How can the holidays make people feel better in this harsh economic year?
The holidays are usually a mix of joy and stress. There's the joy of giving gifts and the stress of paying for them. What do you do if the rough year is eroding both your budget and your disposition? Our clergy offer words of comfort.
Pastor Werner Meyer, Iglesia de Cristo Church, a Church of Christ denomination, Bay Shore:
By remembering that every day is a special day, not just the day on the calendar. Just as we have to teach children to be happy and satisfied with the things they have, we have to remind ourselves as well. Our children are our children all the time. So, talk with them about what is more valuable.
It is easy to get caught up with wanting what we don't have. If we as adults start by remembering what is important, it is easier to teach children what is important. Make yourself feel better about your situation by figuring out how to help those less fortunate. And, stop looking at what your neighbor has and look more at appreciating what you have.
In my family, we're giving each other the gift of time. We're going to have all the family get together for church services and dinner. We have many people from different countries, and they aren't able to go home for the holidays. So, we're going to help them fill their hearts with the love of God.
Remember that Christmas is really about celebrating the birth of Christ and being together with the ones you love. There are a lot of people I hear say, "I don't need another knickknack." I never hear people say, "I don't need another visit from family."
There are a lot of things you can do instead of spending money: play games, tell family stories, sit and look through photos and tell family histories. What people want is quality time with a loved one.
After our services, my husband and I are going to spend time together thinking about all the things we have to be thankful for. We don't give expensive gifts. Last year, we made homemade organic peach, raspberry and plum jams and apple butter to send to everyone. We also donate to the Heifer Project (heifer.org) in someone's name. We try to give gifts that benefit more people than just the receiver.
Rabbi Benyamin Baras, Plainview Synagogue, Plainview:
Instead of a lavish gift that maybe you can't afford, you can acknowledge the person by giving something more personal. Most people just want to know you're thinking of them. Or, you could just ask the person what he or she would like to have. Maybe what they really want or could use is different from that expensive gift you were considering.
Or, how about something homemade. I think people have forgotten the value of handmade things. And, don't fall into the trap of just giving a gift for the sake of giving. Ask yourself, "Is this something the person really wants or just something that I'm giving them?"
From a strictly Jewish perspective, I'd remind them of Hanukkah gelt, which is the Jewish term for money. It is mostly given to children and students to acknowledge their good behavior and learning. The reason it was given instead of a gift was to encourage them to be charitable, to share with others. You can't share a gift. By charitably sharing their "gelt" with others, they were sharing the holiday spirit. It is a way to teach them to share and be charitable.
The Rev. Elisabeth K. Simpson, First Presbyterian Church, Glen Cove:
Christmas is the celebration of the birth of our savior Jesus Christ. It is much more than simply a birthday. It is a remembrance of what God asks of us, that we give ourselves to God and love one another. What is important at this time and all year is for people of faith to receive God's gift of love and share it with others.
Cut down on gift buying by instead doing something to make the world a better place. We can teach our children that helping is the best gift of all. Don't feel bad about not being able to give material things. Simply open your heart and give the gift of love.
For example, in our family, most of us are adults, and all have agreed that we aren't going to give each other stuff. Instead, this year, we going to figure out ways to be together more in the coming year.
A friend suggested that people give gift certificates to local restaurants and businesses. It doesn't have to be that much, and it is a way of helping the local economy by getting people to shop and dine locally.