I was at a business meeting last week and someone said there were 33 shopping days until Christmas! When did that happen? What a way to get people in high gear!

I love this season, actually. I love snow. I love real Christmas trees. I love Christmas songs. I love thinking about people I care about and making things for them that I know they'll enjoy (at least I hope they do). I've got my herb mix sharing its pungent flavours in a big urn, ready for bottling. My little sewing room is full of fabric and wool and now all the wrapping things are out. I love making up baskets of home made, thoughtful, simple things that can be used.

We've always drawn names for gift giving, like so many families do in our world of plenty. This year we've decided not to give things on this particular side of the family. We're giving charitable things. Each of us is challenged to give something in the name of the recipient. For instance, I have my sister in law's name and because she and I are both business women, I'm buying a sewing machine through world vision for a woman in Africa who can start a business. It sort of connects the three of us.

Each member of our family is challenged to think of meaningful ways to better our world while not handing over something that needs to be unwrapped. When we get together over Christmas it will be to celebrate what we did. Maybe one of us will give a few hours of service to a charity in the name of their gift recipient. For those of us without a budget, this is certainly a way to fill the mandate.

We're all quite enthused about the challenge in this venture.

However, the entire gift list isn't philanthropic so I still get to turn on Christmas music while we address our annual Christmas letter. So many people complain about these letters, but our friends all comment it's the only way we all keep in touch with information. With us, it's never a brag sheet, and we share the lows of our year as well as the highs. We look forward to receiving as many as we send, to maintain our connectedness in an often disconnected world.

As we are able to participate in so many of the wonderful concerts of the season, it's a great way to pause and enjoy what really matters... the sights and the sounds and the smells and the laughter. There are so many ways we can stop and help out our community during this time... volunteering at either the Food Bank or the Grocery Assistance Program on Maple AV., manning a kettle for the Salvation Army, or cooking a meal any day of the year, holding a Christmas party with food and toy donations for Christmas Cheer, adopting a family through Children's Aid, identifying someone you know who is lonely or alone, who is without family and far from friends and entering their lives and making a difference. Setting an extra place at our Christmas table is a wonderful way to open our hearts in our communities.

My cookie trade group, together in one shape or another since 1985, always makes extra dozens of cookies to give to Out of the Cold for Christmas dinner. So, if we have 11 participants, we each make 12 dozen cookies so we have 11 dozen extra cookies to give away. It's easy. It's nice to look outside and bring our activities and our hearths to other people.

As the pace picks up, as the tv ads plant desire in the minds of our youngsters, as the latest 'have-to' finds its way onto lists, it's so much better to divert attention to what we're giving.

There's almost a month left before Christmas Day itself, but the season is certainly upon us. What a great opportunity we have to reach out and touch the heart of another person... someone who's not on our Christmas list!

And isn't that--really--what it's all about?

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