Despite what you could be forgiven for thinking if you walk into a mall these days, it's not Christmas yet. Christmas starts on December 25 and runs until Epiphany on January 6. (If you haven't heard the song "The Twelve Days of Christmas" recently, just go to a shopping mall and you will.)
The season we are currently in is Advent, the start of the Christian year and a time of preparation for Christmas. That's spiritual preparation, not frantic shopping, card mailing, cooking, and attending parties. I try not to attend parties during Advent. If possible, I spend Advent at a convent, which is actually a lot of fun. I'm not at the convent this year, but I have developed a strategy for avoiding the malls. I generally start shopping for Christmas gifts around August, as I see things I think my friends will like, and try very hard to have it done by the end of October. By now I'm relaxing at home, saying the Daily Office and opening my Advent calendar each day. Ann Sharp gave me a very nice one in the shape of Neuschwanstein Castle.
Of course, some of my friends are easy to buy gifts for. Bookstore gift cards are very popular in my peer group. My friend Misty gets a flock of chickens each year, but not to add to the birds already living with her. These are sent through Heifer International, a wonderful organization that works on the "teach a man to fish" principle. Instead of landing in her backyard, a starter flock of 10 to 50 chicks, along with training in how to care for them, goes to a family in need. The family gets eggs to eat and sell, and when the next generation is born, the family passes on offspring to another person in need. According to Heifer's website, in some places they can trace 22 generations of animals. (I'm not sure I can trace any of my ancestors back that far.) Heifer provides other animals as well, including sheep, goats, llamas, water buffaloes, camels, and, of course, heifers. You can give shares of the larger animals, which is a good thing. My budget does not include $850 for a camel, no matter how seasonal it may be. Perhaps when I sell my next novel...
This is truly a gift that keeps on giving, and I think it's quite appropriate for any "Season of Giving."