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The holiday season. It arrives with festivities and departs with similar flair. Goodbye…and please do not return until next year.

Christmas has always been about family, yet in the same context, Christmas has been about the spirit of giving-in many different ways.

When I say giving, I am referring to a scale of giving; from honest care to its’ opposite, or shall we say mass consumption and the hoards of consumers, entering shops and browsing online catalogs with as deep or as shallow of pockets permissible.

This holiday season I experienced both worlds, but fortunately, there was a choice, and on the family side of things we removed ourselves from ritualistic spending and nonsensical wasting of resources. Instead, we decided to give back, both with thought and action.

There is a way to find balance. With the Christmas spirit, it is to be thoughtful in all one gives and possibly volunteer for those less fortunate.

The Corporate Holiday

Spending the fall and winter seasons in the midst of corporate America did not elevate my excitement for the holidays. Whether it was the exhausting rush of Thanksgiving sales, the merciless orgy of Black Friday, to the final week before Christmas, I clocked my hours at Seattle’s REI Flagship store as a snow-sports specialist.

The retail world roundabout the holiday season: I came, I went, and I shall never return.

I sold snowboards, packaging the hard-goods with boots and bindings to push a 10% discount. I rearranged, organized and picked up after customers in the helmets and goggles department where plastic and cardboard boxes splayed across shelves. I answered phones, ordered unavailable products, put others on hold, and directed individuals to their desirous locales, pointing at signs clearly posted but apparently lost to the sights of shoppers too cluttered to notice.

The retail world roundabout the holiday season: I came, I went, and I shall never return.

Likewise, for a month straight I heard Christmas carols echoing from the wooden rafters. From Michael Bolton to Alvin & The Chipmunks and way back with Doctor Demento-they bounced off nuts and bolts, across metal air ducts and through vast open spaces.

My head spun with cheesy saxophones and piercing voices and jangling bells, along with the questions, services, projects, areas to tidy, customers to greet. Influenced by this madness, the idea of Christmas was appalling. And yet I still needed to shop.

Therefore, my hours were minimal. Having lived the false spirit of Christmas via retail with maddened shoppers who believe the higher the price, the more love received, the more gratitude awarded-I went homegrown.

Back Home

The best gift is one with heart and soul. It is a gift with thought, personalized with the flavor of the giver and the appetite of the receiver. Since youth, my mother has reminded me: “The best gift is one made by you and your imagination alone.”

“The best gift is one made by you and your imagination alone.”

So I lived the consumption at work, and in the end I quit, giving my two weeks notice long before December 25th arrived. I had to leave.

Back home I spurred my imagination into creativity, thinking of family and friends, lovers near and lovers far. I mended my Grinch-filled spirit so as not to steal away the blessings of Christmas and I designed my own gifts.

I wrote poetry and prose. I concocted a blend of organic hot cocoa mix, baked sweet yummy banana-carob goodness bread, and shared music to continue the dance of life. In essence, I stayed away from the money-frenzied Western culture and supplied the core of Christmas giving with my own two hands and my own open mind, combining their creativity into one.

Assuaged from corporate nightmares, the spirit of Christmas was born again.

A Spiritual Rebirth

Morning arrived: December 25th, 2007. All shopping ceased. All those long lists of desires, wants and dreams shortened until tomorrow, next week, the year’s resolutions.

Yet, nestled within a small home, my family and I drank tea and coffee as we sat on the couch and watched two dogs bound upon one other. There was no Christmas tree. There were no lights, no stuffed Santa Clauses, no ornaments and no scents of cinnamon, nutmeg or cloves from fresh batches of Egg Nog.

There was only family and the call within each of our hearts to reunite from our individual lives and be near each other. The sun rose, and shortly we were off.

What truly rings clear not only during the holidays, but every day, is that spirit of sharing. Having so much, granted the ability to experience many things, there comes an alignment within oneself to give back and actively show appreciation.

As a family, we wanted to share our energies with those most in need.

To emerge from the bubble of one’s single-track lifestyle and share oneself with others less fortunate is the best gift, not only to give to those asking for help, but to oneself as well.

Coming Full Circle

At 9:30 Christmas morning we unloaded and stepped into a large grassy park in southern California. The sun was shining, the air comfortable with a short breeze, and all around were hundreds of volunteers busily organizing themselves and preparing for the annual Christmas feed.

Stepping up to the volunteer table, we presented ourselves and set to work in the spirit of giving, one not of monetary means, clothes, jewelry or cars, but simply of our time, our concern and our compassion.

We filled and tied balloons. We decorated. Others set up chairs and tables, cones for lines, stalls of beverages, collected donations of food and carved slices of honey ham. Yams were plentiful, as were the pies, peas and sweet corn. Cars drove up and provided more food, more gifts and more love.

The spirit of giving-a true Christmas-was alive and well.

From the wastelands of consumerism to the return of Christmas and the spirit of giving, sharing, and gratitude. The holiday season can come full circle, traveling through the polar opposites of living and the joys and pains it can bring.

With all things in life, in each moment, there are choices to be made, and whether from motherly advice or individual participation, the holiday season can be one of humble creativity and compassionate giving.

As members of the human family, we all have to learn to cherish each other; this includes ourselves as well as those nearest to, and farthest from, our circle of understanding.

Come again, sweet holidays, and bring with you the joy of giving, the gratitude of receiving, and the spirit of sharing.

Cameron Karsten writes spiritual and health travel columns for Brave New Traveler. He left his formal classroom studies to indulge in dreams of travel at 19 years old, and has been wandering ever since. Visit his personal website.

About The Author

Cameron Karsten

Cameron Karsten writes spiritual and health travel columns for Brave New Traveler. He left his formal classroom studies to indulge in dreams of travel at 19 years old, and has been wandering ever since. Visit his personal website.

