Over the past 16 years I’ve taken my kids away camping in the week before Xmas. I detest the frenetic, consumerist hype of the season, the cloying Xmas carols piped to crowds of exasperated shoppers with tired toddlers and the in-your-face push to spend, spend, spend. Add in Auckland’s daily traffic chaos in the growing heat of summer and if there’s a purgatory on earth then this is it.
The chance to holiday away from the rush has mental and financial benefits while keeping the kids occupied in sparsely populated camping grounds beside beautiful beaches is the best bonus.
If you can’t get away this year then try to plan for it next year. It comes with a high recommendation for families with young kids.
Most of us know we will overspend and overindulge at this time of year but the inevitable momentum of the season propels us onwards to a host of family responsibilities and expectations.
Most kids are overindulged. Gifts from parents and extended family members can overwhelm them with junk. For many years now plastic crap and cheap rubbish have replaced the solid treasured toys of previous generations. So much of the stuff that looks good in its gaudy shrink plastic wrapping turns out to be less than robust and lasts just long enough to disappoint.
I hope this doesn’t sound Scrooge-like. Xmas should be the family highlight of the year but it’s become more a celebration of consumption.
I wonder what Jesus Christ, whose birthday Xmas celebrates, would have thought of the whole scene. I think he’d be avoiding the frenzy and living the words of his Sermon on the Mount. He’d be spending his time (and his money) with the lonely, the marginalised and the poor.
This year most of my gifts will buy ducks, cement, mangroves, water, goats, chickens and seeds for families in overseas development projects. They are gifts you purchase through Christchurch-based Christian World Service for your family members to send to CWS project partners in Timor Leste, Uganda, the Philippines, India and other places in the developing world. What better gift could we give our own kids before we even begin to consider how it will transform lives in other places? If we want children to develop good human values of generosity, selflessness and compassion this is a good way to start. So why not make the first gift you buy your kids and other family members some ducks ($15) or a goat ($30)? It also means you can stop worrying about buying something for those who have everything and what’s more it’s also they are the only gifts in the marketplace which come with a tax deductible receipt.
If you want to follow up then check out the CWS special gift programme on http://www.cws.org.nz
And how about a gift voucher to a child saying you have given the gift of a food parcel on their behalf to a New Zealand family living in poverty. Your local foodbank will be grateful. The Auckland City Mission newsletter says their emergency food parcels issued this year are up 52%. I think it’s the first gift Jesus Christ would have given.
If you buy children’s books then why not look for a book with a message that matches the supposed values of the season? I’m not sure what’s around for kids these days but I recall a delightful story about Xmas for an impoverished family from Poland. It was called Just Enough is Plenty and the story matches the message of its title. Unfortunately we should by now have our own home-grown stories with the same theme, given the level of endemic poverty in New Zealand.
Meanwhile our government is preparing an important Xmas gift for our children as well. John Key is heading to Copenhagen to join with other governments to come to an agreement on climate change. Whatever emerges will help decide what environmental legacy our generation will be leaving for our kids.
All the signs are that it will most likely be a weak, self-interested, short-sighted approach to global warming which will leave a badly crippled planet for them to inherit.
Having further watered down Labour’s already inadequate legislation, New Zealand at Copenhagen is siding with the developed world which is striving to continue its own unsustainable emissions and shift more climate responsibility onto developing countries.
The protests on the streets at Copenhagen will help balance the heavy pressure being wielded by the corporate sector who use governments as a cover to push their growth-at-all-costs agenda.
We can’t rely on John Key. A stroppy, successful Copenhagen protest is the best gift we can hope for our kids this Xmas.