In my family, we haven't done traditional Christmas gifts for years, not even drawing names. Mom and Dad were always very generous with financial help, and one year they paid for all of us to go on a trip to Washington, D.C. for the dedication of the WWII Memorial (a memorable trip that Dad talked about often with great fondness...I'm so glad we got to go, because I know how much it meant to him). For a few years, we had a tradition of doing Christmas Bingo, in which we all picked up inexpensive and fun little gifts throughout the year and piled them on a table and played Bingo for them. Mom and Dad would put money in envelopes, and you might get a dollar or you might get lucky and nab a twenty. There were a few gag gifts that returned year after year, like the little plastic head of Michael Jordan that contained gumballs that looked like basketballs, or the infamous fishlight, which was a little flashlight shaped like a fish. Heehee! We had a lot of fun doing that over the years, but haven't done that for the past couple. We kind of decided that we all have so much already, and don't need to accumulate anymore.
This year we went a step further and decided that we would take any money that we might have spent on Bingo gifts and donate it to the charities of our choice. (Mom and I will be giving the great-nieces and great-nephews savings bonds for their future college educations...yes, we're a pragmatic bunch. By the way, when I first typed that, it came out 'savings bongs.' That's completely different, although also potentially useful for college.)
I split my contributions between two charities, different ones from those that get regular contributions throughout the year. First I went local with the Food Bank of Northern Indiana, which obviously helps those in my community who are struggling. In these tough times, the need for help has only increased, and local food pantries have been struggling to help all those who need it.
For my second one, I went international as well as "paying tribute" to my profession, with a contribution to Nothing But Nets, an organization that works to buy mosquito nets and provide education about protection from malaria. We don't think much about malaria here, but it is a devastating problem in other countries: 247,000,000 cases worldwide and 881,000 deaths in 2009. 85% of those deaths occurred in children under the age of five. A $10 mosquito net can literally save a person's life. The Gates Foundation and others are funding research for a malaria vaccination. Until that is available, a net is a simple and inexpensive partial solution to a global infection.
I've made no bones about loving a certain amount of "stuff." Books, music, I have a bit of a shoe problem that I have to work to control...I'm a consumer, and there are presents under the tree. However, it feels good this year to give a little extra to worthy causes (you know...those who are grateful and appreciative rather than wishing that you'd die...haha), and I found great enjoyment in deciding where to donate. (It also tells me that if I ever win the lottery, I'm going to have a blast researching where and how to distribute big chunks of it!)
I was struck this week by Bill Maher's commentary on what can only be called the Cult of Acquisition, embodied by Oprah's "favorite things" show. Best line? "I don't know about spirituality...but if you're losing your shit over a sweater, neither do you."