It usually gets to a point just before Christmas, around this point actually, when I feel overwhelmed with the materialism of it all. Too many presents, too much food, all the Christmas shows and parties. It also feels important to help the offspring know more about the other side of it all. Even in the most austere Christmas the recession can throw at us, there are others who are far worse off.
Charity is an important part of Christmas.
Operation Christmas Child is run by a Christian organisation called the Samaritan's Purse, which aims to get a shoebox of gifts to children in some of the most deprived parts of the world. It is already too late to participate though, as the scheme stopped collecting on the 18th of November. But if you would like to have your children put together some shoeboxes next year you can find out more here, and also where the drop off points are. Schools and other organisations can arrange for collections too - my son's school did.
The organisation does send religious material along with the shoeboxes, although it says it does so in a way appropriate to the child's own religion and country of origin. Still, the material is evangelical in nature and that's not to everyone's taste.
How about Oxfam's Unwrapped? You can sit down with the kids and choose a gift. It will perhaps help put things in perspective when they realise that for the same price as a Buzz Lightyear or Zhu Zhu Hamster playset they can send a child to school, or feed them by buying a goat.
There's an eclectic array of charitable gifts to by at The Good Gifts Catalogue. You can save a bluebell wood, help destroy weapons or buy a donkey-drawn library, for example.
For something a little closer to home, each year, the Salvation Army runs its Christmas Appeal. This finished on the 18th of December but is well worth keeping in mind as well for next year. You can take an unwrapped present to any of its stores and other drop off locations (look on the website to find the closest to you). This year Superdrug also collected toys for the charity.
At this time of the year, Women's Refuges around the country are looking for donations of gifts and food. There's no single coordinated effort. Do a google search for anything that is being organised in your area, like this one in Wolverhampton.
Other ways to give
Give as you earn. The Charities Aid Foundation (CAF) has a website that will tell you more here. This is tax-free and is deducted from your salary before tax is calculated so could cost you less to give more.
Have you looked in charity shops for your Christmas gifts? Not for giving second hand items, although this might be possible. Especially when a child is younger - they don't know what the packaging is meant to be like or are bothered if it has already been open. I bought quite a few of my son's toys from a charity shop when he was younger - all his Duplo sets came second hand. But I digress. Most charity shops now also sell a wide selection of really lovely crafty sorts of items that make great presents. Have a look on the Chairty Retail Association's website to find a shop near you.
Open a savings account with the Charity Bank! This works the same as any other savings account but the interest earned goes towards the charitable organisations supported by the bank.
Earn money for charity while you do your shopping online. Everyclick's Give As You Live is a scheme to help you do that. You download an app onto your computer, pick the cause you want to support, and send about 2.5% of every pound you spend online to that charity.
Consider swapping from the usual cashback site you might be doing your shopping through for one like Froggybank. You can buy through them at all the major retailers like Tesco, Currys, Comet, WHSmith, M&S and HMV.
Your time can make as big a difference as your wallet at this time of the year - or any time of the year. Not everyone can give their time on Christmas day itself, especially if you have family. But there's plenty still to do before and after, such as cooking, providing company, or wrapping presents.
Volunteering England is an "independent charity and membership organisation, committed to supporting, enabling and celebrating volunteering in all its diversity."
While some charities will wind down over the holidays, or even close up shop altogether, for others it is the busiest time of the year. Crisis, the charity that supports the homeless, needs 8,000 volunteers for its Crisis at Christmas.
The Food Chain provides nutrition services including home delivered meals, essential groceries and nutrition advice to men, women and children who are chronically sick as a result of HIV related illness.
Age Concern drafts in extra helpers at this time of the year. Have a look on the website to find your local branch. Other organisations that provide additional support and events during the Christmas season include the Alzheimers Society, and Parkinsons UK.
And More ...
This is just the tip of the iceberg. When I started researching this, I had no idea how many different ways there were to support charities at this time of the year. Don't forget your local causes too. Does your local church run any special events or lunches that they might need a hand at? Last year I spent an afternoon helping to make scones for a special children's tea performance of the Church's Christmas show, and I don't even go to church. It felt nice just to be doing something. And it really does make Christmas more, well, Christmassy!
What unusual ways have you found to give at this time of the year, particularly where you've been able to get the children involved?