My interfaith family celebrates both Hanukah and Christmas. I love lighting Hanukah candles but most of all I love Christmas. I love cookies and egg nog and pie and extra treats. I love walking into work and seeing evergreens and ribbons and ornaments where there are usually blank walls. I love special peppermint drinks at the coffee stand and Christmas cards in the mail. I love getting out my Christmas ornaments, many of which I've had since I was a child and most of which have some small story attached to them. I love all the memories that come with Christmas. I wouldn't quite say that I love addressing Christmas cards but I do love thinking about my friends and family as each name comes up. I love the cookie decorating party that my husband and I host for our friends' children the way my mother hosted for my sister and I and our friends when we were small. I love opening presents on Christmas morning, with my family. I just really, really love Christmas.
I particularly love thinking about Advent. I love lighting the candles in the wreath each week and meditating on the qualities of hope, peace, joy and love that the candles represent. I love putting stickers on my daughter's advent calendar and talking about the time going by. I love the solemn joy of Christmas Eve, as we sing the beautiful old songs and light candles and remember that we are so loved. I love to remember that G-D loves us all so much that he came here to live with us, as one of us, so that he could show us that love in a way we could understand. My family was never that much into Santa Claus. Instead we talked about giving gifts as an act of love, the way G-D sent his son to us.
So when I say I don't love the holiday shopping season, please understand that I'm not a scrooge. I just think that it's out of control. The constant pressure to buy, buy, buy is annoying. The crowds in the mall are stressful and agitating and at times scary. Very little of the commercial message feels in tune with the spirit of celebrating love. One of my the Christmas decorations I love best at my mom's house is a kneeling Santa; Santa kneeling by the manger of Christ. The toys and commercialization of the holiday subordinate to the celebration of G-D with us. That's how I would like things to be for me and my family.
I'm also very aware that most of the people I know don't really need or even want anything. And even though I love opening presents, neither do I. I am incredibly blessed to have enough in my life. Most of my friends would say the same. We just don't really need more. And even though holiday giving isn't so much about what people need, when we all have so much already a giving things just isn't very meaningful.
So this year I am doing something a little different. I am still buying gifts for a few people, although I am choosing smaller and less expensive gifts. But for most of the people I usually exchange gifts with I am donating money to Heifer International in their honor. Heifer International (http://www.heifer.org) is an organization that provides live animals and training on animal husbandry to people around the world living in poverty. The families who receive animals pass on the gift by donating the first living offspring of their animals to another family in need. The animals range from honeybees to cows and for the bigger animals you can purchase a share to donate. The gift of an animal that provides milk or eggs can make the difference between enough food and not enough food. The families can also sell wool, baby animals after the first ones they donate, eggs, extra milk and by doing so acquire enough money that children can get health care and go to school. Families are helped to help themselves, which I think is wonderful.
I had a really good time choosing the Heifer International Gifts. I chose a training package on animal health for a friend who has a health care background. I chose a knitter's basket for my mother-in-law who taught me to knit. I chose rabbits for a friend who adores animals and baby chicks for some friends who just had a baby. For some friends and family I couldn't figure out an appropriate symbolic animal but it was still fun to think of a family somewhere owning a llama in honor of some newly married friends or a goat in honor of my father. I hope that my friends will get a kick out of this and maybe even consider doing the same for me.
I think this is a good way to honor the spirit of the holidays; the giving of gifts as an act of love. I think this is a good way to connect and create meaning; by thinking about people I love and in their honor trying to make the world a better place.