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Guelph Mercury Editorial

Hark Ye Harried Shoppers, Rest Ye Weary Gentlefolk

I greatly resent the herding quality of this month. Every Santa-fearing person on the face of the earth is squeezing themselves through the head of a pin neatly labeled Christmas. Starting as early as October and continuing without pause until Boxing Day, the merry script is laid out and our role is clearly defined. We must cheerfully put aside our own lives, find a twinkle for our eye and a blush for our cheek and shop till we drop.

This has never worked for me. Call me Scrooge, but my sense of giving and loving kindness doesn't correspond with a calendar date or a list of names. Nor does it fit with a time of year where I'm challenged to leave my house after 4p.m., perpetually chilled, constantly nodding off and routinely broke.

Our cultural understanding of giving is narrowly defined. We exchange mountains of useless consumer goods that cost bags of dough in the month of December. This is heartily reinforced by massive campaigns to "BUY ME NOW", launched by every bauble-making enterprise on our continent in order to shore up lagging fourth-quarter revenues. None of this activity has anything to do with goodwill towards human kind or a babe in swaddling clothes. It's commercial manipulation, plain and simple.

That said, it does takes two to tango. I can't help but notice that every person I talk with complain bitterly about the stress and expense of the holiday season. Then, frantically and in bad moods, race to the mall with credit card in hand, all the while blaming society for putting on the pressure.

Well merrily I say unto you ye harried shoppers, I have joyous news to share. You do not have to participate in the lunacy of spending money you don't have. Nor do you need to find the perfect gift for the unknown relative or people whose name you've picked from a jar. As for dashing and prancing from store to mall to outlet in bad weather endangering your life and the lives of those you don't know, rest ye weary gentlefolk.

Glory be and deck the halls, the bells are ringing and the carolers singing.... "Fa La La La La, You Can Opt Out!"

Hark and Harold Angel do not expect you to lose your mind. Society is you my friend and you have choice. Break the tinsel that ties, completely or little by little until a new pace finds you jingle-bell-jolly all year long. Simply start by saying no. Or even better, no thank you.

Several years ago, I chose the slow no route to Yuletide sanity. A little nip here and a tuck there and voila, Xmas excess eventually disappeared. Now, I barely do anything that resembles Christmas, in December.

Backyard trees get decorated in summer for maximum viewing pleasure during long evenings outdoors. My large papier mache Santa works all year as my front door greeter. From January to March, I host "Monday Night Roast Up" and serve fowl as a matter of course.

My seasonal gift-giving has gone the way of the Dodo too, as I've come to prefer sharing non-traditional gifts all year long. Notably, some of the finest gifts I've received arrived during the non-festive months, unwrapped, surprising and perfectly suited.

Like when my mentor Jim introduced me to Tim, just as Tim was ramping up his web site company. Jim thought that my skill base fit with Tim's company profile. A deal was struck and we all profited. The gift of shared knowledge.

Or last spring when my new next-door neighbours chose not to spray their grass with pesticides. Gloriously, a 14-year cycle of chemical lawn treatment came to an end, proving a gift to my health and the environment.

Two-year-old Tessa and Aurora give me reason to leave my home office on the finest summer days when I hear their chirpy little voices dancing through my open window. They remind me that silly is fun and warm sidewalks are nice to sit on. Spontaneous playmates are sweet gifts.

When Tannis sings me a song or Katie invites me on a dog walk I feel gifted. Rob's enthusiasm for rogue skating on wilderness ponds and Ian's perfectly barbecued steaks are as delightfully received as given. The fine company and conversation of so many exceptional people warms my heart all year long. Their social generosity reminds me of how lucky I am. The gift of friendship.

Fifteen years ago, Henry gave me four Tulip Trees, grown from seeds he collected in the Carolinas. Now taller than my home and graced with orange and lime green magnolias in spring I'm left breathless. The gift of natural beauty.

An anonymous "fellow Guelph lover" left $600.00 cash in my mailbox last February with a note that simply thanked me for my commitment to beauty, creativity and community. I felt the gift of appreciation, recognition and understanding.

Then, way back in October 2002, Bonnie Ewen, late managing editor, gave me a gift that will last my lifetime. During our first, brief meeting, Bonnie urged me to apply for the community editorial board. With the gift of encouragement, I poised my pen. Now, as I end my two-year stint, I am thrilled with the growth of my writing. May you rest in peace, Bonnie.

And may you all enjoy the gift of your own ability to spread simple acts of kindness throughout the year.

Sue Richards is a social entrepreneur, artist and cultural animator. She is also a member of the Mercury's Community Editorial Board. Check out her Guelph Photo Blog.

Contact Sue Richards at [email protected]

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