Dear Santa

Although the current temperature (90 degrees) belies the time of year, the retail world has begun its annual bludgeoning marketing of Christmas decorations; in some cases I have heard carols piping through store sound systems! I am dismayed, and am reminded why I shop for gifts early — to avoid the madness that overtakes us as December 25 inches closer.

Yes, that’s contradictory, I know. I dislike being bombarded by ho-ho-hoing Santas and kitschy green and red bric-a-brac in autumn, while at the same time I usually finish my gift shopping by the end of October or, at the very latest, by Thanksgiving. I do this to maintain my sanity.

Don’t misunderstand. I enjoy Christmas. I really do, a whole bunch. (Ask my boyfriend, to whom I delegate the task of lugging boxes of decorations from storage on December first every year.) It’s just that I don’t want to be rushing madly during the advent season. No, I want to curl up and sip mead, make gingerbread cookies, listen to carols, and admire twinkly lights without stressing out over making the holidays “bigger and better” than last year.

As I journey through life, I notice that all my needs and most of my desires are met. This is also true of my friends and family. So Thoreau’s wisdom, “Simplify, simplify” has been on my mind. I don’t want to stop giving gifts, because I derive pleasure from that. Yet I want to give something of value that will improve life. This is why I’ve spent the afternoon savoring two catalogs I received in today’s mail: one from Heifer International and another from the Seva Foundation.

Heifer International provides animals to impoverished families throughout the world to help them receive better nutrition and improve economic power by selling the products (e.g. eggs, wool) the animals produce. In addition, people are trained in how to breed and care for their animals so they can contribute to their local economy. A gift of ducks and geese costs as little as $20. $500 will buy a heifer. And $5,000 will purchase an Ark (two of every animal provided through the organization, to assist up to 30 families). Or, if you can’t afford the entire cost, you can purchase a “share” of an animal.

The Seva Foundation provides gifts of service to impoverished areas of Asia, Central America, and the Native American community. These include the gifts of sight (funding eye exams and surgery), of literacy education and community development, of providing clean water, and of food programs, such as planting community gardens to increase self-reliance. Gift prices range from $30 to $20,000.

I encourage you to stop by these websites and explore. When it’s time to purchase gifts, you can save money and gas, prevent fossil-fuel pollution, and spare yourself stress by contributing to these programs. Donating money in honor of your loved ones celebrates the gift of life you all enjoy, as well as vastly improves the lives of people who are less economically fortunate.

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