Experience Gratitude and Gift It Away

– By Sharon Ashton and Raksha Dave-Gates (Counselling Psychologists)

Once again, it’s December! We are already beginning to feel the effect of the hustle and bustle of this holiday season. Many of us step into this month with some trepidation, knowing that it will be difficult to keep balance in our time, energy, and finances as we take in the traditions that mark this time of the year. We bring with us the hope that somehow we’ll capture some of the “magic” of the season.

The dominant holiday this month, inthis part of the world, is Christmas. On December 25, Christians remember thebirth of the infant Jesus. In church services and in private moments,Christians reflect on the spiritual meaning of His birth. Over time, thisseason has become meaningful for both Christians and many non-Christians alikeas a time to focus on important relationships between family members, friends,colleagues, etc. The Christmas holiday also has developed a whopping secularside. Gift exchanges, parties, and time set aside to eat, drink, visit, andlaugh together—these are the significant elements of the Christmas season formany. Anonymous giving has become a valued holiday tradition for bothChristians and non-Christians. We don’t have to look far to find a wealth ofopportunity to give charitably, whether it is through food drives, providingwinter clothing to those in need, or purchasing gifts for children who are lessfortunate.

During the months of November andDecember, the practice of gift-giving is a meaningful facet of many otherCanadian faith traditions. In November, Muslims celebrate Ramadan’s Eid al-Fitr (timed to thesighting of the new moon). In addition to exchanging small presents and foodgifts during Ramadan, the giving of charitable gifts (the zakaat), is animportant feature of Muslims’ celebration. Also in November, Hindus celebrateDiwali, a five day festival of lights. Although gift exchange isn’t central tomainstream Hindu tradition, food gifts are exchanged among friends and relativesduring this time. People of the Jewish faith celebrate Hanukkah (December19-27), a historical holiday honoring an unexpected victory in battle. Traditionally, Hanukkah gifts were small gifts of money to children to rewardthem for studying and cherishing Jewish customs and laws. More recently, Jewishgift-giving tradition has been influenced by the proximity of Hanukkah toChristmas celebrations and has become more lavish for many.

The enduring simplicity ofgift-giving in many faith traditions serves as a reminder that offering smalltokens as gifts to family and friends can be deeply symbolic of our love andappreciation. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could make this simpler style ofgiving commonplace? In this back-to-basics holiday mindset, we could experienceabundance through exchanging acts of kindness and thoughtfulness and spokenwords of caring. Time spent with loved friends and family and with buddingrelationships would be treasured in a new way and we would be sure to followthrough on our promises for coffee, lunch or an evening meal together. We coulddevelop a new cultural norm of giving extravagantly to those who need it most. Stephen King explains his attitude about charitable giving. He says that givinghelps him focus gratitude for the life he leads, his family, and the communitythat nurtures him. King says, “right now we have the power to do great good forothers and for ourselves. So I ask you to begin the next great phase of yourlife by giving. I think you’ll find in the end that you got far more than youever had, and did more good than you ever dreamed.