Saturday, December 19, 2015

Looking for a special gift this Christmas season?

The season of over-spending is upon us, and the next few days will see many late-season shoppers descend on their favourite mall or outlet centre to shop 'till they drop in order to make people happy this holiday season.

Or so they think.

Since today was arguably the busiest Christmas shopping day yet, I thought it would be a good time to take a step back, think about what we're doing, and maybe change things up a bit.  After all money can't buy happiness, they say, so what about saving some of that money instead and still making people on your Christmas list happy anyway?

Let's explore the possibilities.

Years ago my life companion and I agreed to keep our Christmas gift-giving to a minimum and whatever we would exchange would have to be in some way consumable.  We both met later in life and had much of what we need to make our way in the world anyways, so no need to add to it any more than necessary we thought.  So gifts that are edible, drinkable or in some other way usable to achieve the same would fit the bill.

Gift cards, though thought by some to be impersonal, are really quite practical.  Especially if they are for a service such as dining out, for example.  We've done a lot of those over the years as we try to discover new and interesting places in and around Niagara to dine.

But we can go further than that and really make a difference, not just with each other but with countless others as well.

Let's face it.  Most of us have more than enough stuff at this point in our lives, but others in the community perhaps do not.  So a few years ago I started a tradition of making a monthly donation to Community Care of St. Catharines & Thorold on behalf of my wife.  She would get the tax receipt, Community Care would get a monthly contribution to help those in need, and I had one less gift to buy.

Simple, right?  But look at the good that small contribution does on a monthly basis.  Think about what could happen if several more people, say 10 each month, did the same thing and donated just ten dollars to Community Care.  They would have $100 more per month to work with, or $1,200 more per year.

Doesn't sound too difficult, does it?  Just think of the people you could help by doing this one simple little thing.

Similarly, you could make a monthly or even a lump-sum contribution in that person's name to any number of charitable organizations.  Don't be afraid to ask your special someone what charity they like to support and then just go ahead and do it in their name.  The good that can come from this simple act of kindness can help others so much, and not just at Christmastime.

The problem with charitable donations at this time of year is you feel good about filling a need right now, at Christmas.  But the need goes on year-round, so a monthly contribution ensures your charity of choice benefits year-round, which helps them immensely.

How about a membership to a worthwhile organization such as the Garden City Food Co-op?  If they are not already members, why not introduce them to the value of such a facility in our downtown core and then buying a membership in that person's name and presenting it on Christmas day?  Doing so will help expand the food co-op's membership at a time when they could really use your help to achieve their goal of a 2016 opening in downtown St. Catharines.

Is your special someone a lover of the arts?  We now have a grand new facility downtown in the FirstOntario Performing Arts Centre, with a calendar full of great performances by any number of artists including our own Niagara Symphony and Chorus Niagara.  Why not surprise them with a pair of tickets to a performance in the New Year by one of the arts organizations that call the new PAC home?  Make it a package deal with dinner at a nearby restaurant as well if your budget allows, and voila, your Christmas gift is done and you can sit back and accept the accolades.

This next idea could be problematic if you don't know the person's preferences beforehand, but some careful investigation on your part could reveal the necessary information and make your choice that much easier.

How about saving a life this season by adopting a new lifelong companion from a local animal shelter  or your local humane society?   It need not be a dog or cat if that doesn't work for the person you are buying for, but perhaps a bird, gerbil or other small animal in need of a home could fit the bill.

If a dog or cat is on your radar, you especially want to be careful the person you are buying for is prepared for the commitment beforehand and if not aware of your intentions, at least aware of the growing need to rehome a large pet population in the area.

Adopting a new pet will make a world of difference to both the recipient and the pet you choose.  But keep in mind that pet is a living being, too, and deserves to be treated properly and fairly.

Unlike a lot of presents given these days, a pet is not disposable.  It is a lifelong commitment that can reap benefits for both the recipient and the pet for years to come, if handled properly.

Our shelters are full of animals in need of a good home, and if your gift recipient is happy about the idea, why not present them with a gift certificate to a local shelter and after Christmas go down with that person and take the time to choose the right pet?

Finally, you could offer to provide some kind of service for your intended recipient such as snow shovelling if they are elderly, or in the nicer weather cutting their grass if they cannot do it themselves.

Again, write up a personal gift certificate yourself and present it to them, highlighting the intended service to be provided, and stick to it.  Do what you say you will and all will be fine.

So there you go, a few ideas that involve just a little preparation but can reap great rewards for all concerned.  What better way to show how special Christmas is to you and how meaningful that person's presence in your life really is.

Merry Christmas!

December 19th, 2015.

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