Our columnist tells us why kindness should take centre stage this festive season
I read a lovely story the other day. The author explained that she’d lost the ‘magic’ feeling of Christmas. She was visiting her doctor and an elderly couple walked in. The woman, sadly, had some kind of dementia and her husband was guiding her to her appointment. Despite his loving efforts, the woman showed no recognition of him at all, lost in her own world.
A 1950s carol began playing and suddenly, the light in her face returned. She came to life, singing along and reminding the man of happier times. The author, and many in the waiting rooms, were deeply moved – the idea that a loved piece of music could gift the man back his wife, albeit fleetingly, was enough to return a sense of wonder. For her, this was the truest joy of the festive season.
I strongly identified with this story – not just because it’s lovely, but also, I must confess, because I too have lost some of my joy for Christmas. It could be because my boys are grown up, so the rituals of Santa visits and nativity plays are finished for me. But the boys still love to string lights around and I do have younger family members I could share the childlike delights with. No, I think it’s because the increasing commercialisation of the season, coupled with an ever-earlier rush of madness over planning, has left me bemused as to what it’s all for?
Aside from the obvious religious significance, Christmas was traditionally embraced as a light in the sea of darkness, that is winter. On the shortest days, when the nights were longest and the shadows of fear and loss at their deepest, we gathered together over our tables to connect. We shared our warmth in our communities and broke bread with our neighbours to remind ourselves that the winter ends and better times return. The custom of sharing a small gift was a representation of our love, not a symbol of wealth.
It seems to me that has gone. We’re obsessed with how things look and making things ‘perfect’ instead. Somehow, we need to find our way back to a Christmas that means something. With that in mind, this year, instead of recommending products, I’m sharing my favourite ‘kinder Christmas’ ideas…
Buy a refuge parcel: Refuge parcels are virtual gifts that you can buy for others. They help buy needed supplies and equipment for women rebuilding their lives after violence. Visit refuge.org.uk for more information.
Make a lonely old person’s year: Elderly people are some of our most vulnerable. Millions spend Christmas day alone, with just a television to comfort them. Invite them for dinner or even just pop a card through the door. Let them know they’re seen and thought of.
Feed a homeless teen: Buy a homeless young person a Christmas dinner for £10, a Christmas gift for £13, a set of toiletries for £15, or a safe, comfy bed for the night for £35, through Centrepoint (centrepoint. org.uk). Or even better…
Volunteer with the homeless: Charity Crisis (crisis.org.uk) often needs volunteers to help feed the homeless all year round, but especially at Christmas. Give up time as a family so all of you can be together.
Donate to a foodbank: Top up your shopping with even just a couple of quid and donate food items to help those less fortunate.
Be nice to all your relatives: You know that Mother-in-Law you loathe? Or the sister you don’t speak to? Now is the time to let the issue drop and include them in the partying. It might be that they don’t reciprocate, but that’s not the point. Families are about accepting that you might not always love each other, or even like each other, but you can be kind regardless.
Buy experiences, not stuff: Instead of a game that will be discarded in a week, I love buying experiences for my friends and family. Goodies, no matter how sparkly, lose their lustre rapidly but magical memories last forever.
Please try at least one, and remember, kindness is catching. Research shows that doing just one good thing every day creates a sense of contentment and wellbeing you can’t buy, bottle, or ingest. Kindness really is the gift we give ourselves.
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