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Spirit Of The Season! FESTIVAL EXPRESS

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Are you getting caught up in the frenzy of Xmas? It’s time to take a breath and transform the way your family celebrates. Ray Robertson reports

Christmas may have become a commercial carnival but that doesn’t mean you can’t buck the capitalist trend and ‘do’ the holidays a little differently. So instead of trucking in the presents and bulk-buying new decorations, look around you for opportunities to reach out to others and show some genuine goodwill.

The instant gratification of treating family and friends to their ‘best Christmas ever’ is one thing but helping other people can also give you a warm glow. While you’re at it, refuse to buy into the societal pressure of having to have a ‘perfect’ Christmas. Relax and enjoy the time together, and remind children that Christmas is about giving, not gifts.

What rubbish, you may be thinking. Now more than ever, after 18 months of pandemic and when lockdown ruined last year’s holiday, we need to celebrate with friends and family. We deserve to treat ourselves to an iPhone 14, WildTable4, Liberty cotton pyjama set and Xbox Series S Holiday Console; we will buy our kids everything on their wish list, including the VTech Level Up Gaming Chair and Jurassic World Inflatable T-Rex. And nothing will stop us gorging on turkey, ham, stollen, Christmas pudding, zabaglione, and every other decadent treat that comes our way. Most of us are perfectly happy having a self-indulgent Christmas, thank you very much.

But here’s an experiment. Think of everything you don’t want from Christmas. Sprouts, secret Santas, Dickensian schmaltz, Amazon Prime, the look in your children’s eyes when they tell you on Christmas morning that they’ve already got one of those. What exactly would you and yours miss out on by cultivating a new Christmas experience?

If you’re ready to take a new approach, challenging the social norms that say we must ‘keep up with the Joneses’ is a good place to start. Begin by asking yourself questions like, ‘What do the children have?’ ‘What do they need?’ and ‘What is our financial situation like?’ Once you have those answers, it’s easier to decide on – and stick to – a budget for gifts. Another trick when it comes to Christmas shopping for children comes in the form of an easy mantra: “Something they want, something they need, something to wear, something to read.” This leaves plenty of scope for practical gifting with a few treats that will be genuinely well-received.

Give simple stockings filled with small gifts including things like a piece of fruit… try something different! Consider too that by keeping spending low, you can leave wriggle room in the budget for a big-ticket family holiday every now and then. Christmas gives us a chance to step off the hedonistic treadmill but instead, we have made it the annual culmination of buying, giving, receiving, being disappointed and queuing to return things.

When you give your children an avalanche of Christmas presents, you risk turning them into consumer junkies; people who measure their self-worth by the value of their possessions. Tough words but true. As parents of impressionable children, we need to look at our own habits and language. Light-hearted talk of ‘retail therapy’ may inadvertently reinforce the idea that the best way to lift your mood is buying something new. Where most adults can recognise that this quick-fix approach doesn’t address serious
problems, children and teens may not have the ability
to reason this out.

The motive for consumer addiction is often about seeking to fill a hole that a person feels inside themselves. Spending may temporarily offer relief, but in the long run, the hole is still there. Therefore, as parents, it is important to try to foster a lifestyle that builds a core sense of self-worth. Maxing out your credit card on Black Friday and revelling in your feel good overspending doesn’t set much of an example.

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Christmas could provide us with an opportunity to put aside our own needs and wants, and do something like the Centre for Effective Altruism recommends, namely thinking hard about how best to help other people. This is something we could aim to do every day but most of us need a spur, a special reason to get benevolent, charitable, curious. Christmas could be just such a catalyst.

Start small. Make a gift. It will mean so much more than something store bought. From handmade chocolates or cookies to picture frames, a knitted scarf or bulbs in a flowerpot, there are millions of easy-to-make options. Or you could decide that gifts just aren’t necessary any more. Why not ask your friends if you can make a donation to their chosen charity instead?

Or, offer your skills in place of a present, and make the gift a useful and experiential one – think babysitting, tutoring or cooking. Alternatively spend part of the holiday volunteering for those less fortunate.

You can also encourage your kids to gift their time. Impact HK (www.impacthk.org) began with the idea of one act of kindness per month for the underprivileged in Hong Kong, and has since grown to a full programme of monthly initiatives, events and fundraisers. Older kids and teens may benefit from joining one of the group’s monthly Kindness Walks, where donations of clothing, toiletries and food are distributed in various locations around the city.

Feeding Hong Kong’s (www.feedinghk.org) weekly Bread Run involves willing volunteers of any age in collecting surplus bread from bakeries to send to schools, shelters and charities. The organisation also invites groups to host Food Drive initiatives, collecting non-perishable items such as rice, cooking oil, and canned and dried goods to redistribute to a variety of good causes.


So, let’s say my argument is winning you over and you’ve decided to do things a little differently this year. What more can you do in the lead-up to the big day?

Firstly, practice random acts of kindness. When you’re in town and see an acquaintance getting stressed out by the Christmas chaos, do something kind for them. Help carry their shopping bags on to the ferry, or buy them a cup of coffee. If we want to see more Christmas spirit, we need to be proactive in showing it to others. The win-win here? By brightening someone else’s day, you brighten your own.

Secondly, show gratitude to those who help you daily. Think of the people who deliver your mail, pick up your trash, drive your kids to school on the bus, teach or coach them, or assist you in the supermarket, pharmacy, or bank. Christmas is super hectic for them as well, with many of them working long and extra hours. Why not show your appreciation with a homemade treat and gift card?

Lastly, set aside one hour each week to slow down and reflect on the spirit of the season. Make yourself a cup of hot chocolate and listen to Christmas music or watch a Christmas movie. Take a brisk walk on Tai Pak Wan, and stop to look at the lights and decorations in DB Plaza. Read a Christmas book with your children.

Don’t miss the little joys of the holidays because you are moving too fast.


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