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What is the spirit of Christmas?

This opinion piece is over 8 years old

Snéha Khilay considers why Christmas is a time of goodwill and whether we can feel the same way all year round

Christmas is generally recognised to be about hope, cheer and goodwill. Although there is a certain cynicism about Christmas decorations arriving in shops from August and the frenzy of shopping, the build up to Christmas is still exciting, with a feel good factor and the anticipation of presents, good food, time with family and friends and the much needed seasonal break.

So exactly what is it about the spirit of giving at Christmas time? Does giving bring out the best in people or place us under undue pressure? TV is besieged with adverts trying to get us to buy on the one hand, and awash with programmes and adverts emphasise donating to the less fortunate on the other. In parallel, there are the stories featuring individuals who have devoted their lives to others; for instance, a 78-year-old woman who has fostered 300 children to date.

Snéha Khilay

Surveys indicate that people will give money to a friend in need, in spite of it affecting their own finances

Snéha Khilay

Is it enough for the spirit of giving, generosity and acknowledgment of the needs of others to take place only during Christmas? I read a blog recently where a businesswoman wrote in detail that she would be handing out hampers to "the needy" during the Christmas season. Some charities organise volunteers to visit prisons, especially on Christmas day and Boxing Day. So, what would it take for people to act like Santa all year round?

Despite financial difficulties brought on by the current economic downturn, the Future Foundation survey indicated that 75% of respondents derive more pleasure from giving gifts, donations or presents than they do from receiving them.

Many people are forced to count every penny, after being hit by the increased costs of living, particularly the price of food and energy. However, surveys indicate that people will give money to a friend in need, in spite of it affecting their own finances. The Living Costs and Foods Surveys shows that lower income household are particularly generous around Christmas, when their giving goes up by 71%, in contrast to the more affluent, who donate most in the spring when the need to submit tax returns prompts them to take advantage of tax breaks for charitable donations.

And what about the down side; does self-preservation override the Christmas concept of goodwill and giving? A colleague told me of a neighbour putting up so many Christmas decorations and lights on his house and driveway that it became a local attraction. Numerous people drove past the house to admire the decorations and, as the decorations increased year-by-year, people would stand outside the house to admire the lights. However, there was a significant increase in burglaries in the neighbourhood. As a result, neighbours united in demanding that the Christmas lights be toned down. You can understand the need for people to feel safe in their home even if this sabotages the seasonal joy to the passing public.

So what is the season of goodwill? Cynics and sceptics amongst us would say that people only give for the kudos, a claim to fame. Optimists, the hopeful, the expectant would say that Britain is renowned worldwide for its positive response to many worthy causes and for helping neighbours and even strangers in need.

Although the season of goodwill is a short one, it epitomises the generosity of human nature and confirms that there are many things that are right in and with the world. As Desmond Tutu so aptly said: "Do your little bit of good where you are; it's those little bits of good put together that overwhelm the world."

Snéha Khilay is a professional development consultant and trainer, working in personal and professional development in international markets. She is founder of Blue Tulip Training, and specialises in cultural diversity, personal effectiveness, unconscious bias, leadership and management development.