9 tips for a more meaningful Christmas

At Team AoC, we absolutely love Christmas – it’s a time of celebration, tradition, and spending time with loved ones. But, with the seemingly endless lists of presents, events to attend and food to prepare, it’s sometimes easy to take the festive period for granted or, even worse, be glad when it’s over!
This was something our Founder Kristina recently discussed with Marina Fogle on her podcast, The Parent Hood. One thing they talked about in-depth was how to make the festive period more thoughtful and meaningful – less ‘me’-centred and more community focused.
This was the main aim behind starting Advent of Change: switching the meaning of a popular commercial product to give rather than receive. And we’ve been truly blown away by the response – from customers, the press and celebrities alike – who have all joined our mission to make the advent period more thoughtful.
Here are our 9 top tips for adding more meaning and joy to Christmas – supported with some wonderful ideas from a selection of our charities. Spoiler: one of the tips involves cuddling kittens!!

1. Be present
Christmas is the perfect time to slow down and focus on the important things. To embrace those crazy family traditions, appreciate what we have, and make memories with those you love. And being ‘present’, rather than worrying about to-do lists, buying gifts or posting on social media is a key part of enjoying the festivities. In fact, this year PANDAS are hosting an aptly-named Christmas campaign called ‘Presence not Presents’. They suggest: “try to focus less around the financials pressures of Christmas and focus more on your wellbeing and spending time with good company”.
It’s true that the pressures of Christmas can mean we take our loved ones for granted. But Re-engage make the point that many older people don’t have loved ones to take for granted, and will be spending Christmas alone. As part of their Community Christmas campaign, the charity will be listing public events from 18th-31st December and actively matching over-75s with events on Christmas Day. You can use their website to volunteer your time at local events or refer lonely, older people who may ordinarily be spending the season alone.

2. Embrace the handmade
Homemade Christmas cards and gifts are not only fun to make, but they are also more thoughtful. This relates to Tip #1 about being ‘present’, as spending time getting crafty with the family will help you engage with the task at hand, instead of being swept away by the stress of your shopping to-do list (and the crowds!).
And it’s not just cards and presents that can be hand-crafted – Horatio's Garden suggest making your own decorations, too! They say: “We have found that decorating our garden rooms help to make them feel more homely is so important for patients and their visiting families, who have to spend Christmas in hospital. Why not have a go at making your own Christmas decorations or cards this year? Or have a try at creating some indoor flower arrangements using in-season flowers? These handmade touches can make Christmas feel so much more meaningful.”

3. Care for an animal in need
And, once you’re done with the glue and glitter, how does reading to a kitten sound? (Yes, you read that correctly). There are several ways in which you can help an animal in need this December. You can volunteer with Blue Cross: spending some time sitting calmly with the cats and kittens in their care. You can even read to them to give them some company. What’s more – “It's also the perfect opportunity for you to have some peace and calm away from the hustle and bustle of Christmas”. We couldn’t agree more!
Not only that – Wood Green are inviting supporters to make a box of goodies for the pets in their care this Christmas: “By providing much needed essential items such as blankets, treats and toys, you'll be helping Wood Green to give each animal some festive cheer”. You can take a look at their Amazon wishlist for ideas.

4. Buy preloved
Buying from your local charity shop will not only help an amazing cause, but will also help you save money, too. As Keep Britain Tidy say: “Our top tip for a more meaningful Christmas would be to avoid fast fashion. Christmas jumpers are fun but are often only worn a handful of times, so check your local charity shop instead of buying new!”
You could also upcycle a preloved item – which links to Tip #2: getting crafty! Emmaus suggest: “Instead of buying brand new, consider getting creative and reducing waste by buying preloved, or by upcycling or repurposing items from your local Emmaus store. Every penny that is spent at one of our charity shops goes straight back into the local community, meaning that we can continue to support more than 800 formerly homeless men and women across the UK.”

5. Take time to reflect
Christmas is a season that celebrates love and family, but it can be a painful time for those who have lost loved ones. Winston’s Wish suggest that for a meaningful Christmas, take time to remember and celebrate the lives of loved ones lost by upholding family traditions, or even developing a ritual by which to remember them – “visit a favourite place, light a candle, or put a Christmas card on their grave”. You could also dedicate a personalised star on the Winston’s Wish Christmas tree in memory of your loved one.

6. Send a festive message to a poorly child
For some, Christmas can be a difficult time, so when you’re writing your festive cards, take time to consider those who are facing struggles, and how much some well-wishes could mean to them. The team at Rainbow Trust Children's Charity are asking supporters to send a Christmas message of support to seriously ill children and their families for our Christmas appeal. Great Ormond Street Hospital Children’s Charity also suggest: “Why not suggest that, instead of giving traditional Secret Santa gifts in your place of work, that you each give the gift of a donation to the GOSH play team, who entertain the children staying in hospital over the Christmas period.”

7. Offer comfort to a homeless person
As with Tip #6, another way of helping those less fortunate than ourselves is by either volunteering at a homeless shelter or soup kitchen, or offering a hot drink or food to a homeless person. Crisis say: “you can make a real difference to people experiencing homelessness by joining our army of ‘Crisis at Christmas’ volunteers, and providing our guests with companionship, safety, three hot meals a day and advice to help them get back on their feet. Make your Christmas meaningful this year by giving the gift of hope.”
Groundswell also say you can make a huge difference at this time of year: “The festive period isn't always one of happiness and joy, and for many homeless people it can be an incredibly lonely time. Why not acknowledge a rough sleeper the next time you're passing and say good morning or just give a smile? Or offer a comforting hot drink or food if you're popping into a shop or cafe.”

8. Get outdoors
Another way to embrace the joy of the festive period is getting outside with your friends and family. The Bumblebee Conservation Trust suggest: “Why not give back to nature for a more meaningful Christmas? Take a family walk, perhaps even complete a nature hunt and collect leaves! Being outdoors has a positive effect on everyone's well-being.” You could even use your collected leaves to make your homemade decorations, from Tip #3!
You could also become a Bike Buddy! The team at Sustrans say: “Lots of bikes are gifted over Christmas but not everyone has the confidence to get out and ride them straight away. If you do, why not offer to take friends young and old out for a bike ride to get them feeling more confident on their new bike? The National Cycle Network has 5,000 traffic-free miles perfect to explore. You never know you could be changing the way they travel for life!”

9. Support a local food bank
Food is a key issue at Christmas – after all, whose mouth doesn’t water at the thought of Christmas dinner? Both The Trussell Trust and The Hunger Project talked about food when asked about a more meaningful Christmas. The Trussell Trust say: “Our suggestion for a more meaningful festive period would be to donate food to your local food bank to ensure that nobody goes hungry over
The team at The Hunger Project suggest: “Try to make the commitment to be mindful of how much food you waste. 821 million people around the world are living in hunger in some of the poorest communities in the world. Why not challenge yourself to a no-waste Christmas dinner?”

A more meaningful Christmas 2019…
We’d love to hear what you think of our top tips, and which ones are important to you – please share your thoughts with us on social media using #AdventOfChange.
Of course, another way of enjoying a more meaningful Christmas is to support a charity instead of giving gifts – in our next blog, we will suggest some lovely ‘alternative’ gifts you can make (with the help of our lovely charities), from adopting a Gorilla to purchasing a birth certificate for a street child.