Thursday, 25 November 2010

Joy Without Greed

An Attitude of Gratitude Has no Room for Greed

Today is the U.S. Thanksgiving and many there and beyond are stopping to be thankful in various ways for various reasons. Feasts will be eaten by those fortunate enough to have them, families will get together, and traditions will be kept.

And then--there is tomorrow.

Tens of thousands of people will forget all of that and pull themselves out of bed at some wee hour of the morning to battle line-ups and crowds, sometimes even risking their own safety, in order to buy items at reduced prices. For some, the identity of the given objects is irrelevant; it is only the perceived savings and gathering of stuff that matters. Quality and need are concepts that lack relevance to the mob mentality that takes over. It is exciting, it is challenging. Who will get one of the 5 door-crasher specials? How many opening hour sale items will I be able to snatch? How many of my friends and relatives will I be able to impress with my purchasing prowess?

There is no denying that there is an energy there--a sort of holiday anticipation--that is catching. However, this energy has a dark side.

Even if you are OK with the labour issues in countries that make the goods we consume; even if you don't mind the "convenience" (aka "disposable") mindset that pervades our culture, and even if you are a climate denier, there is no refuting the fact that rampant consumerism is a huge problem in our society.

Happiness and inner peace do not come from a bottle or box store. Even the Grinch figured out that one. And no one loves you because of the gifts you give. They may appreciate them, but that is not the same thing.

The truth of the matter is that our greed and waste come at a high cost.
The environment suffers: the extraction and travel of raw materials, the shipping of parts, the travel of the finished product, the short useful lifespan of most products, the landfill waste, not to mention the toxic waste involved in every step of the product's life.
Workers suffer: our demand for lower costs leads to human rights violations in poorer countries all in the name of cheap labour. Pollution at every level affects human and planetary health.
Consumers suffer: along with the increase in personal debt, there is also an increase in spiritual debt that is caused when we try and fix our personal problems through consumer purchases. After the holiday rush, there is a let-down. We resume our regular activities, but now the bills come in and we have little of lasting value to show for it.

So how do we celebrate the holidays and enjoy them without becoming a bunch of miserly Scrooges?

1. Make a list. List those you will give to, and decide on what you will give. Stick to the list. If ideal gift ideas (things people need) do not immediately come to mind, try the following:
- ask a close friend or relative for suggestions
- consider going together on a larger needed item
- ask the person themselves what they need/want
- for those who have everything, consider a charitable gift on their behalf

2. For larger groups or families, consider drawing names for gifts and placing a strict limit on any money spent.

3. Give of yourself: gift your time and effort by either making some of your gifts, or gifting services, such as childcare or other skills. Be sure to give your time, skills, and/or donations to your community as well.

4. Give experiences, such as movie, theatre or sporting event tickets, restaurant vouchers, memberships, etc.  Avoid the box stores and shop at small businesses to help boost your local economy

5. Spend your time with someone by treating yourselves to a day at the spa, a ski day, a lunch out together etc.

6. Play together. Seriously. Plan low-key days in the holiday season where you let loose and just play with your friends and family. Be it an old-fashioned neighbourhood snowball fight, a board games evening, or a hike in the woods, make a point of doing something together with the ones you love. And: don't worry about the housework or upcoming board meeting that day!

7. Take care of yourself. Get enough sleep. Eat healthy food, in healthy amounts at healthy intervals. Exercise regularly, preferably outdoors.

8. Keep visits with family members who do not get along well as low-stress as possible. Consider getting together on neutral ground--a skating party, or restaurant dinner perhaps--and be polite. Try and be open and allow for people to grow and change. At the same time, don't raise your expectations too high--holiday stress doesn't always make for the best time to mend rifts in relationships. Keep the get-together short to reduce everyone's stress.

9.  For larger parties and get-togethers, don't forget to consider the kids. You may find it worth your while to hire a teen to help them throw their own mini-party. Try not to force the kids away though--there is a delicate balance between considering their needs as children and banning them from the "bigger, more special" party. Be sure to discuss it with them ahead of time so they will know what to expect and can help decide what they want and need from the day.

10. Don't stress about the little things. Christmas cards are nice, but an email can also show people you are thinking about them. You can skip the coleslaw, and most won't even notice. Learn to value cleanliness over orderliness. There is a reason that closets have doors.

For more meaningful gift ideas, including charities and homemade gift ideas, try here.

Let the holidays begin!

Tuesday, 23 November 2010

What Makes The Holiday Season Special for You

As the kids get older and become less awestruck with the season, I get the idea that much of their enthusiasm is mainly to humour me. I find myself becoming a little--well, OK, a lot, sad at the loss.

Maybe I never grew up, but I can always muster that Christmas anticipation, the awe that goes with the season. The time when miracles could happen (and I don't mean finding the latest trendy gadget sitting under the tree either). Yes, it sounds schmaltzy (is that a word?), but maybe we need a little schmaltzy now and then.

Still, with a dwindling number of local extended family members, and kids growing older and more sophisticated, I find Christmas is getting a little routine.

I saw this coming last year, so I took a few measures to ward it off. We were doing better than many financially, so I volunteered us to adopt a family. I was hoping the whole family would get excited about it, but it became my project. Still, it filled a void, and if you can do it, I highly recommend it. Although we never met the family, I found myself getting excited about how I thought they might react. Since they published a strict policy of allowable money spent (to keep things equal between recipient families), I was careful to look for sales and was thrilled when the dollhouse I thought would be perfect went on sale within the spending limit.

I did look into other ways to volunteer in the community, but it seems everyone wants to volunteer at holiday time, and many organizations prefer to keep their "regulars".

Sometimes something simple, such as a winter walk in the woods, or a visit to a pioneer village to think about historical celebrations of Christmas can provide a little holiday perspective.

How many of us have a glass of orange juice in the morning, but never really taste it? 150 years ago, an orange was probably the best gift you would get. It was something to anticipate, something to cherish and enjoy. It was a source of vitamin C that was difficult to come by during the dark winter months. Every part was used--even the rind was candied and treasured. I'll bet that those oranges tasted a lot better too, if only due to their well-deserved appreciation.

Another tradition I started when the kids were young was to hand-make some of the gifts we give. A hand made gift shows the receiver that they were thought about in advance, and that they are worth the time and effort. You don't have to be a Martha Stewart type to hand make a gift for a loved one. Try here and here for some meaningful gift suggestions.

Where does the season's magic lie for you? Do you have a special Christmas/Holiday tradition, or a single event that holds meaning for you?