An article I’ve just written for the Generous website
Spend less and be more Generous
In 1647, the English Parliament passed a law that made Christmas illegal. Oliver Cromwell banned Christmas festivities, considering feasting and revelry on a ‘holy day’ immoral. Anybody caught celebrating Christmas was arrested. The ban was only lifted when the Puritans lost power in 1660.
The reason for mentioning this rather random historical fact is that I tend to feel rather like Cromwell’s long lost distant descendant at this time of year. Not because I aim to be, please understand. More because the ideas I choose to promote sometimes paint me as a bit of a Scrooge.
In actual fact, I’m totally in favour of ‘feasting and revelry’ and am a huge fan of the season in general. In addition to the standard merriment, food and partying, it’s a fantastic opportunity to show hospitality towards those neighbours or work colleagues that we tend to ignore. Also for using the occasion to strengthen family ties.
But when it comes to presents under the tree, ‘giving generously’ doesn’t mean we ought to re-mortgage our homes. If anything, it might be more generous to give a less expensive gift, but give it a bit more thought.
For example, a voucher that says, ‘I’ll babysit for you once a month this coming year’. Or what about buying books, DVDs, CDs, games etc. second-hand off eBay or Amazon… or from a local charity shop? And any money that we then save – by getting less expensive presents – could be directed towards those who really need it. Those who won’t be enjoying all of the festivities that we will; who wouldn’t notice if their country made Christmas illegal again. (As Bob Geldof would have us sing: ‘Do they know it’s Christmas time at all?’)
So, what about spending half as much as we usually would on family members this year, and, with the money saved, buy a goat (or similar) for those in need… and tell the family on Christmas Day? Or did you know that for £60 you can twin your toilet with one built in Burundi, for those who aren’t used to such luxuries (toilettwinning.org)?
If you’re feeling very ambitious and have time on our hands, then to make a present is a generous yet cheap idea: knit a scarf, bake a cake, paint a picture, compose a song, write a poem. Go on, I will if you will! It’s not illegal, we won’t get arrested, and, if we do something generous with the money we save by not splashing out, we’ll be making a difference to those in need, which can’t be bad.