Ebola, bombs and….Christmas?

From www.inhabitat.com

From www.inhabitat.com

I don’t know about you, but this year the prospect of ‘doing’ Christmas as usual doesn’t sit easy with me.

It’s not that we’re particularly extravagant in our present buying.  Nor that we don’t normally donate extra to charities that help those in particular need at Christmas.

Neither is the devastation that is currently being wrought by religious fanatics, disease, or megalomaniac leaders anything new.  Ask our parents and I’m sure they’ll tell us of Christmas’ past where the world seemed to be falling apart as they struggled to wrap up that Girls World or Subuteo.

Nor is the commercialisation of Christmas anything new.  Retailers and marketers have been the high priests of what has become a festival of Consumption & Carols for many years.

We’re used to this.  We’re resigned to it.  We all know the drive to get us to buy stuff that we don’t need doesn’t do the planet any good, encourages debt, and runs counter to the meaning of Christmas for those who celebrate it as a Christian festival – grace, acceptance for who you are rather than what you have, the gift of life and love.

And yet in the busyness of life – the jobs, housework, school admin, finding new clothes for fast growing children, birthdays, endless lists, oh the lists! – I usually find myself bumping into Christmas in early December with little time to stop and think how on earth we can counter this culture and do things a bit different.  To possibly even teach the kids something about sharing rather than just getting.

The fact is, that without a bit of thought, a sprinkling of planning and quite a lot of will power, its so easy to just get caught up in to the same Christmas vortex every year.

It’s not that I don’t love Christmas. I love it! Christmas is so not just for the children (I hate that phrase). Winter would be so dull without the lights, log fires, mulled wine, mince pies, parties, satsumas, card games and cheesy films and sheer excitement.  We don’t want to throw it all out – that would be so dull, and to miss the point.

But when my radio keeps telling me stories of children in Syria, Iraq or West Africa whose lives have been torn apart by mankind’s misdemeanours, it seems downright wrong to ignore it all, stick our fingers in our ears, and pass the Roses selection.

So when I found some time to think about it, I asked myself how we, as a family, could make Christmas a blessing for others, whilst still celebrating it and having fun.  Here’s what I came up with:

  • Go creative, and make stuff for Christmas. This is such a lovely thing to do with friends or with the kids, it gets them
    From www.inhabitat.com

    From www.inhabitat.com

    involved and also shows them that its the thought that counts (don’t worry, I wouldn’t give anything to an adult that they wouldn’t want or is rubbish! You can even make your own wrapping paper – its cheap, quick and fun.  There’s loads of websites with great ideas, aside from the wonderful Pinterest, but one idea I love is Thinly Spread’s Chocolate Silver Teaspoons (thanks Chris!)

  • Ask for gifts for that are Gifts for Someone Else e.g. a winter coat or toys for an emergency children’s centre that would most likely to go a child in Lebanon fleeing the war in Syria from World Vision’s Must Have Gifts. Most charities do this these days. Open Doors have a Christmas Angel appeal, where £52 will pay for a month’s education for 4 children whose families have fled persecution.  Of course, some people love giving you something to unwrap which is great (I’m a bit like that myself) so I’m asking for something small. The O/H isn’t getting away with it though – I have my eye on a fab pair of sheepskin slippers…;-)

    www.traidcraftshop.co.uk

    www.traidcraftshop.co.uk

  • Buy a gift for a child or woman in a refuge this Christmas when shopping online or in store with John Lewis. They have a gift list specially for this. What a brilliant idea to bring some cheer to women fleeing domestic abuse. Get shopping at Johnlewisgiftlist.com and enter list number 609505.
  • Buy from fair-trade retailers or retailers making a difference – e.g. Traidcraft.  I got these gorgeous white t-light holders and sophisticated chocolate, whilst buying this wonderful Advent Calendar which has pockets in so allowing me to not just pop chocolate in, but also add a little challenge in like Listing 5 things to be thankful for, or a little act of kindness suggestion. Priced at £24 its not cheap, but it’ll last for years. All the profits go directly to cooperatives in places like Bangladesh where the artisans get a good price and training.
  • Be brave and decide to give a percentage of what we spend on presents to charity.  Eek. This is scary as it forces us to tot up our spending very carefully.  But, heck its a great way of reining in our spending. Friends of ours are aiming for 100% although they’ve admitted that could be a tad unrealistic (I didn’t say anything!) but I love their generosity!  25% is a great amount, or even 10%. I discovered on Pinterest this lovely little tool to help in this – a Christmas Present planner, posted by The Organised Moma.com. I know, its a bit super organised to have one of these, but heck, I think I need it if I’m going to keep a tag on what I’m spending….(gulp).
  • Make up a shoe box for Operation Christmas Child – it’s not too late to do this (collections are still being taken in our area). See this post for what I wrote about it in 2012 along with more ideas for alternative Christmases.  Remember to adhere carefully to the suggested list, as its easy to put culturally inappropriate gifts in the boxes without realising. And if you’ve not got the time to do the shopping, you can make one up online and they’ll make one up for you.  It’ll make a child in a refugee camp very happy this year. Watch the video here to see how (its a bit cheesy and I’m not keen on the phrase that the children will “have nothing” on Christmas day without our gifts, but its great little video apart from that and its a great thing to do!):

