Why there’s no present like time at Christmas



That traditional post-feast question, Howd’ya get over the Christmas?, Covers a multitude of possibilities. It allows for different answers all the way from full blown joyful celebrations to ‘Bah humbug’ Scrooge-like replies. And there’s that other cover-all response, Sure you know yourself.

Christmas, or the Winter Festival, if you want to be sensitive to other beliefs, means lots of things. A ritual marking the winter solstice which stretches back through antiquity, a Christian celebration for the birth of Christ or a family feast.

And it’s a traditional time for giving. The Romans exchanged gifts at Saturnalia, while Saint Nicholas of Myra was a bringer of gifts and the three wise men carried their offerings of gold, Frankincense or myrrh.

There are different kinds of giving too, trying to fulfil the wishes on Santa’s list, trying to find that fantastic present for someone special and that whirl of buying gifts for friends and family which makes for retailers’ most profitable time of the year.  And there are other kinds of giving which can get overlooked in the rush to ‘get over’ Christmas, as though it were a hurdle: giving in the widest sense to people beyond the immediate circle of family and friends.

It can be about giving time, care, or money to those in need. Even the thought of that kind of giving can sometimes be hard to contemplate, given the pressures of the cost of managing Christmas.

Giving can be on a huge scale. The EU has promised €18 billion to help meet Ukrainian needs in 2023.

Giving can be to meet need here at home. The Capuchin order in Dublin recently had to call the Gardai to disperse the chaotic queue for tickets for Christmas hampers.

But giving doesn’t necessarily have to cost anything and it doesn’t have to be only at Christmas. It can be as simple as giving some of your time, like calling in to someone who is on their own, nearly a third of older people live on their own in Ireland. As the saying goes there’s no time like the present and there is no present like time.

We are good at that kind of giving in Ireland, over a quarter of the population do voluntary work in some form or other. And that Biblical saying “It is more blessed to give than to receive” has more than a feel- good factor.

Studies highlight the benefits of generosity on both our physical and mental health.  Generosity reduces stress, fights depression, supports physical health, enhances one’s sense of purpose, it is also lengthens lifespan. Not least, it provides an opportunity for social contact and for involvement in something bigger than everyday concerns.

We are a charitable lot in Ireland when it comes to giving to good causes, according to the most recent survey carried out for the charities regulator, over 90pc of Irish people give to a registered charity (these are the regulated charities) each year with 40% of those surveyed giving over €100. Top of the list for donations came causes for homeless or refugees. And favourite ways to donate are either through raffles, sponsorship or via bank card. The main motivation for giving was to help those less fortunate or to give back to an organisation which had previous helped the individual involved.

In the middle of caring and catering for everyone else in the festive rush, it’s easy to forget about caring for yourself and making some time for yourself. I will forever be grateful to a financial advisor who sends out Christmas thoughts to his clients each year.

This particular year he had three pieces of wisdom:

1) Forget about social media and turn off that mobile. 2) Go for a walk in a beautiful place. 3) Do something you would really like to do. That last piece of advice, given I was on my own, widowed and with family far away, had me stumped, Eventually I decided to go for a Christmas drink in town to experience the festive vibe. A long way to go for just one drink but still…

The favourite watering hole from happier times I chose was mobbed, I was about to abandon the project when a table came free and a lovely man came to join me. An hour and a half later we were still talking and now three years later we are still talking and together every day.

Don’t leave yourself out when it comes to giving this Christmas!

And have a happy one!

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