Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

'Tis the season for family, friends, and you

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Every year at this time, we try to turn this shallow, money-grubbing, materialistic newspaper column into something more appropriate for a season of giving and celebrating the generous side of humankind.

It's an uphill battle, though, when you are inundated by crass advertising and promotions for everything under the sun, as the "perfect" Christmas present.

Whether you celebrate Christmas or not, I think you'll agree you can't ignore what's going on at this time of year. Try as we might, no one can escape the hype, the flyers, the radio, TV and newspaper ads exhorting you to spend, spend, spend!

I hope those that do not celebrate Christmas will indulge me for risking political incorrectness and cultural insensitivity, as I try to reflect on what might be the true spirit of Christmas, or of the holidays, at least.

It seems to me it's about what you give and how you feel, not what you have and what you get. All the money, houses, cars or Christmas presents won't make you happy for more than a few minutes if you don't feel good about yourself.

Just ask Lindsay Lohan.

It's about how you treat other people and how you treat yourself. So give yourself a present and go easy on yourself. I think Christmas, of all times, should allow you some relief from the pressures to look perfect and perform to superhuman levels. It's a time to cut yourself -- and everyone else -- some slack.

How about taking time to relax, to calmly reflect on our connection with family, friends and the world? As long as you're not in retail, it's a time when you can slow down, forget about work for a while, and spend extra time with loved ones.

Some people take this time to think about why they work so hard the rest of the year, what is really important and what they really value in their lives.

I strongly encourage that, as you know. (More on that next week.)

Other people donate time to causes that help people less fortunate to achieve that same relief from pressure, at least for a short time.

To me, the most important thing is to stop and add up all the things for which you feel -- or ought to feel -- grateful. We have so much.

"The gift is in the giving," as a wise young man said to me a few years ago, and he is right. My most memorable Christmases have been the ones when I really took time to find small but personal gifts for people close to me.

None of them cost much money. This year, I found out that the absolute best thing about writing and publishing a book was the ability to give books to friends and colleagues and inscribe with heartfelt thoughts what I am always too shy to say out loud. That was a wonderful surprise.

It occurred to me that I could give such a gift anytime, in a card, a letter, an email or with my voice.

This column spends much of the year talking about money and taxes, investments and risk management, all of the things that can help you get ahead materially. But very little of that will help you feel better for more than a short time if you don't know why you are doing it all and if you forget who and what is really important to you.

How can you take some time over the holidays and help yourself feel good? Even better, can you take on some chores and responsibilities that will allow someone you love (usually the wife and mother of the family) who always has to do everything, to have some time to relax? Be extra supportive, be empathetic, just be around.

How can you connect with family and reconnect with other people who matter to you?

To all who celebrate Christmas, have a very merry one. To those who don't, enjoy the days off afforded by this annual pagan ritual, forgive us our trespasses in the malls and enjoy the fruits of the Boxing Day sales.

Happy Hanukkah, Joyeux Noël, Feliz Navidad, Frohe Weihnachten, Merry Christmas.

Have a truly joyous holiday and a very Happy New Year!


David Christianson is a financial planner and adviser in Winnipeg, and author of Managing the Bull -- A No-Nonsense Approach to Personal Finance.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition December 21, 2012 B16

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