Christmas with a Difference
On a recent outing to the local shops I was overcome by that joyful feeling only Christmas seems to induce. The air was particularly crisp that morning, Christmas lights had been turned on, decorations sparkled in shop windows and I could feel the urge to splurge (on others, of course!) begin to overtake my thrifty resolve. I had a rare desire to treat myself to a warm festive drink from a large coffee chain I would ordinarily not frequent. You know the one I mean…with the annoyingly enticing red cups. Sadly, just one sip of my gingerbread latte and all festive cheer vanished as quickly as a Santa present-drop. A mouthful of congealed spice, the sickening taste of bitter ginger and I immediately regretted being caught up in the commercialism which one so easily gets wrapped-up in (Christmas pun entirely intentional) at this time of year. In one sense, it was a reminder there is so much more to the festive season than the clever marketers will have us believe. When I start panicking about what to buy for great-aunt Mildred who is going to be at the 20-strong family Christmas lunch*, it is important to realign my perspective. This is a holiday for celebrating with family and friends as well as an opportunity to be mindful of those who might be less fortunate or lonely at this time of year.
So, here are a few of my alternative Christmas suggestions that are sure to get you onto Santa’s good list:
To save yourself from madly dashing around the shops each Saturday in December, try visiting a couple of the nearby Christmas fairs, proceeds from many of which go to local charities. You could go along as a family, peruse the Christmas offerings and sample a few tasty treats while simply enjoying time together. St Mary’s East Molesey Christmas Fair on 12 December will be offering stalls of homemade cakes, jams and gifts and will be in support of Refugee Aid – Elmbridge.
Many of us will be starting to think about sending Christmas cards (I say ‘think about’ because more often than not, sadly, that is about as far as I get). I know the box of 100 supermarket-own cards looks appealing when in a rush but charity Christmas cards are just as readily available. Percentages donated vary quite drastically from retailer to retailer so it helps to do a quick check before buying. Otherwise, just buy directly from the charity themselves. Card Aid allows you to purchase cards online or simply send a charity e-card.
When it comes to finding special gifts, I like to try and source as many ethical or fair trade presents as possible. There are a growing number of shops – such as Ethical Superstore, Traidcraft, Shared Earth – who specialise in these items. Buying a present for your pampered pooch? Try the RSPCA shop! Some charities also sell lovely new items from their high street shops and many large retailers now have ethical options from organic cotton clothing to Fairtrade chocolates. If it’s a ‘little black dress’ for Mum or a warm, woolly jumper for Dad, thinking ethically could produce truly unique treats for loved ones while benefitting others too.
Many years ago, a father told me about a tradition he has always followed with his children. Each year, once they have opened their gifts, they have to choose one toy to give away to a child less fortunate. Now, I know this could result in many a parent having gingerbread men launched at their heads, but I do love the idea for the way in which it captures the spirit of sharing so special to this time of year. I don’t think my 1-year-old is quite at the stage where she will understand this concept but she can look forward to a version of it in years to come.
Until 14 December, The Salvation Army charity shop on Walton-on-Thames High St is accepting new, unwrapped presents which they will wrap and distribute to children, families, older people and homeless people in need this Christmas. So, if you do find yourself browsing the shops for gifts, why not pick one up for a total stranger? You never know the impact of this small gesture on someone who just needs a little reminder that people really do care.
If all of the above seems a bit of a faff and you have taken years to master your now perfectly planned Christmas regime, why not commit to doing just one small thing differently this year? It doesn’t have to be grand. If you sit down to enjoy a hot chocolate, make it a Fairtrade one. Instead of buying the mince pies which have been sitting in the shops since September, why not gather the kids, make a batch together and share them with the neighbours? Or perhaps be willing to look a bit silly and wear your slippers to work in support of Shelter.
There is no shortage of ways to make this a wonderfully merry Christmas for ourselves and others if we are simply mindful of opportunities to do so. May you and yours be full of the joy of the season as you spend some time reflecting on what a truly special time of the year this really is.
*poetic licence: although it reads well, I don’t actually have a great-aunt Mildred and there will probably only be a max of 10 of us for lunch
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