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  • Monika Getty

Holiday Gift Alternatives

Now that Thanksgiving, Halloween and Remembrance Day are over, it seems everyone is heading full tilt into the holidays. There's non-stop Christmas music playing everywhere, houses twinkle with colourful lights and mainstream media screams at us to spend, spend spend! With all the stress, expectations and excessive spending we're pressured to do, it's no wonder that "the most wonderful time of the year" is often the most stressful time of the year for many. I know many people who dread the holidays; some because they can't afford to buy gifts ("Oh, you didn't get the kids something? What a grinch!"), some because they feel forced to spend time with people who aren't that great for their mental and emotional well-being ("No Aunt Ruth, I'm still not married yet, thanks for letting me know yet again that I'm breaking my parents hearts by not giving them a grandchild."), some because they're alone and the holidays are depressing for them.

Personally, there's parts I love about the holidays and parts I could do without. I love to bake tons of cookies to give away while listening to the traditional German Christmas music I grew up with. I love watching the old shows and forcing my husband to sit through Rudolph every year. What I don't buy into is the mass commercialism of it; since when is showing your love for someone equated into dollar signs? There seems to be a competition to outdo each other these days with presents. When I was a kid, my parents didn't have a lot of money, and I always remember that our stockings would be filled with an orange, some nuts in the shell and a bit of chocolate. We would roll our eyes, keep the chocolate and put the oranges and nuts back into bowls. We didn't understand that for our parents, these things were a big deal. Growing up in Europe during World War II, there wasn't much food, let alone money to buy gifts. Getting nuts was a windfall, and getting an orange (often one to share with the family) was as amazing and wonderful a gift as a new TV or gaming system would be to us.

There are many ways that you can share your love, spread cheer, save money and help the planet while keeping your values and your wallet intact this holiday season:

* Make a photo album or frame a meaningful picture for someone

* Put together a book of family recipes to share

* Host a potluck instead of cooking the entire meal yourself

* Donate to a charity in the name of a loved one

* Make homemade baked goods or start a cookie exchange

* Make good memories instead of gifts: this could be a night out, going to a museum, a trip to the movies

* Give the gift of time: offer to cook a meal, babysit, help out with a project or yardwork

* Give away the last book you bought and enjoyed to someone who would like it

* Host a gift re-gift swap with like minded friends

* Shovel the snow for an elderly neighbour

* Make homemade gifts (the best kind I think!)

* Give away one of your favourite things

* Go to local craft shows and get something handmade, supporting a local artist or grandmother

* Donate your good but no longer needed clothing, linens, scarves, toys, etc. to a local shelter

* Visit a local nursing home to spend time with those that have no family

* Volunteer at a soup kitchen

* Go caroling as a group

* Adopt a family in need for the holidays

* Have a "cleaning out your closets" clothing exchange

* Host a movie marathon night

I'm sure you can think of more ways to rethink the gift giving tradition; the only real limit is our imagination. Most of us celebrate the holidays as a way to share our love with each other, remember the good in our lives and the people who are no longer with us but have made our lives better. This year, choose practices (like those above) that enhance those feelings and bring us real joy. After all, isn't that what it's all about?

"You give but little when you give of your possessions. It is when you give of yourself that you truly give.”  ~Kahlil Gibran, The Prophet

And the Grinch, with his grinch-feet ice cold in the snow, stood puzzling and puzzling: "How could it be so? It came without ribbons! It came without tags! It came without packages, boxes or bags!" And he puzzled and puzzled ’till his puzzler was sore. Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn’t before! "Maybe Christmas," he thought, "doesn't come from a store. Maybe Christmas - perhaps-means a little bit more!" ~Dr Seuss

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