give presence with your gifts this christmas

A few times this week I've been asked if I was "ready for Christmas", and I usually answer such questions as pleasant chat from shop keeps, though I even heard it from a crystal shop owner. ("No, the pyrite is for my own masculine energy and manifestation. My Dad's getting wool socks.")

I've always found the question vaguely threatening, perhaps because the closer the day gets, the more pressing the question, and the less pleasant shoppers seem.

How can we prepare for something in the future and honour the present moment? Especially an event that most of us look on with an emotional cocktail of immense nostalgia and material guilt. Christmas shopping becomes an excellent exercise in discernment, a key component of mindful living!

The obvious start to practicing mindfulness at Christmas is inviting in only what enhances your experience of the season and reducing that which causes stress. My family has reduced our gifting drastically to a one present exchange and a mutual one-modest-gift responsibility for stockings. Reducing the amount of gifts saves on the time and financial investment of gifting, not to mention wrapping paper. This takes early conversation to recruit allies in your family, and persuade them that you want quality time together, and you'd like to arrive feeling happy and rested from a stress-reduced lead up.

We reduce our time in stressful environments worsened by many shoppers. We buy things coming from large stores online to avoid plazas, and then we buy as much as we can from small businesses where shopping is a pure pleasure. I picked up Andrew's stocking stuffer from Victoire, and ended up chatting haircuts for 20 minutes with Emily at the desk. I felt good about Andrew's present, enjoyed myself, and really think I offered Emily some confidence on her bangs.

We give gifts that offer more quality time together! Sometimes we give experiences, such as theatre tickets, ingredients for a recipe to create together, or equipment - like skis with the implication they will be used and not just decorate the garage walls.

We like to gift jokes. My Dad gave my sister the same can of spam for years in a row, wrapped in different ways and stored in the kitchen cupboard until the next December required its removal. (The joke only ended because he eventually caved on a hungry afternoon and ate it, such is the endurance of spam's shelf life.)

And we really do believe that it's the thought that counts, and "pleasure" is the better thought than "perfect". Finding the perfect gift is likely to be more stressful than it's worth if you're on a timeline - and few people are like my godmother Bernice, who usually tidies up her shopping by September.

I like to give food, because there's so much gorgeous food out there and even more to make in your kitchen. Wool socks really do make an annual appearance under our tree, because we all love and use them. There's nothing more loving than filling a need, and warm feet is a vital one!

Maybe forgo presents altogether and do a trip, donation, or event together? Call it a cooking Christmas, and all presents must be gifted in a casserole dish.

And remember that participation is a choice - you are responsible for the amount you heap on yourself, and you can choose to reduce and enjoy the lead up as well as the event. If you feel committed to how you're doing traditions this year, start the conversations with family at the event about how you felt about the season, skills for cultivating peacefulness, and suggesting you try something different next year? Having freshly finished their lists, they may be receptive to the idea of less, and you have a whole year to plan!

Whether you celebrate winter solstice, Hannukah, Christmas, the new year, or no particular party at all, may you enjoy some quiet, warm, peaceful presence that makes the heart of winter a warm one.