Santa cat

Celebrating the season

No matter our intentions, and no matter our practices and our heritage, it is so easy to spend too much, eat too much and worry too much about this time of year. It can be tricky to find ways to stay out of the commercial chaos and celebrate Midwinter in the ways we want to. And slipping into indulgences of one kind or another can be a really nurturing thing to do in the middle of hard weather.

There are lots of good people with good advice online for ways to gift cheaply or from the heart, with gifts that are repurposed from charity shops or hand made. But these take planning, and space to think, and the time and energy to make them happen. On the other hand, when we were younger, my flatmates and I developed a tradition of setting a ridiculously small budget, and running around town together finding as many presents as possible for the money. It’s a great game, especially having to hide from each other in the shops – and having a stocking full of tiny, cheap presents on Christmas morning is like being six years old again.

But my best tip for a magical Yule is to take the Solstice morning to yourself if you can, get up at a ridiculous hour of the morning, and be somewhere at dawn that makes your heart sing to welcome the return of the sun.

That way, you’re halfway to a wonderful holiday before most people have even started! This year the solstice lies on 21st December, but it’ll still be magical if you wait a day or two either side.

Of course, if you really want to have a year off, you can spend the holidays in the sun, or helping out at your local food bank. Like many things, I think it’s about stepping back and asking yourself what you and yours want out of the holiday rather than following any set ‘tradition’. And it’s also common in many traditions to give a little something to someone in need.

A couple of years ago, BBC News brought us the concept of the reverse advent calendar: “The idea is simple; instead of opening the door to a chocolate or picture, you do the giving. People put aside a donation each day of advent, so they have a collection of goods ready to drop off in time for Christmas.”

I’ll admit that it makes me unseasonably angry to think about some of the reasons for this unprecedented rise in the need for foodbanks. It seems like a betrayal of the values I grew up thinking we held in common. But I also know that a regular charitable donation, however small, is the best practice if you can afford it, for expressing gratitude for the abundance we receive, and solidarity with those beings experiencing more suffering than ourselves.

I know many of you also donate as an act of regular solidarity with others, and as a mini-rebellion against the idea that somehow, in one of the richest countries in the world, there isn’t ‘enough’ for us to share with less fortunate beings at home or abroad.

I hope you go well and stay warm, and are able to be gentle with yourself as we slip into the darkest of months here in the Northern hemisphere. May you find that pause to breathe quietly, as the sun stands still.

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