. </a>
If you have someone on your list who constantly is buying a cup of coffee in the morning, get them in the habit of making it at home. <a href="http://shop.timhortons.com/Catalogue/Details.aspx?categoryId=17&productId=53">Sweet Treat, $15, Tim Hortons. </a>
Who couldn't use some sleep aids around the holidays? This combination of hand soap and lotion (in a super pretty caddy) come in a fragrance to help soothe your recipient's mind and send them off to dreamland. <a href="http://www.bathandbodyworks.com/product/index.jsp?productId=13136314&cm_vc=200">Aromatherapy Soap & Lotion Caddy in Sleep: Lavender Vanilla, $18.50, Bath & Body Works</a>.
If anyone on your gift list hasn't tried out a scrub mitt, now's the time to change their world (for cheap!). Helping with circulation, exfoliation and general stimulation, it's great for flaky winter skin. <a href="http://bodyblitzspa.com/index.php/shop-online/scrub-mitt.html">Scrub mitt, $10, Body Blitz</a>.
Not only fun for those who want to escape to the kitchen during holiday parties but good times for the whole, this fridge magnet Scrabble game is fabulous for the wordsmith in your life. <a href="http://www.drakegeneralstore.ca/products/scrabble-fridge-magnets">Scrabble fridge magnets, $15, Drake General Store</a>.
A toy for every day of the week (plus two more) means your kidlet will be clamouring to get into the tub. <a href="http://www.marshallscanada.ca/en/index.asp">Infant rubber tub toys, $12.99, Marshalls</a>.
For the book lovers in your life — or even the students in need of some prettiness for studying — a customizable bookmark is great to tuck in with their gifts. <a href="http://www.potterybarn.com/products/tassled-metal-bookmark/?pkey=e%7Cbookmark%7C1%7Cbest%7C0%7C1%7C24%7C%7C1&cm_src=PRODUCTSEARCH||NoFacet-_-NoFacet-_-NoMerchRules-_-">Engravable bookmark, $9, Pottery Barn</a>.
Celebrity chef Mario Batali has created this stovetop machine for those who want to have their own cup of espresso at home. <a href="http://www.kitchenstuffplus.com/10348-Mario-Batali-Stovetop-Espresso-Maker.aspx">Mario Batali Stovetop Espresso Maker, $10, Kitchen Stuff Plus.</a>
Suitable for both the kitty and puppy in your life, these bowls are easy to remove for feeding and dishwasher safe. <a href="http://www.petsmart.com/product/index.jsp?productId=12836627&f=PAD%2FpsNotAvailInUS%2FNo">Platinum Pets Cat Double Diner, $20, PetSmart.</a>
The perfect accessory for anyone who loves maps or tiny print (or heck, just wants to look cool), this weighty magnifying glass is a gorgeous office supply addition. <a href="http://www.chapters.indigo.ca/gifts/Flip-Handle-Magnifying-Glass-Nickel/882709071532-item.html?ikwid=magnifying+glass&ikwsec=Home">Flip handle magnifying glass, $19.50, Indigo</a>.
Oh yes, that superhero-loving friend of yours will be proud to display this on their desk. <a href="http://www.futureshop.ca/en-CA/product/dc-comics-dc-comics-batman-vinyl-figure-2201/10167927.aspx?path=acae92a91f584d360cbf76f38ce3a388en02">DC Comics Batman Vinyl Figure, $14.99, Future Shop</a>.
A handy pouch that's more durable than it looks, this nylon case can carry your tablet, along with your phone and some money, for the minimalists in your life. <a href="http://www.gap.com/browse/product.do?pid=246274&locale=en_US&kwid=1&sem=false&sdReferer=http%3A%2F%2F">Nylon tablet case, $19.94, Gap</a>.
You know that weird skin that develops on dips and sauces after it sits out for a while? Well, this mini food warmer will ensure that doesn't happen — and that your host's spinach dip will be forever delicious. <a href="http://hamiltonbeach.ca/hb_detail.php?item=33101">Party Dipper Food Warmer, $14.99, Hamilton Beach</a>.
For the accident prone people in your life who can't help but buy nice things anyway, this case will be a protector, and yes, even a prop. <a href="http://www.bestbuy.ca/en-CA/product/ideal-case-ideal-case-bullet-iphone-5-case-id1853wht-white-id1853wht/10221740.aspx">Ideal Case Bullet iPhone 5 Case, $19.99, Best Buy</a>.