OUR Christma WITH A TWIST

You don’t have to stick to the same old tra­di­tions. Marike Wat­son meets three read­ers who are do­ing things di er­ently this year

Woman & Home (South Africa) - - Celebrating Our Way -

‘THIS YEAR, I’LL BE VOL­UN­TEER­ING AT A SOUP¢KITCHEN INI­TIA­TIVE WITH MY HUS­BAND AND THREE CHIL­DREN’ ‘It’s hum­bling, and re­minds me just how lucky I am’

MAKI CHASE, 43, is a fi­nan­cial ad­viser. She lives in Som­er­set West with her sec­ond hus­band, Steve, 33, and her three chil­dren – Zack, 17; Zita, 15; and Lize, 13 – from her first mar­riage.

“In our home, Christ­mas Day was al­ways a re­ally fes­tive a air. Af­ter a flurry of ex­cite­ment ex­chang­ing gifts and hugs, we’d gather round the din­ing ta­ble that had been decked out in bright reds and sparkly golds to pull crack­ers and feast on honey-glazed duck. I loved the sense of tra­di­tion and mer­ri­ment, and the hol­i­days played out this way for 16 years, till my hus­band and I split in 2011.

Af­ter my di­vorce, I be­gan to think about how Christ­mas can be a very lonely time for many peo­ple. It’s easy to for­get that not ev­ery­one has a fam­ily or spe­cial place to go to, and to take what we have over the fes­tive sea­son – from the food to the gifts – for granted. That De­cem­ber, when faced with a Christ­mas that would look very di er­ent to those my kids were used to, I de­cided to shake things up. I wanted to em­brace the spirit of good­will in a mean­ing­ful way by start­ing a new tra­di­tion of giv­ing back.

I reached out to a lo­cal soup kitchen, run by a lovely lady named Va­len­cia Arm­strong, in the un­der­priv­i­leged com­mu­nity of Ma­cas­sar. Over the last eight years, my kids, my mom and I have vol­un­teered there on oc­ca­sion, in­clud­ing past Christ­mases. My heart al­ways went out to the kids who came in for a meal. In my mind, Christ­mas is a hol­i­day epit­o­mised by the joy of chil­dren, so I felt strongly about bring­ing some fes­tive cheer to the young­sters Va­len­cia’s kitchen fed. With her and the com­mu­nity’s bless­ing, I started to plan a new Christ­mas-out­ing ex­pe­ri­ence for the chil­dren last year.

A de­li­cious meal at a lo­cal Spur was what I had in mind, so I called up friends and fam­ily to raise funds for the event, and was ec­static to meet my tar­get in only five days! Some also o ered to help chap­er­one the out­ing, and one friend, Kul­sum, agreed to do­nate fun sta­tionery kits as gifts. On 25 De­cem­ber, my three kids and I joined 23 chap­er­ones and 100 ex­cited Ma­cas­sar chil­dren on the buses I’d ar­ranged to take us to the restau­rant. From the get-go, the at­mos­phere was elec­tric, with laugh­ter and smil­ing faces all around. Af­ter our bel­lies were full, there was a joy­ful burst of carol singing... and a visit from Santa, which the kids adored. I was so grate­ful Steve o ered to dress up in that suit, de­spite the heat!

The trip was such a suc­cess that we’ll be run­ning it again this year, but this time for 200 kids from the com­mu­nity. See­ing the other chil­dren take such joy from some­thing as sim­ple as a meal re­ally left an im­pres­sion on my own kids, who thor­oughly en­joyed the out­ing, too. Spend­ing time with those less for­tu­nate over Christ­mas was both re­ward­ing and hum­bling, and re­minded my fam­ily just how lucky we are.” >>

‘I’LL BE SPEND­ING CHRIST­MAS DAY WITH THE DOGS AT A SHEL­TER’ ‘Good deeds, no mat­ter how small, re­ally do make a di er­ence’

PE­TRA LARANJO, 41, is a mo­ti­va­tional speaker, self-help author, and founder of Ju­s­tonething365, which is a so­cial ini­tia­tive that in­spires peo­ple to do a good deed ev­ery day. She and her hus­band Craig, 35, live in Sun­downer.

“Our three res­cue dogs – MJ, Tammy and Jess – have brought such joy to our lives. I can’t imag­ine not be­ing greeted by their ‘smil­ing’ faces and ex­cited barks ev­ery day. While there are still thou­sands of aban­doned dogs in need of lov­ing for­ever homes, for our three, their search is over, and we shower them with love and at­ten­tion.

Adopt­ing them has made me much more ap­pre­cia­tive of the chal­leng­ing work that an­i­mal char­i­ties face, which is why I de­cided to show my grat­i­tude in per­son last Christ­mas Day. I vis­ited the Rand­burg SPCA to de­liver heart­felt thankyou cards and bags of fes­tively wrapped cook­ies to the ded­i­cated sta’ work­ing that shift. While it was only a small ges­ture on my part, they re­ally ap­pre­ci­ated the sen­ti­ment. I’m a huge believer in the power of good deeds, no mat­ter how small – it’s not only about giv­ing back and uplift­ing oth­ers, but also about em­brac­ing a sense of pur­pose and liv­ing a mean­ing­ful life. While I felt great about my good deed that day, my visit was also tinged with a lit­tle heart­break. Noth­ing pulls at my heart­strings quite like the ea­ger eyes of an aban­doned dog hop­ing to be­come yours. I re­mem­ber leav­ing the SPCA that day with a lump in my throat, think­ing about the beau­ti­ful white pit bull I’d walked passed in one of the first ken­nels. He leapt up ex­cit­edly on his hind legs, tail wag­ging, eyes soft and hope­ful, as if to say ‘pick me!’. It was a strug­gle to say good­bye to this play­ful fel­low.

Back home, MJ, Tammy and Jess’s bois­ter­ous greet­ing raised my spir­its, but I couldn’t shake the feel­ing of sad­ness about the young pit bull who would be spend­ing his Christ­mas alone. While I knew I couldn’t adopt any more dogs, I felt there had to be some­thing else I could do to brighten these an­i­mals’ day, and that’s ex­actly what I plan to do this Christ­mas.

I got in touch with a few lo­cal an­i­mal or­gan­i­sa­tions a cou­ple of months ago to find out if I could make an in­for­mal visit to their shel­ters with a group of vol­un­teers on Christ­mas Day, spend­ing the morn­ing play­ing with and walk­ing their dogs. The Ir­win An­i­mal Res­cue Cen­tre, which cares for mostly se­nior dogs that have been aban­doned, was the first to say yes. Craig and I have in­vited all our friends who’ll be in town for the hol­i­days to join us. I’ve asked ev­ery­one to bring a bag of dog food and a dog­gie treat or toy, as well. Af­ter play­ing with all the pooches, we plan on hav­ing a fun break­fast pic­nic with the sta’ as a way of say­ing thank you to them. It’s go­ing to be a won­der­ful start to my Christ­mas Day, and some­thing that I plan to do for many Christ­mases to come.”

For more in­for­ma­tion on the Ir­win An­i­mal Res­cue Cen­tre, visit bit. ly/2cvghuw, or call 078 199 5861.

Pe­tra, pic­tured here and right, is mak­ing Christ­mas less lonely for aban­doned an­i­mals

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