By: Stuart White 07-01-2019
Categories:HRMC Articles written by Managing Director, Stuart White,
It is taking me all my strength and resolve not to write about my ongoing obsession with Britain’s botched Brexit shenanigans. As I watch the UK’s Prime Ministers Questions today, Members of Parliament are quick to wish everyone a Happy Christmas, before going straight for the jugulars of their opponents, including the leader of the opposition allegedly calling the Prime Minister a ‘stupid woman’, the catchphrase of café owner Renê in ‘Allo, ‘Allo’ when caught in flagrante with one of his attractive barmaids. Not much of the spirit of peace on earth and goodwill to all (wo)men there and that was the cue for an article on my take on Christmas.
It’s time to put petty politics- be they those of the governance of a country or an organisation - aside and think more charitable thoughts. And as I get older I think more about that and definitely feel less for the commercial nature of the season. Whilst I can’t get away from the present giving and manic spending I do try to curtail more so that I am not caught up in activities that add no real spiritual value. Instead I attempt to focus on what I believe the season should be about for me and my family. I’d like to share some thoughts and ideas with you on how you might make Christmas more meaningful – of course it may already be that for you, but these are just some of my musings.
I try to use Christmas to really reach out and connect with loved ones and those whom I care deeply for. Every December in years gone by I remember my family would buy boxes of Christmas cards, and my mother would go through her address book, ticking off whom she would send to. This was how we reached out. We spent hours signing cards and addressing envelopes (my job was to lick them and stick them). As reciprocal cards from family and friends arrived at our house, they would be prominently displayed on the mantelpiece above the fireplace or hung on a string suspended across the living room. It was a work of art and although never said I suspect the number of cards you received and displayed was a testament to your regard. Some were pictures of melting wax candles with Christmas trees in the background or outdoor snow scenes with the winter mood accentuated by glitter, some were funny, some were exotic when they came from faraway lands and I loved them all. There was a rule if you received a card you had better send one back. I fondly remember miserly Aunt Stella who each year would recycle the cards which she received the previous year. Unashamedly she would stick her name over the name of the previous sender. Each year we would wait to see if she would make the ultimate faux pas and send our own back with her name inserted over where we had placed ours– she was Christmas Scrooge deluxe, though nowadays I suppose she would be lauded as a conscientious recycler!.
These days I rarely receive Christmas cards except for a few corporate ones but, even these have dwindled. I admit to not sending cards myself partly because of social media - why send Christmas cards to people you’ve been in constant regular contact with on Facebook all year, when you can type a greeting Christmas morning, add a few festive stickers courtesy of FB, click and it is done, not least because digital greetings are cheaper than buying a card and posting and, more reliable to boot? But I do at least recognise I need to reach out – somehow!
When it comes to gifts, I recommend giving a creative gift from the heart. (something homemade) instead of something that means nothing and costs a fortune. Now I am as adept at making something as a fish is at climbing a tree, so this one is harder for me but I try to make the effort of really thinking about the gift that I buy so that there is something behind the giving – in this instance really knowing what the other person needs or appreciates. An impersonal present is almost a contradiction in terms and mildly insulting to the recipient.
I heard of some people who, instead of giving gifts (except, perhaps for the younger kids), use the money they would have spent on each other and donate it to a good cause. But make this a family decision – no dictatorial proclamations, or you may be adding a very different kind of meaning to this holiday than the one intended!
A few years ago someone gave me the idea of writing a letter telling someone you love (or someone you need to forgive or who you’ve offended) how much you care for them and appreciate them as you wish them a Merry Christmas. I try to do that each year…its amazing how many people you can find who fall into this category. There is always someone who you appreciate that you haven’t told them and always someone who you have treated less than fairly who is deserving of an apology. Apart from it’s a good and right thing to do it changes the whole tone of what your Christmas is about.
Another idea I like is to sit down with your family and establish new Christmas traditions that will build meaning into the season and into the future. A few years ago we developed one which involved painting baubles for the Christmas tree and the people who would do that would be the guests that we invite for Christmas Eve dinner. That’s become our tradition now.
As I write this it strikes me that Christmas is what you make it. You don’t have to make it a commercial circus where you’re busting your budget or depleting your life savings, or having to sell a kidney to buy extravagant gifts. Living beyond your means for a fortnight can land you in the poorhouse for months, the hangover to end all hangovers.
When it comes to gifts perhaps the biggest piece of advice is the gift of living better, kinder, more honest, more committed to your family, gentler, with more courage and compassion and love and forgiveness, more faithful and hopeful and positive and thoughtful as you finish the year and begin a new one. And let that be the ultimate gift and the ultimate meaning you attach to this wonderful time of the year. Surely counting your blessings is better than counting the cost? Pax Vobiscum (Peace be with you).