  • Take part in Buy Nothing Day on 29th November – this has been running for several years now, and part of a growing movement to resist Black Friday in the States, and has become popular around the world.

Don’t get me wrong, we probably won’t be ticking ALL these off!  We’re not that worthy!  And they won’t be all up your street. But I hope they’ve given you some inspiration to kick the greedy gremlin out of Christmas and bring the blessing back into it.

Because, Christmas is for sharing, right? (the irony that it is Sainsbury’s that sports this tag line isn’t lost on me…)

So, what are you doing to kick the ‘greedy gremlin’ out of Christmas?  And can you recommend any online alternative retailers?

8 thoughts on “Ebola, bombs and….Christmas?

  1. I LOVE this Siobhan… In fact, Dave and I were having a conversation about ths last night (he was basically with you, and I was resisting…) but I think you’re right that we can strike a balance without losing all the sparkle of Christmas. After all, it’s all about giving, not receiving… Right?? Thanks so much for sharing with #SavouringtheSeason … So sorry I’m late!x

    • How funny that you were having a similar ‘banter’ about this! Don’t get me wrong, I LOVE giving gifts – its my love language. And I find it hard not to keep adding to the gifts we’ve decided on in our heads in the cold light of Novemeber, as the 25th approaches. But I know how strong a pull the commercialism is, and so am trying to carve a boundary around the giving of gifts so that it doesn’t go overboard, the kids don’t get spoilt and there’s room for giving to those who really need stuff. I’ve really enjoyed making more stuff this year, and my daughter has made the most gorgeous felt baubles for people to hang on their trees (I’ll post a photo soon). But it does take time! And don’t get me wrong – i’ve probably bought more than made. Anyway, love the fact that it got you talking! Sxxx

  2. What a GREAT list Siobhan! Sorry it’s taken me soooo long to get around to reading it. I love the idea of giving 25% of what we spend to charity and involving our children by purchasing or making gifts too. My lot save up their pocket money to give to their friends and family (me!) now but when they were younger I used to be very conscious that Christmas was so commercialised and did they understand the ‘giving’ aspect of it. Now that no one in this house believes in FC any more, it’s all a little easier to explain!

    • No worries, S! Mine haven’t believed in Father Christmas for some time now (thanks to the savvy older one informing S!) but they still love playing along with the idea (don’t kids grow up too fast now?). Think I might suggest my daughter uses her pocket money to buy the odd thing as well as making this year…..good idea! Sx

  3. I love this idea. I hate christmas and one of the big reasons is that I cant stand the waste of money on buying each other presents that aren’t wanted or needed but the expectation is still there to give and receive presents. We’ve tried doing alternatives to it in the past but it ends up embarrassing when you find yourselves sat with relatives expecting presents from you and they don’t seem to appreciate it if you give an ‘alternative’ gift whether it is a donation to charity, something or something hand made. I would rather scrap presents altogether on christmas and I even think my kids would agree if we explained the reasons why but it is wider family and friends that wouldn’t ‘get’ it. Sorry for the rant – its because i really agree with what you are saying here. I probably need to get more organised and buy some beautiful ethically sourced products but I never seem to order these sorts of things in time for Christmas and i end up thinking maybe next year.

    • Don’t apologise, R! I understand, although there’s no WAY my kids would agree to no presents! They’re not greedy, but they love the whole expectation and surprise element, which I totally get. I love that side of it. I think the trick with those kind of relatives is to give them something small and thoughtful, and to stick to what you think is right. I can’t see how people wouldn’t appreciate something you’ve put thought into and you know they like, even if small. Tough one though. Try and enjoy all the rest of Xmas that’s wonderful….Sx

  4. If you are UK based then swgs world is a great site and to the market if you are us based. These are charities helping those from other countries have a selling outlet in the developed world, I’ll be writing about them soon.

    Thanks for this well needed reminder. Mich x

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