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How do you wrap happiness?

There was a joke doing the rounds this year that on the stroke of midnight on Halloween, all the decorations would turn to tinsel and the rush to Christmas would start. It wasn’t, at least in most supermarkets, too far off the truth, with decorations and presentation sets of consumables soon taking over the shelves. You can’t really blame the stores too much though can we? We do give them all our money when they do it. Stores at Christmas know that we have all fallen into the trap of thinking that Christmas is all about the number of gifts we can give.

It doesn’t matter how disciplined we think we are when we enter the store. It doesn’t matter how long we’ve spent working out the precise list of presents that we’re going to give people, or how we’ve agonised on whether this branch of the family is more or less deserving than that one. We get drawn in by the bright lights and bold signage. We see those cheese board presentation packs, or the boxes with small bottles of spirits and a glass with a sort-of-funny logo on it and that manic squirrel urge to impulse buy jumps out at us and runs off with our credit cards. There’s just too much good stuff out there to pass up, and if it isn’t in a store in front of us, it’s on the screen of our laptop, tablet or phone online.

It wasn’t always this way: gift swapping at Christmas used to be about exchanging tokens of affection, a far simpler way of celebrating being together rather than the expensive way of keeping score that it seems to have become in some households. The image seems to have got stuck in our heads of a Christmas tree with a mountain of presents beneath it. There should be something – ideally several somethings – for everyone. It’s an image popularised by the Victorians that is now an integral part of any depiction of Christmas in our media.

This cornucopian image of largesse and mystery fuels our hunt for the biggest and most popular toys and gadgets. We tell ourselves that Christmas will be ruined forever if our children don’t get that particular toy, or if we can’t gorge ourselves in our own body weight in chocolate. The obsessions that we allow ourselves to build up around this entirely mythical “perfect Christmas” end up fuelling arguments and resentments that are completely at odds with what we tell ourselves we’re setting out to achieve.

For some, it makes the festive season an utterly polarising experience. In any workplace or family, you’ll find a clear split between those for whom Christmas cannot come soon enough, and others who would frankly rather go into hibernation with a big “Bah Humbug” badge pinned to their doors. There’s a great shame about that, because even with all this stress and expense, Christmas can be one of the best times to get together with friends and family.

So, what can we do about it? Giving up Christmas is not an option unless you’ve a serious desire to be the next Grinch, but perhaps by approaching things a little differently we can make some serious changes and turn around our obsessions into joy and care for those around us. Christmas is a time of renewal and light, a chance to reach out to those around us and demonstrate the best that we can be. Don’t worry; this isn’t necessarily a call to descend on your local church: this is a call to remember not only how lucky we are to have people to gather close and celebrate with, but how we can rekindle our own reserves of kindness, taking pleasure in doing something good for and with other people.

This can start with the simple pleasures of making food and decorations together or with looking at ways to spread our fortune with donations and care packages. There are a growing number of stores that donate portions of their proceeds to charity, or that allow you to put together gift box subscriptions to support people through the year. People donate their time and money over the Christmas period to help the homeless, those in hospital, and those who can’t even afford the thought of presents, and there’s no reason why you can’t rekindle a glow in your own heart by thinking of others and have fun at the same time.

Here at we’ve got ideas to share with you, a comprehensive look at different ways that you can give back at Christmas, not just give gifts. We hope you’ll join the conversation and be inspired to help make your corner of the world that little bit brighter too.

December 9, 2015