Mastering the art of giving

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Sabrina Almeida

An eight-year-old girl’s letter to Santa that gathered more than 23k likes on Facebook, shames us into restoring the true spirit of the holiday season.

Thankful for the “presants” she had received every year as well as her home and family, she “asked for nothing” this year. To express her gratitude, she offered to make “something” for Santa instead and asked him what he would like. This is a rare and refreshing thought in a time when children (and adults) are struggling to prioritize a never-ending wish list.

A lady I met at a car dealership told me her sons were always ready for Christmas and that the requests got more expensive each year. While she preferred to keep it simple (choosing physical activities over electronics), grandparents and extended family often indulged them. She felt that this made it difficult to inculcate the right values in her kids.

All around us, people are rushing to buying gifts for family and friends while dropping hints about what they would like to find at the foot of the Christmas tree. Although the extreme commercialization of the holiday season might be beneficial for retailers, studies show that it puts a significant strain on our financial and mental health. The stress of trying to find impressive gifts within your budget can be overwhelming. Even those that do not celebrate Hanukkah, Christmas, Kwanza or any other festival during the holiday season, succumb to the pressure and end up spending hundreds of dollars on gifts, decorations and festivities they cannot afford.

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From my physiotherapist to chiropodist and the grocery store cashier, everyone wanted to know whether I had completed my holiday shopping last week. My lack of enthusiasm probably stood out a mile making me look like Scrooge or the Grinch.

Clearly it is no longer “the thought that counts”. We must outdo others both in what we give as well as receive. I recently read a news item about a couple who were upset that their parents gifted their siblings with more expensive items. Unfair as it might be, the complaint is reflective of what many individuals may feel. Stories of one set of parents or some grandchildren receiving more than the others, or friends passing on unwanted gifts are common place. Social media contributes to feelings of anger, depression and loneliness as individuals compare experiences and gifts. This in turn impacts their self-worth and emotional well-being.

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I’d say the little girl’s parents have received their most precious Christmas gift yet via her Santa letter.

While charities and foodbanks try to appeal to our altruism during this ‘season of giving’, much of what we ‘may’ part with is an afterthought or what is leftover. The real test would be to sacrifice our wants and step out of our comfort zone to fill someone’s basic needs.

A radio news item, inspired by the generous man from New Jersey who paid off $10,000 in layaway bills at a local store, shared ideas of how to spread the holiday spirit. Paying a stranger’s bill at a fast food restaurant or buying a homeless person some coffee were some suggestions they made.

However, giving doesn’t have to involve a monetary commitment. This is an excuse many of us use to assuage our guilt. Most charity and community help centres need a ton of volunteers to cope with the increased demand for their services during this season. Helping at your local food bank or homeless shelter (or visiting the local hospital) is one of the simplest ways to bring the holiday cheer to the less fortunate.

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As we show an increasing preference for organic experiences (meaning connecting with nature), it is time to divest ourselves of the materialism and self-aggrandizement we have adorned over the years. Give your family, friends and the community the gift of your time… it is likely to make this holiday season an unforgettably-satisfying experience for you. – CINEWS

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