When I was a kid, I used to get SO excited about Christmas. It wasn’t just about Santa’s visit for me, although that of course, was a big part of it. I remember one year I asked Santa for a big, stuffed Garfield (It was the 80’s. Garfield was HOT). Thinking back, it wasn’t even that big. But to me, at the time a stuffed animal connoisseur and huge fan of Garfield, it was, like, totally awesome. Anything less was, like, gag me with a spoon! I was obsessed. I re-read my letter about 100 times, and even after it was sent, I worried that maybe Santa would misunderstand my request. What if I got the smaller one? What if it didn’t fit in his sleigh? This, was my holiday stress.

As I’ve gotten older, my Santa list has become less of a stress, and my focus has shifted to the giving. I love to give people gifts. It’s fun, and it makes me feel good. And that is really what it’s all about, right? In recent years, I’ve backed off from buying a gift for every single friend I’ve talked to during the year. It was getting a bit ridiculous, my credit card was about to catch on fire from overuse, and I didn’t like to make people uncomfortable if I get them something and they don’t get me anything. Not that I care if I get anything in return, but I know it makes some people feel bad (including me, if I’m the non-giver).

So this year I have taken a different approach to giving. For instance, I was in the mall the other day and my friend called. We were planning to get together for a drink later, but she was going to be late because she needed to buy a new pair of gloves. She was absolutely dreading going to the mall (my friend hates shopping as it is!) but it was a necessary evil. Without missing a beat, I said to her “I am at the mall, in the craziness already – why don’t I just buy some gloves for you, save you a trip?” She was thrilled. So off I went, feeling like a little elf, and picked out a fabulous pair of gloves. She was so happy to see me, and the nice new gloves. I didn’t expect anything in return, and I felt great!

And it works both ways. After the big Ottawa snowstorm this week, we ended up with the usual snowplow dump at the end of our freshly shoveled laneway. I was at work, dreading having to dig out the 5 foot snowbank when I got home just so I could get near the house. As I rounded the corner on my street, I noticed that some good neighbour had snowblowed the end of not only my driveway, but everyone’s driveway on the street! Now I don’t know who it was, but I was extremely grateful. I wish I could find out, so I could thank them personally. But they weren’t looking for anything in return, and I bet he or she felt much like I did when I gave my friend her new gloves.

Christmas does not have to just be all about the gifts. And it certainly doesn’t have to stress you out. Doing a favour for a friend, like braving the malls for a pair of gloves, or helping someone deal with all this crazy snow, can bring as much joy as that new iPod or video game. It’s important to remember at this time of year, as we stress about what to get someone or worry about how expensive this season is, that it doesn’t have to be that way. It is easy to do something nice for someone, and it’s free. But it is, I think, one of the best gifts of all.

Merry Christmas!

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