Thursday, December 23, 2010

On the spirit of the season

Christmas time and the winter holidays are often said to be full of seasonal glee and spirit. The spirit of giving, that is. Between buying and receiving presents, making charitable donations, and spreading Christmas cheer, we're all supposed to feel merry and bright. But has the spirit of the season become yet another consumerist trend?

A few days ago, I saw someone post on Twitter that in the spirit of the season, he/she had picked up some trash on the street. Maybe it's just me, but I think a responsible citizen who cares about his or her neighbourhood should beautify it all the time. I also think he or she shouldn't pollute it in the first place, but that's another story entirely.

That's my issue with Christmas spirit. Shouldn't we be nice every day? Shouldn't we give generously to less fortunate people all year 'round? And quite honestly, shouldn't we not give presents out of obligation but rather out of love? Just because it's that time of the year, and especially if the recipient doesn't need or want anything in particular, why go crazy running around in malls? It seems even more ridiculous when the effort of finding the right present and the act of giving it with all the best intentions is not appreciated by the recipient. Why bother? Isn't giving all about seeing the warm glow of appreciation, excitement and thankfulness on that person's face when they discover the nature of the present?

When I am a parent, I will make sure that my children understand the values of being thankful and appreciative, of giving to people in need, and that the accumulation of things isn't the key to being happy and successful. On special occasions, my children will receive several presents, all for things they need or want and that are reasonably priced and appropriate for their age. Then, they will have to choose one of their new presents and personally donate it to someone who needs it more than they do, whether it's a friend who can't afford that gift or someone less fortunate than them whom they may not know personally, but who will greatly benefit from their new gift. Humility needs to be taught.

It is perhaps the value which we have abandoned the most in today's society. Charitable donations are down, both in amount and number, and people are increasingly selfish. They think they are in need, but in reality, most of them are just in want. While we lament about our first world problems, there are people less than a 30-minute drive away who are starving, who truly can't afford to live. They're striving to simply survive. And I don't mean that they can't afford to pay rent because they go out to dinner twice a week. I mean that they live paycheck-to-paycheck and do groceries at the Dollar Store. These are people we cross in the street every day and barely notice as different. Some of these people might work with you or serve you coffee every morning. Do you think they only deserve cheer at Christmas time? Do you, for that matter?

Love, compassion and sharing shouldn't be restricted to certain periods of the year. It should be ingrained in our personalities. It should be in our nature. After all, it's only human to care. So this year, my Christmas wish is that we spread holiday spirit all throughout the year. Making someone happy is possibly the best present you can ever give, wouldn't you say?

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