By Assunta Ng
Northwest Asian Weekly
If you think Christmas is just about religion, you are missing out on a lot.
I don’t go to church on Christmas Day, but I take the holiday spirit of giving, kindness, joy, unity, forgiveness, and sharing very seriously.
Oh yes, we decorate a tree in our office as well as my home. Every year, I enjoy making a few ornaments with Christmas cards I saved from previous years. I sing along with the carols played on Warm 106.9 FM.
Thoughtful gifts don’t have to be expensive. This year, I encouraged my staff to exchange gifts among themselves.
I love going to parties during the holiday.
I don’t miss any of the Christmas parties and enjoy organizing a couple of potlucks for our staff, freelance writers, and our events’ volunteers. Those are very special occasions because I only see some of my friends once a year.
As Charles Dickens wrote in “A Christmas Carol,” this is really a time to remind us to be loving toward kids, family members, colleagues, and friends.
It is a break where you can do things which you normally don’t do during the rest of the year. It is an excuse to be selfless with an act of kindness to strangers. It is a season to inspire us to be creative and thoughtful about helping others, as the recession affects everyone and resources are limited.
The following list includes meaningful ways that people could — or have — given to others.
1. Feed roasted chicken to those who are hungry
Jerry Lee and his friend Cordell Lui drove by the International District’s Asian Counseling and Referral Service’s food bank and saw the long lines of needy families.
Lui instantly thought about buying Costco chicken to feed these individuals. During lunch, the two called 10 friends and got a donation pool big enough to buy 400 hot roasted chickens.
For such a big order, Lee said Costco started roasting at 2:30 a.m. so they could deliver to the food bank on time.
2. Cook a healthy meal for your loved ones
How many of you have to go on a diet after the holidays? People even get sick after the holidays due to eating too many unhealthy meals. Community Health Plan of Washington organized a community holiday party with healthy entrees. International Community Health Services was there to offer health screenings and information about affordable health services. What a great idea!
If you want to celebrate the holiday, plan a healthy menu. I know your guests would appreciate meals that are more than just greasy deep-fried foods.
My family was invited to go to a holiday lunch last weekend. I sent an e-mail to my friend that stated, “Your invitation means a lot to us. Please don’t cook anything fancy. We prefer more veggies and tofu than meat.”
Cholesterol and fats affect our body negatively. Not only do we gain pounds, but they reduce our immunity to diseases.
Many of my friends are vegetarians. An honoree at our recent dinner is an example.
King County Executive Dow Constantine is a vegetarian. We requested the restaurant to cook three veggie dishes in addition to the meats and seafood on our menu.
Serve more produce in a variety of colors. For instance, purple, white, and yellow yams make great soup. Red pepper, bok choy, stir-fry with portabella is my choice. Color will make the dining table enticing.
When you tell your friends that you are serving low calorie food, it will entice your guests to eat without guilt.
When you dine in at a restaurant, you should practice the same principles. Eat less meat and eat more veggies and seafood. Seafoods such as oysters and prawns provide good cholesterol that help with vitamin absorption, which fight diseases in your body.
3. Cheer the sick
The ones who feel lonely most during the holiday are the sick ones lying in hospital beds. It could be their last Christmas.
They could have lost hope and be experiencing emotional and physical pain. Even a tough-minded person could feel vulnerable and depressed during illness. You can help to make them feel different about their environment by visiting them and sending them small gifts.
Phil Smart Sr. has been visiting sick children regularly for 40 years at the Children’s Hospital and plays Santa Claus during the holiday. Smart sets a smart example of how to care and give back to the community.
4. See the movie “Invictus” and learn to forgive
Even though Nelson Mandela was in prison for 27 years and elected as South Africa’s first black president after his release, he held no anger, bitterness, or resentment toward his fellow countrymen who implemented apartheid.
He knew that black South Africans did not share his views. This movie is about how Mandela used the country’s white rugby team to rally his citizens for reconciliation.
As Mandela said, “Forgiveness liberates the soul. That’s why it’s such a powerful weapon.”
Whatever grudges you harbor toward someone at fault would be minor compared to what Mandela and black South Africans went through. This is a wonderful way to educate your friends and kids about forgiveness and how Mandela brought two opposing groups of people together.
5. Read “The Four Agreements”
After watching the movie and you still cannot let go, read “The Four Agreements” by Don Miguel Ruiz. It is a nice gift to give to yourself and friends.
You can read it in less than a day. The book’s message broadens your outlook, and you will be much happier when dealing with disappointments and losses.
6. Be a Santa
Give gifts to needy strangers with no strings attached. The other day, I was reading about a couple giving out warm clothes, socks, and other items to the homeless in downtown Seattle. They do it every year with their own money and save a few thousand dollars doing the whole project themselves.
If you like other people to do good deeds through your money, you can always donate to charitable agencies. When you reach out to others, they are not the only ones who are blessed. Think of yourself as one of the lucky ones because you have never been in desperate situations.
You feel like you make real contributions, and you have made your life productive and interesting in a profound manner.
7. Make gifts to folks you don’t know very well
I understand you all want to show appreciation to friends and customers who have made a difference in your life.
Sometimes, you have to give gifts to people you don’t normally hang out with but that also make your life a little easier.
Every Christmas or Thanksgiving, we bring Chinatown pastries to our printers.
I know you might say, why should we give them pastries when we give them business every week?
There is a difference between giving a gift to a boss and giving a gift to the workers who work hard to print our papers on time. When we see their faces, we know it’s worth it.
8. Adopt a family
Share your holiday celebration with needy families. I was watching television the other day and saw a woman adopt a single mom and her family by asking many of her friends to contribute money, food, clothes, and other essentials.
By lending a hand, the donors’ warmth inspired the mom to continue fighting for her family. If you cannot give material things, consider giving friendship and encouragement. Your words can work like magic and inspire others to feel better about their adversities and strengthen their determination to overcome them.
9. Take the family shopping
My friend, a divorced woman with three kids, was financially strapped during the holiday. So I took her grocery shopping so she could stock up om some good food to cook for their holiday meals.
10. Send messages of laughter, joy, and love
My friend from British Columbia often sends me beautiful images with inspiring words. The lines are powerful and moving, and sometimes even funny. When I read them, I always feel her hugs around me. I save all those on my computer for my lousy days.
This is also the time most folks like to send out an annual letter to their loved ones about their life and reflections in 2009.
Each year, I look forward to receiving these e-mails and letters so that I learn more about my friends’ wisdom and experiences.
If you can call, make that call. What better way to connect than to call your friends and family members, especially those who live far away, to wish them well and let them know you are alive.
“Take Joy” is the mantra for now as Tasha Tudor taught us in her book, “Take Joy!”
“The gloom of the world is but a shadow,” she writes. There is joy even in unfortunate circumstances. You just have to see beyond them and seek out the fun, good meanings, lovely surprises, and teachable moments. Those precious memories will be yours to keep. ♦
Assunta Ng can be reached at email@example.com.
*Updated Dec. 23 to correct information