Didn’t they realise the only way to change things was to act? – Tamora Pierce
Oh, merry December! ‘Tis finally Advent – the season to be jolly! Last year we inaugurated our own humble December traditions to mark our first year living under the same roof: a gilded paper star laced with twinkling lights hung in the bay window and glossy coloured baubles threaded onto twine and slung from the picture rail. A jar of 24 assorted chocolates for him, from me, and 24 Lindt truffles tucked hidden about the house for me, from him. I’m already enjoying revisiting these youthful customs again this year (so is my stomach.)
As we reach the end of this sad year – a year full of nasty surprises – these small, simple rituals feel more important than ever. They offer a way of anchoring ourselves in the present, and of connecting us to the past. They are a welcomed comfort, a distraction from fretting over much about the dire state of the nation.
But more than ever, I’m aware that this is a luxury many cannot afford or are unable to indulge in. That doesn’t feel right. I want to help. I feel a need, again more than ever, to connect with my fellow human beings. I feel more galvanised than ever to put a little light into the world in this, the darkest of months. I’ve thought long and hard about the best way to do this and later, about whether to publish the list I have compiled (which feels at best, cheesy and at worst, sanctimonious), but today I gave my change to a homeless person, donated money to charity so that a young single mother somewhere can open a gift of her own on Christmas Day, and helped a stranger find something misplaced, and I feel better for it. So much better; as if the ways thing are is not as irrevocably terrible as things have often felt in the last few uncharted, unnerving weeks. I’ve noticed that strangers have also shown me kindness, too, and I feel better for that too.
I think we could all do with feeling a little better after this disquieting year. I wonder whether, just maybe, such acts are our most powerful weapon in a world that so often feels all sorrow, all despair – 24 small, sincere acts of kindness which are mostly free and mostly simple, but guaranteed to add a little brightness to this strange, tangled place we call home.
1 Sit down to write a note, by hand, to someone you love. Write to tell them why you like them, and how much they mean to you, and that you wanted to write simply to let them know. Post it the same day.
2 Invite a friend or a neighbour into your home for supper and make them a meal from scratch. In a society ruled by convenience and speed, I still think this is one of the sweetest, simple gifts we can give those we love.
3 Buy a cup of something warming for the homeless man outside the coffee shop, or your colleague toiling away upstairs, or the person behind you in the queue. Or all three.
4 Make an extra portion of your supper, package and deliver to someone sleeping rough on your usual route. It’s something that is so easy to do, but that will make such a difference to someone’s day or night.
5 Give time, money or donated goods to a charity or cause you believe in. If you don’t have the time or resources to do that, why not buy your Christmas cards from a charity shop or purchase a Christmas gift for someone particularly vulnerable this year.
6 Leave a copy of a much-cherished book on the subway, a park bench or in a coffee shop and scrawl a happy note in the inside cover. Please take. I hope you love this book as much as I did.
8 Make a gift by hand for someone you love. Putting in the time and effort to make something personal is always appreciated, whether it’s a simple Christmas card, a baked sweet good, or a knitted something cosy.
9 Reach out to someone you’ve fallen out of touch with and let them know you’d like to keep in touch and how much they mean to you.
10 Sign a petition for change, whether it’s funding education for vulnerable young women, improving conditions for rough sleepers or protesting the Snooper’s Charter. Find more at change.org or, for the UK-based, https://petition.parliament.uk/
11 Wrap your pressies in recycled wrapping paper (shockingly, the UK generates enough wrapping paper every year to stretch to the moon!) or, for a totally free, eco-friendly option, in newspaper or old sheet music. Finished with red ribbon, it’s as planet-friendly as wrapping gets – without compromising on elegance.
12 If you’re able to, give blood. And if you’re between 17 and 40, join the bone marrow registry. It’s easy.
13 Sign up to be an organ donor if you’re not already. It’s never been easier.
14 Volunteer. Offer to cover a shift at your nearest charity shop, ask your local community centre how you can help, or browse Do It for plenty of options in your local area.
15 Support your neighbourhood shops – the greengrocer, the independent coffee shop, the farmer’s market – and buy local. It pumps funds into the local economy, builds community and is almost always more ethical than buying at national chains or from big brands. Put your money where your mouth is. (The Pool published a fantastic guide to ethical Christmas shopping this year, here.)
16 Donate unwanted warm clothing – coats, hats, scarves, wool socks, boots – to charity. Shelter, for those based in the UK, is always a good bet. For an eye-opening, heartbreaking look at the UK’s housing crisis, I highly recommend this BBC documentary my friend helped to produce. Harrowing but necessary viewing.
17 Leave a book, or a piece of fruit, or something else nice on your stoop for a passer-by to pick up (Leave a note saying “Take me! Free!”) We found a perfect desk and a lovely wicker basket on the next street last weekend, and are planning to pay it forward and make a neighbour happy in return this weekend!
18 Put a bowl of water and a plate of breadcrumbs outside. Winter is a tough time for birds; they can use all the help they can get!
19 Look for reasons to pay genuine compliments to people. Really notice the people that you interact with on a daily basis – the woman who serves you coffee, the man who sits on reception at your office. Look them in the eye, smile, thank them. Tell them you appreciate the care they take when they greet you day after day, or that you thought they handled a tricky situation with grace, that they make your day a little brighter. Look for the best in people and acknowledge what you see out loud.
20 Buy a newspaper, one that covers the issues and doesn’t shy away from the truth. Better yet, commit to a subscription and help to support reputable print journalism. It’s more important than ever.
21 Attend a religious service, perhaps one held by a denomination or faith you know little about or don’t belong to. I’m not a Christian, but I’ll be going to a church service this year, listening, learning and reminding myself that despite our differences, there’s plenty of common ground.
22 Offer to do something helpful for someone: pick up your mum’s dry-cleaning, iron your boyfriend’s shirts, offer to cat-sit your neighbour’s kitty, stock the fridge for your roommates to come home to. Be thoughtful, without expectation of any reward in return.
23 Write to your MP. Tell them about the issues you care about. Tell them what they’re doing right, and what they might improve on. Tell them what you’d like them to focus on when representing you, and how they can best propound your views in parliament. Tell them you appreciate their hard work.
24 Give someone a hug, a proper one. Hold them tight. Squeeze them. Tell them just how much you love them.
I’d love your suggestions, so please feel free to comment away below the line. I’d really like to add new ideas to my list, and hope to continue striving for small but not insignificant acts of goodness going forward, Advent or no. Happy December one and all, and thank you – as always – for stopping by. I so appreciate it. x