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I am beginning a new journey.  I am going to give something every day between now (or rather Monday) and Christmas.

In previous years, I’ve been a real grouch about Christmas, always complaining about the over-commercialization and that most of the people I know don’t really need anything. If they need socks or underwear, it’s probably best if they go purchase those things for themselves.  I hate Christmas songs – especially when used in ads.  I can take a little Christmas music, for a few days.  But by mid-December I am so sick of the same old simpering songs, I want to spit.  Don’t get me started on the whole shopping and decorating obsession. Family is a good thing, but not all of us can be with our families just because it’s December 25th.  Which only serves to make it that much harder . . . Not very positive of me, huh?

So, I’ve decided this year to fight back. I may not be able to volunteer every day.  Some days it might just be reaching out to an old friend or offering someone a ride.  I’m sure I’ll be giving away some food, clothes, money and who knows what.  I have a number of things on my list, but I’ll be doing research, poking around, asking questions and watching for what comes up.  It should be interesting.

I give credit to NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) for all this momentum.  Not to mention some faith that I’ll actually pull it off. It’s effects have been very positive.

It started with a pledge at the beginning of November to spend a specific amount of time on my novel.  (See The Secret Gem Inside NaNoWriMo.)   Not wanting to be boring about it, I also set a few goals.  I’m happy to report that as I close in on November 30th, I have accomplished nearly all my goals.  (I do have a little more time left.)  What did it, I believe, was sticking to that schedule I set for myself.  Not quite as sexy as finishing a chapter, but that’s what did it.  I promised that I would spend at least some time on the book, on the days I knew I could. Whether that was scanning a few pages, reading over something I’d written or giving it 20 hours, as I did over the recent Thanksgiving Day holiday.

It was the Time I gave it, which eventually piled up into something concrete: progress. It was simply a matter of paying attention to the project.  Some days I only had a few minutes, other days I had several hours.  I just stayed with it, doing a little bit when I could and so when Thanksgiving rolled around, I had accumulated quite a lot of attention, so it was easy to fall into working on it for long stretches of time.  I was into it and excited about it.  I applied a small amount of effort over and over and this is what I got!

I’m letting that flow into December onto this Giving Project.  But there’s so much of it, I thought I’d spread it around. The novel, this time around, is about fun. Keeping my fingers in fiction and my critique group happy. But I have this other project – Love Letters From Your Soul – that I want to apply the same process to and see what happens.

So, two projects.  The Giving is every day.  The writing is on a schedule that works with everything else in my life.  Like Harry Potter in The Prisoner of Azkaban, who was able to do the Petronus Charm because, through a twist of the Time Turner, had already seen himself do it.  I know I can do this: I’ve already done it.  Whether I’ll be able to prepare the Love Letters for publication by the end of December, I don’t know.  I only know I will give it Time and that will create progress.

P.S.  You will see reflections of my Giving Project throughout December.  I will be sticking to the subjects of Giving and Gratitude all month.

I don’t consider myself a Scrooge.  After all, I am clearly into spirituality.  And I wake up every day wanting to be kinder and more loving. Though I am keenly in tune to what I need, I am also constantly on the lookout for taking care of others.  I’m not against presents or family.  I’m by no means perfect, but to call me greedy and unthinking would not be fair.

What I see of Christmas, though, is that its main focus is on gift giving, with decorating as a close second.  After that may be family – but not really until the big day.

I am not a Christian by trade, nor especially dedicated to the teachings of Jesus.  But I always thought Christmas was about honoring what we have deemed to be Jesus’’ birthday. One day.  Where does it say that to honor him we must make a mad dash to buy presents for everyone from our beloveds to the guy who bags our groceries?  Where is it written that we must outdo our neighbor with yard decorations?  Does God ask that we stay stressed and obsessed from Thanksgiving to Christmas day?

I’m sorry to say this, but what I see is that Christmas is about spending money you don’t have to buy presents for people who don’t need them.

Christmas carols are big at this time of the year.  A week, maybe two of them I could take, but we’ve been hearing them nonstop for at least twice that long.  By the time Christmas rolls around, I’m filled to the brim with them.

I’m okay with family getting together.  That is a good way to honor Jesus and the spirit of Christmas.   But do we have to plan for it, prepare for it, and think about it for two whole months?  Must we feel bad because we’re far away from family, creating even more stress?

Christmas is an excuse for Holiday ads and specials, merely to increase sales.  Let’s face it, the season is more about a boost for retail businesses.  Almost anyone who has anything to sell can come up with a holiday scheme to get more customers or more sales.

During the holidays if you want to say go to the drug store, get your hair cut or just pick up some groceries, be prepared for far more traffic, fewer parking spaces, some pushing and shoving by huge crowds everywhere you go.

On a mission the weekend before Christmas to get an extension chord for the A/V system, it took us nearly an hour to get into the parking lot, find a space, locate what we wanted, find a salesperson to ask a question  (who didn’t really want to bother with us with just a cord) and then get out, back into the car, and out of the parking lot!  How long would it have taken if we had found what we wanted?

I don’t know how people do it.  People with demanding jobs and children, maybe even health issues, as well.  I can’t imagine how they manage to pull it all together.  And I wonder what other things they might be doing with their time.

Okay, enough of this!  The whole thing is out of control.  But how can we fix it?  Make it better?  I’m not sure if it’s possible since Big Business has a stake in keeping things the way they are.  I, for one, do not care for being controlled by the likes of Big Business.

