12/23/2011 04:04 EST | Updated 02/22/2012 05:12 EST

Give Less, Donate More


Growing up, Christmas was such a special time in our household. For a start, I was an only child living with both my parents and grandparents and so I got showered with gifts. The rule was that you couldn't go into the room where the tree and gifts were until everyone was up, and I remember impatiently doing my rounds trying to rally the troops so we could get started.

For a time, my father was a buyer in the toy industry which meant I got some pretty cool board games and toys. By the time I was a teenager, he'd moved on to music -- even cooler -- and I would have all the latest records which became my ticket to getting invited to local parties.

It was also a very social time. My father was Mr. Social and quite the party animal and so our house was always brimming full of people, drinking, dancing, and generally having a good time. My mother, on the other hand, was very quiet and probably found the gregariousness of my father hard to take at times. You just never knew who he would bring home, but she took it in her stride, always rustling up an extra meal, a bed, and in one instance, a set of clothes. Long story.

Much as I loved all this, on reflection it doesn't seem real. It was all a bit over the top. Too much stuff, too much materialism, and way too much over-indulgence and not enough of the true spirit of Christmas. And this observation catches me off-guard because my father was a very generous man, quick to help the underdog, and give back. But that was later in his career when he had more to give.

It was a different era. It was like an episode from Mad Men, with all the smoking, drinking and parties. It was just over a decade after the war, and people wanted to put that time behind them but to be honest in hindsight, it seems very superficial.

As my daughters were growing up, we kept some of the family traditions of my childhood, added a few of my husband's, and it has always been very much a family time, complete with the Brussels sprouts that no one likes and the paper hats.

But like my parents before me, I have tended to go a bit overboard in the present department, vowing each year that I would buy less, and give more. Well, this year I can proudly say I've done it. I am not sure whether it was the weather, the state of the economy, or losing some special friends this year, but I've found it harder to get into the Christmas mood, so I have shopped less and donated more.

I've even made my gift for my husband which will totally shock him and, I hope, impress him too. So this is the year we get back to basics, back to what the season is all about. My daughters and their partners will be with us. We're all in relatively good health - what more can we want?