Monday, November 26, 2007

Seasonal Angst Disorder Part 1

A week ago we went to the Santa Claus Parade. Before we left I decided to tell Swee'pea about the parade to entice him to let me clothe him appropriately for the sunny but cold weather. Knowing his obsession for all things wheeled, I told him there would be trucks and tractors and big wagons with kids on them, and probably at least one fire truck AND an ambulance. I glossed over Santa, not having really thought about what I want Swee'pea to think about him. He was definitely interested in seeing all the trucks, but we still had to get him dressed while he screamed and flailed. Yay, winter with a two-year-old. Anyways, he was pretty spell-bound for the whole parade, and kept looking down the street whenever there was a gap between floats (which I must say were pretty pathetic, even by G-town's standards) looking for more trucks. It was the trucks that he especially loved, no surprise.

Towards the end, someone was carrying a sign that said, "Simplify your life!" Always on the lookout for ways to simplify my life, I looked closer and read the next line: "Hire an Elf." This confused me and made me think for a moment that perhaps I really have been doing too much Pot(ter). Looking even closer, I saw the fine print talked about a personalized shopping service. For a moment, seduced by the power of suggestion, I thought that might be a good idea, but then I came to, digusted. Buying gifts for loved ones, just for the sake of buying gifts, really feels wrong to me. I mean, if you don't have the time, interest or knowledge to give gifts that are meaningful or particularly desired, why bother?

I've already written about how in my immediate family we no longer give each other gifts and we donate to a charity instead (we still give gifts to the children though), about how I feel like a total scrooge with my disillusionment in gift-giving and ambivalence about Santa and what role I'm comfortable with for the man in red in my child(ren)'s Christmas. And yet, I feel the need to rehash a lot of this.

Go ahead and call me the Grinch but I don't really like getting gifts anymore. Being a packrat by nature and not very hygienically inclined, my house tends to keep filling up with stuff that I just have to keep sorting through and donating or tossing to landfill. Andrea's green family series and the Bloghers ACT: Canada initiative have really got me thinking about how wasteful it is buying new things when you could recycle old things... and, now that Christmas is coming, giving people (or receiving) gifts that they'll never really use or enjoy. I am fortunate and frugal enough to be able to buy myself most of the things I want when I want them so I don't need Christmas gifts, and most Christmases I can't even think of anything that I'd like to receive. On the other hand, I like showing other people my appreciation of and affection for them, and I appreciate when that affection is reciprocated, but I really don't need or want it to be done with material things.

Mad and Jen's monthly Just Posts, now approaching their first anniversary, have also raised my awareness about social justice in a big way. This year, I'm going to try to make all my gift-giving give back (except for Swee'pea and nieces and newphews, which I will discuss later). I'm going to donate in the names of the people I give gifts to. So I've started thinking about what organizations I want to donate to. Last year, my family and I focused on international giving -- we gave to Foster Parents Plan for Christmas Gifts, and (eventually) sponsored a child through Help Lesotho (which we are still doing).

This year, I'd like to give locally as well. On June 15, 2007 our youth shelter closed suddenly. It provided dinner for about 30 kids every night, and had 20 emergency beds. Sadly, the essential services it provided have still not been replaced and the kids who used them still don't have a new shelter space. I discovered through G-town Social Justice that we can donate money towards the new shelter (once they find space and funding) or to providing services in the meantime. The same folks are also collecting toiletries and other essentials for the kids and are driving a Kick the Cold initiative to collect clean warm garments for homeless people here.

Another choice for giving is the Masai Centre for Local, Regional and Global health, an out-patient clinic that provides holistic and compassionate care for people living with HIV/AIDS in Wellington-Dufferin, Grey-Bruce and Waterloo Region. The organization also raises funds for the Tsepong Clinic in Lesotho.

While I am most drawn to using my gift-giving dollars to help people, I also feel it may be appropriate to support an organization in line with my passion for native plant conservation and gardening, so Evergreen is top of my list as well. What I like about Evergreen is its holistic approach: Evergreen funds the creation of native plant gardens at schools, makes urban spaces greener, builds awareness and provides resources for native plant gardening, and supports buy-local initiatives in its Brick Works space. I am also considering the Canadian Wildlife Foundation.

And finally, I want to give to the Stephen Lewis Foundation. It does great work to fight AIDS in Africa, and when you make a donation on behalf of someone else, they give you a nice card to notify them.

All those options make me feel slightly less grinch-like, and I also discovered that I am not alone. Buy Nothing Christmas has lots of ideas to reduce the crazy consumerism of the season that just widens the gap between rich and poor around the world and further damages the environment.

Last year I was able to get away without much thought for how I want Swee'pea to see Christmas and how to let him enjoy the magic and family closeness of the holiday without going all capitalist crazy. This year he's so aware that we've got some decisions to make and traditions to begin. But I'll leave that for another post...

17 comments:

Lisa b said...

Tractors are always a hit. I didn't even consider going to the parade so you are far less of a grinch than I.