I wish Christmas was about Peace on Earth and Good Will Toward all People.  What if we were all in competition to see how much  we could do for those who have less than we do?  How much did we give to charity or donate to a cause?  What if it was about, truly, being more kind to others?  (I’d have to ask again, as I do for Thanksgiving, why this should be just one time a year?)

What if, instead of buying presents for those who are as fortunate as we are, if we each took on a poor family and got them fixings for a nice dinner (maybe for more than just one), some things they need for their children, and something which will help them find steady work?

What if, instead of buying presents for everyone we know, we focused instead on those people, like the boy who bags our groceries, who go un-thanked most of the year? The mail person who dutifully delivers mail and brings packages to our door?  I like the idea of getting in touch with those who get lost in the shuffle of every day life.  (This, of course, could only happen if things slowed down in the holiday season, instead of sped up.)

Whatever your faith, I hope this holiday season allows you some time to slow down, take a breath and see all that you have.

I have gone out of my way to avoid the Christmas thing.  It’s sort of my tradition.  I burn out quickly on overplayed Christmas songs, way too many sweets, jolly out on Santa Claus, and get turned off by incessant requests to buy.  When just going to the store for a loaf of bread becomes a major ordeal, I start to feel more drained than energized with any Spirit.  Still, you have to admit, Christmas is the King of Holidays.  It needs no one to win any battles for it.

Christmas lights might warm my cold heart, if they’re done tastefully.  Too often, though, they are loud, overdone and gawdy. I would admit to feeling something stirring when I smell pine and heat combined. Tears have been known to be shed over several Holiday  Movies.  Not that I’m especially religious, or anything, but I could go for a little more Jesus in our Holiday Season agenda.  It is, after all, what we’re supposed to be celebrating  But most of what passes for Christmas “cheer” is actually Pagan or from some other far removed influences.  And, frankly, leave me feeling neutral.

What a grinch I am!  Though I am enamored of Dr Seuss’ immortal character, I have no wish to be shunned or face a lonely future like Scrooge himself.  I prefer to find the Positive Slant on Christmas.  It’s not easy for me.  But surely there must be much good in this Holiday which stands so tall and persists, no matter the economy.

Today it came to me: Christmas should be about Giving.  Not buying and wrapping, but giving.  Opening your heart and forgiving.  Opening your wallet and/or time to give to others in need.  (Maybe that’s stirred more in me at this time when being outside seems no place to live.)  How about giving yourself a break?  Or someone else who could use it right about now.  Giving and sharing your abundance, welcoming and gathering kindred spirits is a fine way to give  We must not forget giving thanks and being Gracious.  And, of course, giving yourself quiet moments to reflect on Jesus and his teachings.

Happy Birthday, Jesus!  Thanks for shining your light

I no longer flinch when I say Merry Christmas, because it is so much more a retail holiday than a religious holiday.  Somewhere under all the gifts and wrapping and cards and pictures and cookies and trees and lights, through the stories of Santa Claus and traveling and food, lies Jesus. 

I used to do it.  Buying gifts for a dozen or more people.  Writing up to 100 cards.  Decorating the house.  Planning, searching, buying, wrapping, shipping, mailing until I couldn’t think of anything else.

One Christmas, as I was watching someone open one of those gifts I had taken so much time, effort and cost to bring to them, I imagined this person having to tend to whatever it was I bought.  No matter what the gift, there was likely to be washing, dry cleaning, polishing, dusting, moving, storing, using, or putting away to do.

I feel blessed that everyone I love has all that they need.  Every one of them has wonderful clothes to wear, blankets to keep warm, proper cooking utensils, plenty of food, gobs of books and music and video games. They lack nothing.  If you are in need of socks, or new paintbrushes, or a teeth cleaning, chances are you’re going to get them yourself.  Most of us can satisfy our own needs. Many of us have more than we’ll ever use!

But, the children, you say.  The children must have their Christmas!  Not being a parent and living that close to it, I have to say, from my observations, that children would be just fine without 500,000 toys, without the latest whatsit.  I sometimes think Christmas does far more harm than good.

It’s not that I’m against gift-giving.  On the contrary, expressing love and gratitude for someone can often be done through a specially chosen gift. But, in the middle of all the other gifts, it loses its impact.  It should be about a moment, a feeling, rather than a season.  Because it’s the Holidays and that’s what you do.  I can show I love you in so many ways.

I know, the economy needs this buying frenzy.  I remember, when I used to participate, how it became almost like an addiction as I would wonder what I was going to purchase next.  What do I have to buy today?  I know, times are tough, but then let’s be honest and say Christmas is about boosting the economy, not celebrating the birth of a Great Man/Son of God/Savior.

Personally, I’m not much of a church-goer, holiday or otherwise.  I am aware, though, that Jesus taught a lot about Love.  I wish this Holiday season was more about celebrating all the wonderful ways that Jesus showed his love. For those around him, his community, his God, everyone on the planet.  Instead of buying gifts, maybe we could find ways to let others know how much we love them, how much they’ve touched our hearts, by doing something kind for them.  What if, instead of spending all those hours and all that money buying gifts for those that don’t need anything, we put all that energy, instead, toward those who don’t have the abundance we enjoy?

But, surely, it will take a miracle.  As God said in “Conversations with God II” where He talks about politics, education and the world at large, there are plenty of changes we could make.  But in the end, it must be a change of attitude.  From the top down.  We need a new Christmas Paradigm. 

I pray for a Christmas miracle.  If we could change what we have believed about it, return to the Christian principles, look more to the rituals like our Jewish and Muslim friends also celebrating at this time of year, we might be able to give in better ways so we can love in better ways.

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