  • Eva

    I know I’ve already ranted about this a little on Ian’s post, but this is exactly the sort of thing I was talking about – people who believe that the way one spends one’s Christmas says something about their character, the depth of their emotions for their family, and so on.

    “I am referring to a scale of giving; from honest care to its’ opposite, or shall we say mass consumption…”

    Do you honestly believe that buying someone a gift is the opposite of honest care? That therefore someone who buys someone a gift in fact does NOT care?

    “This holiday season I experienced both worlds, but fortunately, there was a choice, and on the family side of things we removed ourselves from ritualistic spending and nonsensical wasting of resources.”

    Yes, you are fortunate to have a choice. Not everyone can simply remove themselves from that hideous world of retail service just because it’s harshing their Christmas mellow.

    “…maddened shoppers who believe the higher the price, the more love received, the more gratitude awarded…”

    I don’t even know what to say to this. People are not cartoons – we are not a whole world of Dudley Dursleys screaming about how last year we got 38 presents, and this year we only got 37.

    People shop because they believe they are doing something nice for their loved ones. You can criticize the way they go about doing so all you like, of course, but when you suggest that they do not, in fact, care, and that they are somehow morally or spiritually lacking because of the way they choose to show their love, you lose my respect.

    Your mother taught you to make your own gifts, and that’s lovely and thoughtful – I wish I had the skills and the time to do the same.

    In between all her disgusting consumption, my mother taught me that it’s the people who believe that their way of living is the only right way of living, and that people who live their lives in other ways are inferior, who cause most of the problems in this world.

  • Ian MacKenzie

    Thanks for the comment Eva. Now I can’t speak for Cam, but I do have some thoughts on his side of the argument.

    I don’t agree that buying habits offer a glimpse of a person’s character. But the truth is – most people have too much stuff. And this habit is encouraged all year by retailers, especially so around Christmas.

    We’re told that the only “acceptable” ways of sharing our thanks to friends and family is to buy them something. So even if you did have time to make something unique, say, with your imagination, the pressure is still that these homemade gifts are sub-par to their shiny, new counterparts.

    A perfect example: this Christmas, my 2 year old nephew scored a mound of loot from his father’s side of the family. Then when he came and left my sister’s side (his mother), he was again showered with toys – I’m willing to bet 90% of which he’ll look at once and never use again.

    I’m not condemning my family members who bought him a gift – of course, it’s a nice thing to do. But at the end of the day, there’s a lot of useless plastic that’s ending up in an ever growing landfill.

  • cam2yogi

    Hey Eva,

    Thanks for your thoughts. My implications within the article are from my personal perspectives wishing to touch/understand/benefit a large, world society. Here I am, living comfortably in this world, surrounded by family and friends. And I’m grateful. But this holiday, as with other recent experiences of Christmases, I was torn between the consumption of our society while staying closely linked and aware of other cultures, other societies, and other people whom I love and care for who are less fortunate.

    From current events within cultures unrelated to the celebration of Christmas like Benazir Bhutto’s death, the ongoing situation in Darfur, friends from Tibet struggling to find their freedom as exiles, and the whole panoply of worldly issues involving suffering and pain- and then me, my small little life. Here I am often feeling isolated from reality, out of touch as a single drop of water within the mass fluidity of life and living. I could choose ignore this issue I have within my Self and spend my own resources towards my own unique life. Or I could step out from my personalized comfort and take a look at the whole picture, both in every day life, as well as in the purpose of this holiday season; how I can benefit not only my own growth, but hopefully others – consciously and/or unconsciously.

    This is my character, what I think about, and so to be head-first in the retail business during the holiday season, witnessing the voracious spending of my fellow citizens; here, these emotions arose regarding various issues causing me to struggle to remain aware of others’ lives and others’ experiences within our human family.

    Therefore volunteering to give back to the community was fulfilling. As was the choice to limit my spending and create gifts with my own creativity and imagination. The spirits of the holidays were lived graciously in my own experience, and all I sought to do this season was to share this joy with others, both near and far, both personally connected to my little circle of life and those whom I will never know and only wish to know.

  • kath

    I guess I can see both sides of this argument. I think what Eva is trying to say is that many people who write articles like this (and there seem to be more and more each year) come off like they think they’re more evolved than the rest of us. The truth is, that no one is totally right or wrong. If forgoing Christmas works for you and your family, that’s great. Good for you. The spirit of giving is admirable, and what Christmas is really all about. However, as you said, giving takes many different forms. You might work in a soup kitchen and help those less fortunate, she might use her purchasing power (or mass consumption, ritualistic spending and nonsensical wasting of resources, as you put it) to keep the economy going and provide jobs to people like you and to keep other people from depending on soup kitchens. Everyone has their place and one person’s choice does not make them a better person than another. If Eva or anyone else want to express their feelings with gifts of any price, they should have the right to do so without anyone trying to make them feel badly about it. Not saying that this is what you were trying to do. I’m sure you feel really great about your choice, and you should. You did a really nice thing. It seems like you think that Christmas has become too commercialized, and it has. I completely agree. However, without consumers, you would have been unemployed, as would have many others. You need to respect that and respect the people who ultimately paid your salary. You’re obviously young and still idealistic and thinking your way is the best way. After you’ve been around for a few more decades, you’ll realize that we all have a symbiotic relationship and you can’t really be who you are without me being who I am and Eva and Ian being who they are. We’re all interrelated. We all need each other to keep the world going. And Ian, as for what you said about people having too much stuff, that’s true, but where you use your dollars to travel, and keep people in the travel industry and the economies of whatever place in the world you are going, other people keep our economy and that of every other country in the world operating by their consumerism. Like I said, it’s a symbiotic relationship, and we all need each other.

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