I really like your gift ideas. I gave to the Stephen Lewis foundation and a local women's charity last year. That is my husband's gift to me. Really nothing makes me happier and like you we really do not need more stuff. My girl is three and our home is filled with cheap toys from China. The madness has to end!

Mad Hatter said...

I think perhaps this is what Santa Claus is really supposed to be about. This is the Santa I want Miss M to know.

Next week, I need to fork over 10 to the day care so that they can take the kids to the mall to buy presents for their parents, likely from the dollar store. I'm already trying to think of a good work around for that one.

Aliki2006 said...

I've kind of lost my interest in gifts, too, which makes me sad because I remember being a child and wondering HOW ONE EARTH my parents didn't seem to care about presents? I still get giddy about Christmas for the kids, but I've been thinking more and more about how to help others, and less about myself.

Kyla said...

This is an EXCELLENT list of ideas. Thanks for that Sin.

Suz said...

I love all of these gift ideas. And I'm relishing that the boys still seem relatively uninterested in presents. They love the tree and the lights, but are not so much interested in wrapped boxes. It's nice, although I'm under no illusion that it will continue.

Beck said...

Hm.
My brother wanted to end the practice of exchanging gifts with the adults in our family this year. He mentioned the same things - everyone already has so much, clutter, the enviroment... but the whole idea made me feel sulky for WEEKS.

We're not poor - but with three kids, our money to spend on ourselves is nearly non-exsistant, and Christmas is one of the only times that my extremely spartan husband gets any of the things that he refuses to buy for himself. (like new winter boots, the cheap, cheap man.) So in his eagerness, he unwittingly cast a pall over our Christmas. Happily, his wife threw a big fit and so his plans were scrapped. So yeah - his intentions were good (and I respect them) but he DID come across as sort of Scrooge-like.

Each family is unique, of course, and it sounds like you know well what's right for yours - but I do think that there's a balance in gift giving, something between mindless extravagence and begrudging the generosity that comes with Christmas.

Wow, this sounds like a post. Maybe I DO have a post in me on this topic...

NotSoSage said...

These are such thoughtful ideas, Cin.

This is the hardest time to simplify, I think...but that sign irks me beyond my normal Scroogness.

Alpha DogMa said...

Our compromise on the stuff issue of Christmas is to make up movie night in a box sets for our siblings and their families. A dvd (usually a classic from our childhoods), plus assorted junk food.

I don't want gifts either - because sadly things I need I just buy for myself. I'm very hard to buy for - so says my mother constantly.

Jennifer said...

Awesome ideas. We do believe in Santa here, but have worked very hard (and it can be really hard, as they get older) to keep it all about the magic and giving spirit rather than the gimme, gimme. I think it is possible to do both -- Santa and gifts and to "give back" -- with some effort. Choosing where to spend my dollars has become increasingly important for me and even with toys for the kids, I try to seek out places that use my money wisely. Happily, there are more and more of those places around lately. Yay, internet. And yay, you. Thanks for the new ideas.

kgirl said...

good on ya. we don't do much in the way of xmas gifts, and when we do, they are almost always homemade. last year everybody in the fam got a picture of my kid in a customized (by me) frame. this year? a picture of BOTH of my kids. ha!

Jennifer (ponderosa) said...

I would like to scrap the idea of giving to adults in our family, too, but there's one person on each side -- my sister and my husband's sister -- who LOVE giving gifts, and so it would be Scrooge-like to deny them.

I think the trick is to really hold a person in your mind so that you can think of something that would make her life easier/happier -- something she might not buy for herself. You think of the thing (or service, or whatever) and THEN go shopping. Rather than standing in front of the store displays, wondering which bauble might make a person happy.

Mimi said...

Munchkin adores parades. All she ever says is 'more?' when there's too much of a gap between the floats ...

I feel you on the gifts question: honestly, I hardly buy anything at all for anyone except Pynchon and Munchkin. I send cards full of news and love, and I bake cookies and I host boozy candlelit parties with Johnny Mathis crooning all day. But I try to make it clear I don't want stuff and I don't want to have to buy stuff for others. I'm not ungenerous! I'd just rather cook and eat and drink and laugh and ENJOY being with the people I care about, rather than spending all my time at the mall cursing and getting poor for crap.

As for Santa, I'm going to try to emulate Jenifer from Rosebud and Papoosie Girl. She seems so balanced! This year, Munchkin is still so small, it should be easy. She just loves the colours and lights and fun -- like me.

jen said...

what a fabulous, inspirational post. this is what i want M to learn, about the beauty of giving.

Help Lesotho. Am all over it.

nomotherearth said...

I'm doing much the same as Kgirl.

Christine said...

the only people who get me gifts now are my in-laws and my mom and those gifts very useful and utilitarian things.

we are give to heifer Int. this year.

and, for us, santa, just doesn't bring gifts he reminds us how to treat each other--with kindness, generosity,and respect.

Christine said...

and beck--great post, er, comment!

LOL

Don Mills Diva said...

I soooo wish I could talk my extended family into just forgoing gifts. We have soooo much and it just seems like a sin to keep accumulating...