Think of Christmas and what springs to mind? An idyllic scene of the family gathered around a beautifully decorated tree, opening gorgeously wrapped gifts? That’s the dream for most of us, but the reality is often very different. With the pressure to create the perfect Christmas weighing heavily from the opening chords of the first Christmas radio jingle, the stress on our minds and purses can be immense.
As the list of presents to buy grows longer and the prospect of battling frenzied festive shoppers for last-minute panic-purchases looms, we become so tightly wound that a mid-December meltdown can feel inevitable.
“I have a festive LAY [Look After Yourself] programme dedicated to supporting women to cope with the pressures of Christmas,” says Karen Heras-Kelly, feminine empowerment coach at A Tribe Called Woman. “The pressure to find the right gifts can be a tipping point during a time that’s loaded with intensive emotions and a never-ending to-do list. It’s important to remember that we always have a choice. If gifting feels like a burden, choose a different route and get creative with ways you can demonstrate your love for those close to your heart.”
Nowadays it’s become easy to equate a ‘happy Christmas’ with spending huge amounts of money on material goods – when, in fact, spending time on your loved ones (or with them) is the greatest gift of all. It’s high time we reclaimed our yuletides, gave ourselves – and our credit cards – a break and embraced the many different, thoughtful and creative ways we can show our nearest and dearest that we love them.
Get crafty instead
Instead of hitting the high street and stocking up on generic gifts lacking in sentimental value, why not make something personal instead? Jay Ezekiel, founder of crafting website Maiden Aunt, set up mental health charity Mind’s ‘Christmas Crafternoons’ especially for this purpose. “At this time of year, you can feel so overwhelmed with stuff,” she says. “Sometimes you’ll buy a present just for the sake of it. When you make a gift for someone, much more thought goes into it. You have to think about it in advance but that’s part of the niceness of it.”
With inexpensive materials and any level of experience, an array of wonderful presents can be created, from simply designed Christmas cards to festively fragranced soaps.
And the process of lovingly creating something is not only gratifying for the maker, but means a lot to the recipient too. “I really love it when a friend has taken the time to make me something special and unique,” Jay affirms. “You feel touched that you’re in their minds and not just another thing on their ‘to do’ list.”
With fun festive ideas around every corner and sites like Pinterest bursting with inspiration, select the special people in your life who deserve a token of your affection, and get crafting! And remember, even if the finished product isn’t exactly Instagram-worthy, it doesn’t matter, because it really is the thought that counts.
A different type of giving
Modern life is busy. Time has become one of our most precious commodities, so it makes sense to lavish it on our loved ones. Whether it’s a token to babysit for a busy parent, a pledge to take a friend to the seaside for some quality time, or a promise to rustle up a nice meal for a family member – no offer, big or small, will go unappreciated. By recognising your personal strengths and offering them to those who need them most, you not only partake in an enjoyable pursuit, but you know it will be something that they’ll genuinely love.
It isn’t just your friends and family who could benefit from your time. Last year, one in five adults in Great Britain pledged to volunteer during the festive season, doing good deeds like visiting the elderly in hospital, with 38% of these planning to do it on Christmas Day itself.
Catherine Johnstone CBE, CEO of the Royal Voluntary Service, which celebrated its 80th anniversary in 2018, says even ‘micro volunteering’ can have a huge impact. “However people choose to gift their time, whether it’s an hour or a month or three days a week, can make a significant difference,” she says. “Volunteers are at the heart of our society and it’s one of the best and most valuable gifts you can give, and it can make a huge difference to your local community.”
Put pen to paper
Who can remember the last time they wrote a letter? With emails and texts making up the majority of our written communication, the simple art of letter writing has been largely lost. Yet the act of receiving a heart-warming note is such a pleasurable experience that it’s something that will be treasured. “Sending a thoughtful letter to someone can be just as wonderful as sending a gift,” says author and personal development blogger Steph Caswell. “It doesn’t even have to be a letter – you could try your hand at poetry or reflect on the last time you were together and did something enjoyable. It lets them know that you’re thinking about them.”
It’s not just the person with a letter on their doormat that benefits from such an act. “It’s well-researched that giving something meaningful to someone is a powerful way to boost your own self-esteem and happiness, as well as the recipient’s,” Steph adds. “It’s great to think that in among the bills and generic cards people receive at Christmas, they’ll see your card or letter with its personal message and feel genuine appreciation and, most importantly, love and friendship.”
Make room at the inn
We shouldn’t forget the older members of our families and communities who can get sidelined at this time of year. Deborah Fraser, media officer at children’s charity World Vision, didn’t have grandparents growing up but recalls her 90-year-old neighbour being invited to spend time with her family.
“Irene was like a fake grandma to us and didn’t have any family nearby, so she would always come to us for Christmas Day,” Deborah explains. “She used to tell us stories of her growing up and pass on her wisdom, plus she was also really fun and feisty.”
All generations can come together at Christmas and everyone appreciates a good meal with good company, no matter what their age. Setting one more place at the table and welcoming someone into our home who otherwise may be alone, and creating new magical memories together, is one of the most valuable gifts we have to offer this Christmas. Surely that’s worth more than anything money can buy.
Featured image by Unsplash/Olesia Buyar.
This feature first appeared in Mindful Christmas magazine issue 1 in 2018.