Celebrating Christmas In Wellington

December 1 marks the beginning of summer here in New Zealand, and Wellington's bright red tulips at the Botanical Gardens are pretty much the only Christmas decor in sight, apart from the candy cane pillars that dress the train station. A light touch is a stark contrast to the holiday bombardment that begins around Halloween in the States.

This breathing room allows me to appreciate what I love about the holidays...the true love of giving, gratitude of receiving, and real connection that's possible this time of year. To take some time to truly appreciate the generous gifts from friends and family throughout the years, and yes, watch some classic holiday films and enjoy the local festivities.

So if you're feeling overwhelmed by the mass consumerism and pressure to buy! buy! buy!, take your own breather and consider a different approach to giving this year. You can begin by connecting with others in small, but meaningful ways.

*Perhaps running an errand for a neighbor who's less mobile is how you'd like to offer some cheer.

*Or maybe picking up the tab at the end of the meal is the thoughtful embrace a friend or stanger needs.

*Being a traveler, I always appreciate an invitation a to holiday function. Maybe you know someone who doesn't have a place to go.

How about offering a donation or volunteering? Many organizations work year-round to support our communities and bring awareness to the world, and they could use your help. To get the ball rolling, I've thought of a few groups who make a significant impact on others.

The first organization is Los Angeles-based Alliance for Children's Rights, a 4-star charity helping to protect youth, navigate the adoption process, and support families. There are many ways to give. You can make a monetary donation, or you can get involved through volunteering or attending an Alliance of Moms event.

Or maybe you love the benefit of sports. Up2Us is all about combining movement, leadership and teamwork "to positively transform kids' lives." You can participate through a donation or by becoming a coach or member of the organization.

Lastly, The Aftermath Project, "a non-profit organization committed to telling the other half of the story of conflict — the story of what it takes for individuals to learn to live again, to rebuild destroyed lives and homes, to restore civil societies, to address the lingering wounds of war while struggling to create new avenues for peace." Your donations or photography are a welcome contribution.

Some more traditional gift ideas that involve pretty wrapping paper and dressing the tree can be found at those small-but-mighty local businesses that are all heart and soul. They offer high quality products with a special uniqueness, rarely found at your average mall.

Rather than jumping into your car to battle the crowds, make a cuppa, nibble on a cookie, and consider some interesting companies that I think are worth a mouse-click.

First up is Erin's Faces. Based in New York City, Erin has a carefully selected line of organic, vegan, cruelty-free skin care, make-up, and home products. I've shopped with her for years because of her fair price-point, experience, quality, and quick response time. Need yummy soap? How about a candle for the bathroom? Or my favorite, the coconut lip balm. She has fantastic ideas for women, men, and children. Her holiday page includes a gift guide video along with pre-selected gift sets.

Next up is Anaismoods, by the creative stylings of Anaïs Godard. She's a Los Angeles-based artist with a huge variety of creative, funny, and sweet items to choose from. She's thought of everything. Drink tea or coffee? Lay your head on a pillow? Write notes to yourself? She's got you covered on all fronts...and then some. I love the simplicity and heart of her designs, and maybe you will, too!

How about that coffee lover in your life? You could introduce them to Birds & Beans organic coffee. This thoughtful company is all about preserving our songbirds, the trees they live in, and the people who grow the beans. Simply sipping on that morning cuppa joe means supporting wildlife, fair wages, and the sustainability of our earth. Not bad, eh? You can find a brick and mortar store, or simply place your order online.

Have a little girl in your life? Maybe an extra special romper or playsuit is just the gift you've been looking for. Little Minis is unique in that each piece is hand-made and one of a kind. The dead-stock material is eco-friendly, the outfits are made in LA, and their adorable Instagram feed shows off the oh-so-fashionable kiddos who wear them!

Local Wellington artist, Poppy Dodge is originally from Los Angeles and shares her work on Instagram. I love following her progress and recently had the opportunity to view a few pieces at the New Zealand Academy of Fine Arts. Her wonderfully creative abstract paintings would be a nice, affordable way to deck your halls. She does ship internationally, and sells pre-framed pieces as well.

Etsy is another opportunity to support artists and find a huge variety of gifts. The various companies offer one-of-a-kind, handmade items that you won't see anywhere else. To get you started, you can check out photographer, Kristin Palkoner who features vibrant fine art photography in various sizes and prices from InGrace Photography.

If you feel like venturing out into the crisp winter air, sometimes a more in-person approach is the way to go. Holiday Markets often allow you to find gifts similar to Etsy, but with the added benefit of trying things on or finding something local to your community. Most cities host some festive holiday stalls, so do a search and keep an eye out!

Last, but not least, is blogger and photographer Brandon Stanton's book, Humans of New York. I primarily follow his Instagram feed, but his #1 NYT bestselling book would be a perfect addition to your library. He manages to capture the essence of the human spirit through beautiful photography, accompanied by touching, often heart-breaking stories. He also finds the funny and cute, so grab a tissue, and open up your heart and mind for this one.

Other simple, meaning gift ideas are...

*Print and frame your own photographs for family members. Share your talents.

*Meet up with a friend, or simply make a real phone call.

*Run an errand for a neighbor or ask what you can do to help at home.

*Invite someone to your festivities. It may be just the company they need.

*Offer to take care of your friends' kids for a few hours.

*Keep your cool with customer service and shipping companies.

*Buy a coffee or a tank of gas for a stranger.

I hope you find some of these ideas useful in maintaining the spirit of the season and in finding some less-obvious ways to give. Maybe you've discovered a few new companies and organizations, but most of all, I hope you've found some holiday cheer that sustains the whole year.

A comprehensive list of places:

Alliance for Children's Rights

Up2Us

The Aftermath Project

Erin's Faces

Anaismoods

Birds & Beans

Little Minis

Poppy Dodge

Etsy

Holiday Markets

Humans of New York

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