St. Nicholas

Somewhere between a Roman holiday celebrating the winter solstice and the birth of a baby (who would eventually have a religion formed around him), coniferous trees, garlands, cookies & milk, a whole lot of money spending, and the former Bishop of Turkey, e.g. St. Nicholas, all got involved with what is now known as Christmas. Eventually, and somehow, St. Nicholas went from being the Bishop of Turkey to being a fat man of western European descent who lived at the North Pole with elves and reindeer; his name also changed to Santa Claus. Some European cultures never advanced the idea of magical reindeer and elves; David Sedaris tells in Six to Eight Black Men that in the Netherlands, St. Nicholas roams from house to house with a small posse of former slaves to give good children small gifts and to kick and beat bad children.

Here in the US, Christmas-time brings forth images of people and their families coming together, having a large meal (or two), exchanging gifts and well-wishes all while enjoying a warm fire in the fireplace with a lighted Christmas tree nearby; they may even have another big meal at some point. I am not a people-person. Most people who know me, and interact with me either socially or in a workplace-setting, know that I generally and strongly dislike groups of people. After being in settings with numbers of people, I will often need to decompress in the evening, by myself with a cup of coffee or tea and a good book. Even my incredibly small family can sometimes be overwhelming. Going shopping is not my thing, either. I understand the economic importance of events like Black Friday, but, honestly, is getting your little snot noses offspring the latest toy (I understand the Fisher-Price BIGFOOT remote controlled Monster is popular this season) really worth getting up and out to a Walmart at 4:00 AM worth it?

I do understand kids need toys; it helps develop imagination. I am also not saying that a Fisher-Price BIGFOOT Monster is an unacceptable toy; if, as a child, I had received it, I am almost certain I would have promptly disassembled it to see how it was put together. Kids need play. Kids need to learn, though, too. They need to become well rounded adolescences who will eventually become adults.

russian boy

What is that I am looking for, for Christmas? That is the question my relatives and my wife’s relatives have been asking me. I have been desperately trying to avoid answering the question. A deflection tactic here, or a snarky answer there. I know I am certainly not going to get your kids more toys. Or, my favorite, Oh, that is easy, get me a leopard-print, banana-hammock; preferably the thong kind.

That said, if hell-bent on getting someone who has the means to get the things they want for themselves, try doing something for someone who really does have nothing or next to nothing. I realize that it is a cliché to say help those out this holiday season who really need the help. In reality, this should be done throughout the year; Christmas time is not the only time people need assistance.
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So, what do I really want for Christmas? Give directly to someone who needs it. Find a family who needs a Christmas meal, and buy it for them. If you want more of a hands-off approach, there are thousands of organizations who work as conduits for money to flow toward where it might be used to help. There is one organization, Heifer International, that has the interesting gift of Bees. For a small donation, you can help bring bees to an impoverished area. From the sale of honey and beeswax products, other things like seeds, clothing and food can be purchased. My only concern with Heifer is, after a bit of research, their percentage of donations that go toward "administrative overhead" seems to be high. Oxfam America has a similar program called, "Oxfam America Unwrapped" – they offer the ability to give someone crap, and actually make a difference – the
gift of manure. Oxfam, like Heifer, also offers a gift of
honeybees. If manure and honeybees are not your thing, you can also give someone crabs and feel good about it, too.

There are also countless dog and animal rescues that, unless run by insane and demented people, would be more than happy to take a donation of money or a small bit of your time helping with the animals. Two that come to mind are the Daphneyland Ranch, and the Michigan Coonhound Rescue; the former is a basset hound rescue in the Los Angeles area, and the latter, as the name suggests, is a coonhound rescue in Michigan. I have a soft spot for hounds (we have four; two bassets and and two coonhounds); they often will be bought for their cute faces and big ears, but then make their way to shelters and rescues once their stubbornness and trouble-causing noses make them no longer welcome.

All that said, do something for someone or something (like an animal rescue); otherwise, the former Bishop of Turkey and his angry posse will visit you, and possibly kick and beat you.