Traditionally, Christmas is a religious holiday to commemorate the birth of Jesus Christ, and many people still choose to attend Church services at this time of year. But in the year 2017, Christmas can mean a whole variety of things to a whole variety of people.
“Christmas waves a magic wand over this world, and behold, everything is softer and more beautiful.” — Norman Vincent Peale
I ask myself why can’t we be in this state of awareness all year round. Christmas time is about bringing the best out of ourselves; being altruistic and compassionate. We’re told that true joy comes in giving, not receiving.
And it’s true, giving can make you feel good especially when you do it enthusiastically and out of the goodness of your heart. Other times though, when asked to give, you just feel like you’re a hamster running around a plastic wheel, forced into giving.
Human nature is complex, even if we do have an inclination to give, what are the underlying reasons? Is it really to help someone in need? To gain some sort of notoriety? Or to make ourselves feel better?
Let’s look at Charles Dickens best-seller – A Christmas Carol.
A Christmas Carol is a novella, probably the most popular piece of fiction that Charles Dickens ever wrote, which was published in 1843.
Old Scrooge embodies all the values that oppose the idea of Christmas; greed, selfishness, and a lack of goodwill toward his fellow man. This particular Christmas Eve, Scrooge’s sleep is disturbed by the Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present and Yet to Come. In a few short hours, the three ghosts reveal more to him about his true character than he ever realised.
Christmas day dawns and Scrooge is forced to confront the unpleasantness of his own existence. The lessons, apparent and plain, represent memory, generosity, empathy, and moral reckoning. His lack of concern for the ‘blue collar’ worker, is a sentiment to the indifference of the greedy, even today, was depicted by the Cratchit’s family dependence on his meager wage.
In a study, published in the Journal of Neuroscience, researchers found that people are more likely to give when they think it will make them feel better. They donate when they feel ‘hope’ about making others happy or putting smiles on eager faces. Did you know generosity lights up the same part of your brain that responds to food and sex? And that ‘hope’, or similar feel-good sensations, are driven by the brain’s reward systems.
Neuroscientists at the National Institutes of Health demonstrated this in a study using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) technology. The fMRI scans showed that giving is like “psychological chocolate.” When participants acted in an altruistic manner, they activated their brain’s orbitofrontal cortex, which assesses rewards.
Giving has been found to reduce stress, and produce the happy hormone – dopamine. You feel a sense of euphoria, sometimes known as ‘helpers delight’ which brings with it the sensation of energy and feeling stronger.
Most of us have this innate quality of kindness but along with it, we have self-perception. Let’s face it, we are all concerned with what other people think of us. If we give to a charity organisation; it makes you look good. You look responsible, accomplished and recognised. People choose to see themselves in certain ways, and they reinforce that identity through their ideals and experiences, social groups, and communities.
Christmas doesn’t have to be an exercise in capitalism – you can spend absolutely nothing, and STILL get the brownie points by giving genuinely.
A LITTLE BIT OF A HISTORY ON GIFT GIVING
Pagans gave presents at several winter festivals, including Saturnalia, a festival in honor of Saturn, the god of agriculture. It begins on Dec. 17 and usually lasts a week. Pagans would lift their spirits by drinking to excess and giving one another gifts. Gifts like pottery figurines, edible treats (fruit and nuts), and candles.
Today’s commercialised Christmas is steering away from the simplicity of old, encouraging believers to buy increasingly overpriced items by going into debt to pay it off.
So, let’s get back to the REAL spirit of Christmas and give from the heart not from the pocket. I compiled a list of ideas to keep it simple.
- A Pre-owned book – one you have read
- Have the kids or grandkids paint them a picture
- A book of IOU’s could be a fun idea
- Write them a poem
- Take them on an outing to a park
- A 12 days of Christmas Quote notebook
- Of course, you could cook jams, chutneys etc if you had abundant ingredients
- Share your crop
- Creatively use leftover soap cakes to make new soap cakes
- And I’m sure you could come up with an outstretched arm’s length more
HOLLY JOLLY CHRISTMAS TO YOU!