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.