Last week we had a Rabbi visit the school and he asked the students what they thought Christmas was about. We had some very varied answers from food and presents, to family and giving to others. Whilst I don’t disagree with some of the answers, I think it probably means very different things to different people. I’m not saying that to ‘sit on the fence’ but I think if I had to sum up the holiday period around Christmas, I’d say that for me personally, it’s begun to be a time of reflection and reassessment. That may well include giving gifts to my family, friends and charities, it may mean spending much missed time with loved ones and eating and laughing together.
The Bank of England (source) states that the ‘average’ (whatever that means!) family spends at least £800 over and above their normal monthly spends in the lead up to Christmas. However, I think that is probably quite a conservative figure. Why? because this morning I visited a well known supermarket to buy some new toys and gifts for a local drive that is donating to families in my local community who have nothing special at Christmas. I gave myself a limit of £50 and thought I could buy a range of items, something for younger and older as well as something for a mum and a dad and some chocolates and luxury items. I started looking at fun ‘Frozen 2’ hair accessories, the things my daughter would get in her stocking without me batting an eyelid – £4, okay, in they went, then a couple of toys – lego is pretty gender neutral and my kids had loads of it over the years. The smallest box was over £8!! Within that one small figure on a bike…not enough to do anything with, duplo started at a tenner!! As I went through the store, I realised my calculator was reversing really rapidly and I hadn’t even got to any extra food items yet.
So, what am I trying to say: well, THIS was my reflection and reassessment. As I went around the store I realised that £50 was over many people’s weekly allowance for food AND bills, let alone added extras. I squirmed as I realised how often I did (and sometimes still do) just throw in an extra novelty thing because I wanted to see the smile on my child’s face when they opened it, how I didn’t need to decide between tea bags and milk or a box of biscuits as a treat. I paid for my items and as I pushed my trolley towards the exit, passed the ‘food bank’ donation box – only half full! In the back of my head came the uncomfortable feeling that Christmas is a time for noticing the unnoticed! Christmas is a time for making ourselves feel better by giving to the underdog! The rest of the time, they can carry on as they were with the same number of mouths to feed and bills to pay but without the charitable philanthropy from those who help at Christmas.
Of course, we give to charity as I know my friends and family do, but do we actually give enough? I give money monthly to a homeless charity, an environmental charity and an overseas aid charity, but am I being naive in thinking that that’s enough? Why isn’t that collection basket in the supermarket filled to overflowing every single one of 52 weeks? What is it about Christmas that makes us wake up and patronisingly give a 29p bag of pasta then? Give it every week? Fuck, give a 75p bag of pasta every week if you can afford to do so.
So Christmas for me is a time of reflection and reassessment of my own behaviours. This Christmas I intend to give the gift of giving all year round and will buy at least one extra item for the supermarket food basket each week with my own shopping. I won’t notice it, but our local food bank will and local families may find they have an extra couple of quid to buy a luxury item at Christmas next year.
and perhaps local families in need can even afford a box of lego just so they can watch the smile on their youngster’s face as they open it.
Smiles are worth every penny!