Opinion: Giving at Christmas is getting more complicated

Having a social conscious at Christmas is overwhelming. I have been asked to put money in a kettle, give a gift to a senior, a toy to a child, money for Christmas dinner, and give socks, mittens, coats and blankets to the homeless. I’ve been asked to donate a Christmas hamper, give toiletries for women, fill stockings and back packs for teens, give to the food bank, adopt a family and contribute to heartbreaking gofundme campaigns. 

All of these causes are worthy of my attention and charities are smart to ask for help over the holidays when we are in the spirit of giving, but the need seems to have no end.

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I’ve made my donations for the season but I’m left wishing I could donate more.

Whether your budget is big or small, it’s daunting deciding who to give to and how much to spend. Donating is also emotional. I chose organizations that I was introduced to by friends or family, or that I have come in contact with though my work. Some are local, some are in the city, all are highly dependent on the generosity of others, especially at Christmas. 

There’s a sea change happening around the holidays and it’s evident in the new social norms that surround giving at Christmas. The younger generation is forcing us to rethink how we spend. They don’t want more stuff, they want experiences, or environmentally responsible gifts that have meaning.

It’s not just the young. Last Christmas instead of giving presents, my 74-year-old sister-in-law donated a cow in our family’s name to a village in Rwanda. The year before it was a goat to Ethiopia.

Secret Santas are changing. For a recent party my gift had to be something used, or something I’m not using anymore, it could not be new. My stepfather’s family’s secret Santa has changed this year. At the suggestion of his granddaughter, “All gifts must be consumable, so that we don’t end up throwing more unwanted stuff into the landfill.”

It’s not just cash that charities need; they need volunteers. Earlier this month, I joined 100 local women to sort and pack 1,000 gift bags for women living in shelters as well as recovery and transition houses. The idea is that women in need should be pampered and recognized at Christmas. Organized by Women Helping Women, the Ladner Community Centre was buzzing with energy as we worked together for a great cause. 

Recently a young man in his 20s, around the same age as my son, was begging in front of Walmart at Tsawwassen Commons. He was sitting on a piece of cardboard with his dog curled up by his side. 

The coin purse in my car was empty, and I had no cash in my wallet. I made eye contact and smiled, he nodded back. I let him know I saw him even though I couldn’t help. It was a moment that reminded me the best charity is to treat one another with respect and kindness.

It’s what the Christmas spirit is all about, and it’s free.

Ingrid Abbott is a freelance broadcaster and writer who wishes everyone a charitable Christmas.

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