My family doesn't do a big Christmas. It's always simple presents, good food, and in recent years, a sleep in and then volunteering at a community Christmas. I do love giving gifts, and have chosen some exciting ones for loved ones this year. I can't wait to see reactions as presents are unwrapped on Christmas afternoon.
For me, Christmas is about being with family and friends, laughter and love. And you can give meaningful gifts without breaking the bank. A good Christmas doesn't have to be extravagant. Here are five Christmas gifts from the heart, not (all) from the wallet. I think recipients will love them!
A pot of jam, some cookies, a knitted scarf, a framed painting, a piece of jewellery, a felted soft toy... Handmade gifts are wonderful and I love them. Pop over to Etsy to support some local makers, or make something yourself to give away. Pip's always got great ideas for handmade goodies too.
A family recipe.
Write down your favourite recipe and give it to a friend or family member. Maybe you can preface it with a little story of your memories of cooking or eating this. You could make it really special by collating a few recipes and using a program like Canva to design a mini cookbook.
I've got great memories of food as I grew up. Mum always made food go a long way - using cheap cuts of meats for stews, making her own pastries and using chilli in almost everything! I really enjoyed her lamb peas and carrots breedie (a South African stew), and want to ask her for the recipe this Christmas, so I can make it myself. Maybe I'll show her how to make something I cook a lot too.
A list of the recipient's achievements to remind them they're spectacular.
Write a letter to a friend or family member, listing their achievements in the past year. Showing them that even the small things they did had an impact will make them smile, I'm sure.
So many people in my life have achieved amazing things this year. I'm especially proud of Adam for starting his handyman business, acquiring many clients and making more money in three months than he thought he would in a year. His drive and commitment to this small business has been incredible. I'm seeing a different person. I want to keep reminding him of his achievements to lift him up. He's done so well.
A packet of seeds or a cutting from your garden.
Give a friend a packet of seeds to plant. During the year, they'll have flowers to admire or vegetables to pick. Or deliver them a cutting from your garden. My Dad has a cactus he got from our neighbour in 1983, and it's still flowering. He continues to give cuttings to his friends.
A good deed for someone in need.
Christmas can be tough for many. Make someone else happy on Christmas Day. Volunteer at a community Christmas, or place a present under the wishing tree. From experience, presents are often lacking for older teenagers - so make sure you think of them too. And a phone call or hug doesn't go astray - let someone know you're thinking of them.
I wrote this for a website a couple of years ago and want to republish it here.
Christmas can be a joyous occasion, abundant with food, presents and loved ones. But for people who have lost family members, who are homeless or experienced a tragedy, Christmas can be a difficult time. It's often not presents that make a difference, but ensuring people in need are given the opportunity to feel included
This Christmas 25,000 Australian families will be homeless. Nearly 30% of The Salvation Army's clients will not have a decent meal on Christmas day and 36% will not have social contact with others in this holiday season. The Salvation Army expects to assist over 100,000 Australians over the festive season - three times the number of people seeking help in December compared to any other month.
"The Salvation Army is doing all it can to bring some comfort and hope to as many people as possible this Christmas," said The Salvation Army's Dr Bruce Redman.
Dr Redman said that it is not just financial support that people need this Christmas. "Over 36 per cent of clients who responded to a survey we did in 2013 said they do not have regular contact with people. Loneliness is amplified over the Christmas season - so social support is just as important as financial support."
My family is small - it's just my parents and I. We've been very fortunate to always have lots of great food and wonderful presents at Christmas - never too lavish, but I've always felt lucky. 2012 was the first Christmas that my parents and I volunteered at a community Christmas event, and we have made this a yearly tradition.
We served a baked lunch and washed dishes at a community Christmas lunch at a Uniting church. The food was by head chefs from the local technical colleges. Each guest received a gift, and most importantly, they got to spend Christmas in company. It was such a happy atmosphere - both in the dining room and our volunteer assembly lines.
Some guests had mental illness, others were in financial distress. I spoke to widows and widowers, and also to a couple who had recently migrated to Australia from Sri Lanka. Some of the volunteers gave been doing these lunches for years, others came for the first time, just like us. I spoke to one young volunteer, in his late teens, who said he has a difficult family life and so volunteering at this event helps him to take his mind off his family on Christmas day.
169 people had a meal and experienced a sense of community because of that Uniting church Christmas lunch, and leftovers were sent to the police cells.
Michelle* from Melbourne said that her son, who has a disability, and husband attended a Christmas event run by Variety a few years ago. "The event included food, drinks, rides and Santa. Variety not only put on the event, but they also provided our son with a large bag full of xmas gifts", Michelle said. "It was wonderful to think that others would want to make our son feel special. It was great to know that there were people in the community that cared and and wanted to create something special for others." Michelle believes that this event was special because of the social inclusion, and because her son's disability was understood. "There was acceptance of disability and difference, and people could have fun without feeling like they were going to be judged for how they looked or behaved", she said
Please consider helping out a family less fortunate than yours this Christmas. You can drop off presents and food to various gift appeals, make a donation to the charity of your choice, or enquire at your local church or community centre about participating in a community Christmas event. Check out the Australian Charities and Not For Profits Commission charity register for a list of registered charities to donate to.
(All statistics provided by The Salvation Army, October 2013
Michelle's name is a pseudonym by request
Image description: two gingerbread men on a wooden board, surrounded by Christmas spices and Christmas tree leaves).