When I was growing up, I really enjoyed Christmas. I loved tobagganing in the park down the street, having a big fire in the fireplace, and of course, having two weeks off from school. But as I got older, the so-called "Christmas Spirit" started to wane, and eventually disappeared altogether. It was replaced by strong feelings of disdain towards the commercialization of the holiday, and a general malaise would overcome me every year.
I couldn't stand the sound of Christmas music, I hated fighting for parking spots at the mall, and anxiety over whether I had purchased appropriate gifts for friends and family became overwhelming. In a nutshell, I really started to hate Christmas. It became a symbol of greed and consumption, rather than a joyous holiday event.
As another December dawned last year, I found myself dreading the holidays once again, and I agonized over "what to buy" for my family. Should I get my dad another tie he'll never wear, or another tool he'll never use? Should I get my mom some more scented candles that she'll never light, or more exotic bath soaps to display on her bathroom counter? Will my brothers and I pick out random stores to buy gifts cards from, or will we do the same thing as we had before -- exchange generic and impersonal Christmas cards with exactly the same amount of money in them? The whole exercise seemed so pointless and so painful, I was all but ready to give up on it completely.
Surprisingly, I found that the "Christmas Spirit" was restored in me, from an entirely unexpected source. A good friend of mine, working with the Nature Conservancy of Canada, had put up a Facebook post highlighting their "Gifts of Canadian Nature." The concept was so simple on the surface -- instead of buying pointless material possessions for your loved ones, why not buy a piece of land in an environmentally -sensitive area instead, which would protect an at-risk species?
This was a revelation for me -- rather than focusing on what I would get for my family members, I focused on what I would give them instead. I asked them to pick charities and causes that they supported, and I gave donations to such groups as The Autism Foundation, Dress For Success, and Wounded Warriors on their behalf.
I asked them to forego buying gifts for me, and give the money to different charities instead, such as the Save The Whales Foundation, The David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust, and Polar Bears International. I asked my friends to recommend other organizations to support, and found myself giving donations to Because I Am A Girl and The Living City Foundation, just because it made me feel good! When it was all said and done, and my credit card statements started arriving in January, I found I had spent about twice as much on Christmas as I had in previous years, but I felt so much better about it.
There are a number of psychological studies showing that giving does wonders for your mental health and happiness. At a time of year when feelings of negativity and depression reach their peak, what better way to overcome the holiday blahs than to give a donation to a cause you support? Or, when your family members ask you "What do you want me to get you for Christmas?" ask them to give a donation to your favourite charity, and ask them if they'd like you to do the same for them.
Children might be a little harder to convince, but when you're doing your holiday shopping, try to include them in your plans; ask them to think of a way to help a cause they support, and ask them if they'd be willing to give up just one present, and give that money to a charity instead. They might do it somewhat grudgingly, but it's a great chance to teach them a lesson on the importance of giving during the holidays.
I might be a bit of an idealist, but I'm hoping for a day when kids go to school in January, and instead of asking each other, "What did you get for Christmas?" they ask, "What did you give for Christmas?" Because to me, that's what the spirit of giving is all about.
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>.
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