Cue Mariah Carey, wish for snow, watch endless diamond commercials on television, and drown in a sea of red and green. Don’t forget the halfhearted attempts at inclusivity of other religions. A minor Jewish holiday that happens to be in December? Sure, let’s send a card! Some odd nod to African traditions? Yep, why not send a fruitcake?
We try so hard, and spend so much time (and money!) trying to find just the right something for that special someone, and everyone else, that we rush through this season, barely hanging on to our sanity. We end up overindulging on treats and eggnog, and we slam right into December 31st filled with regret about overindulgence and optimism for “next year” and the fresh start we think we’ll get.
I think we’re missing the point. The holidays are about so much more than trying to give the “right” gift, they’re about giving. They can be about Christianity, but I’d argue that you don’t need to be religious to understand the point of the season.
Ways You Can Give This Holiday Season
- Give Your Time: There’s hardly anything more precious than time, and if you have a few hours to spare, the recipient will be so, so grateful. Spend time with the elderly, and help them decorate their space. Listen to their stories. Take your friend’s kids out to do something so your friend can spend time by herself. Hang out with the dogs at the Humane Society. Call your grandma. Knock on a neighbor’s door and ask if they need your help hanging lights or inflating their yard art.
- Donate Your Stuff: This is a win-win for those of you who itemize deductions. You can get rid of clutter, get that receipt, and donate to those in need. I tend to avoid the Salvation Army because they have a history of discrimination with their hiring practices, so I donate to Goodwill. I’d rather give to a for-profit organization than give to one that in the not-distant past would fire someone once they found out they were gay.
- Make a Little Extra at Dinner: Give leftovers in pre-wrapped paper plates to those in need. It’s getting cold, so people on the streets are going to have an ever-increasingly hard time being outside all the time.
- Give Money: But do your research, and make sure the organization’s ideals and goals align with yours. My philosophy with giving is that charity begins at home, so I donate a small amount each month to a few different do-good organizations in my area, as well as one international charity. My goal is to donate $100/month, and I have achieved that with a combination of money (auto-debit is my friend!) and volunteer hours. I love the Give Guide that a local paper puts out, because they really research these nonprofits, which takes the “where is my $25/month really going?” stress completely out of the equation. In case you’re curious, I give to my local NPR affiliate, the Oregon Humane Society, and a really cool nonprofit called Farmers Ending Hunger, where local farmers set aside space in their farms so that the needy can have access to fresh food too. The international charity is World Vision, and that’s one of those “sponsor a child” organizations, but you can opt out of that, and give your $x/month to the area of highest need. You could also consider the people around you, like tipping the mailman or housekeeper.
I think that giving money is important, because it reminds me that no matter how bad I think I have it, I always have a bit extra to give to those who have it worse. It helps to get into the habit of giving early in life, because I know that if I put it off until my goals are met, then new goals will fill the place of old goals and I’ll never get around to it. I also like giving directly to those who ask, especially this time of year. If it’s pouring down rain, and you’re standing outside with a sign, that’s an indication that you’re in a tough spot. I keep small bills in my car for this purpose. I know that giving directly to people holding signs goes against a lot of people’s ideals, and that’s fine. But for me, it matches the spirit of giving, which makes my holidays richer.
How do you remember the spirit of the season?