Meg Cox's Ritual Newsletter
Special Holiday Edition for 2008
I stopped the monthly editions of this newsletter in September, but I haven't stopped thinking about tradition and celebration. It occurs to me that this holiday season brings a poignant and unusual mix of contradictory realities: great hope combined with desperate need.
How do we embrace these conflicting truths and make them part of our family celebrations this year?
Here's one idea: create a "Giving Tree" for your family. You're probably all familiar with the Shel Silverstein book of that name, about all the ways in which a single tree helps one human being throughout his life, providing shade, apples, and so forth. But this is more like a special Christmas tree that isn't hung with ornaments but with mementoes of all the different ways a family finds to give to others in need during the holiday season.
You can make a paper Giving Tree and tape it to a wall or door.
Or you might get one of those cute small, live evergreens in a pot (which you could plant in your garden next spring). Cut out paper hearts of red and white from construction paper and use pretty holiday ribbons to tie them to branches of the tree. Have a bowl of pre-cut hearts all ready to put on the tree.
Add another heart every time you put some change in a Salvation Army Christmas pot, or when you buy a book or a toy for a needy child in your community. Add a heart when you collect canned goods for your church or town hall to help insure a needy family gets to celebrate Thanksgiving this year. Add a heart after your choir sings carols at a nursing home or hospital. Add a heart when you volunteer at the local animal rescue shelter.
Let the Giving Tree provoke family discussions about who else needs help in your town and throughout the world, and how you might respond right now. Maybe the kids would like to send a card to a soldier who won't be home for Christmas. Maybe they want to pitch in to help with a seasonal community service project at their school. Collect some money from allowances and then have a family vote to pick the charities that receive help.
There are many variations on the ritual: decide whether you want to add hearts to the tree every time a family member does a good deed, or you might add hearts once a week, on Sundays after dinner.
Like all of you, I'm looking at ways to make my family's holiday mean more and cost less this year. In that spirit, I want to share a few online resources that I find especially helpful:
I've always been a huge fan of the organization Alternatives for Simple Living (www.simpleliving.org), which got started years ago as an effort to make Christmas less commercial. Alternatives works within a religious, Christian context and produces excellent resources such as its annual Advent guide, Whose Birthday Is It Anyway?
But there are a number of other excellent nonprofits that don't deal with the religious element but also provide great resources. The website above, redefineChristmas.org, is an effort to harness the internet as a way to encourage individual philanthropy and it's a great tool for finding good charities and then getting money to them. You can send e-cards to friends telling them you gave in their name and you can create a gift registry where you tell your friends that you'd prefer they donate money rather than give you another sweater. You can zero in on causes you care about deeply, whether it's global warming, poverty and hunger, helping to clear landmines or encouraging budding artists.
Three other web resources I highly recommend:
The Simple Living News has a good website that includes an online bi-monthly newsletter. The November-December issue has good holiday ideas.
I'm a fan of the organization Center for a New American Dream, which promotes simple living with an emphasis on environmentalism. They've also got good resources and recently updated their materials on holidays.
Finally, there's a Canadian Mennonite group that started a Christian inititative in that country to make the holiday less materialistic and one result is a detailed, self-explanatory website, www.buynothingChristmas.org
May your holidays be full of love and presence!
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