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FFA Christmas (copy)

Portage High School FFA members, from left, Stasya Lurvey, Kyla Hopper and Emily McReath sort through donated Christmas gifts Nov. 26 that the school will give to the Portage Area Caring Tree, which distributes them to families in need during the holiday season.

Getting an early start on shopping is almost as important as getting a head start on stressing during the holidays. An early Thanksgiving meant more time for both.

A few weeks ago, we set our clocks back; last week, we set our whole calendar back and gained a week. What fun it is to have all the Christmas decorations up before December.

Let’s give it up for Christmas. And we do. The lights, trees, gifts and food are in abundance. So too are the joys and wonderful memories. Mixing these with the inevitable regrets, sadness, loneliness and indigestion do not go unnoticed by the average family. Thus, keeping the season holy, sacred and relaxed can be a challenge.

What if “giving it up for Christmas” meant really giving it up? I mean giving up the stressors, the extra tasks, the unnecessary activities or purchases. Choosing consciously what we do and where we go could be a great start. Then deciding who gets our goodwill and in what form could be fun.

We have all heard that spending time with people is far more appreciated than spending money on them. We also know that homemade gifts and thoughtful acts of kindness last longer than a candle.

What if we used the concept of Giving Tuesday and carried it a bit farther into the whole month, extra week and all? Holiday giving accounts for 40 percent of all annual donations and there still is time to support all your local charities.

The nonprofits meet the needs of many and serve our communities in ways that reach long beyond Christmas. The importance of every donation, however large or small, touches lives and makes a difference.

When we think of the phrase “give it up,” we think of cheering, shouting and accolades. Without the shouting, giving it up could mean changing lives, quietly and purposefully.

We also have heard that giving is better than receiving. But did you know there have been actual studies by major universities that prove people who give money to charities are healthier than people who give fuzzy slippers? I might be exaggerating here, but you get the picture.

One study gave money to people to divide up between a food pantry and their own wallets. According to the MRI scanners they were attached to, choosing charity lighted up the nucleus acumbens, the brain center of pleasure and rewards, which also corresponds to music, laughter and the bond between mother and child.

I think the University of Chicago, the University of Oregon, the University of British Columbia and Harvard can’t all be wrong on this one. Even without the studies, we know what it feels like. It feels good. People who don’t give to charities are just plain old sour pusses. That is directly from the University of Liverpool — or maybe it was Dr. Seuss.

Altruism and volunteerism, with or without the science, offers the opportunity for members of the community to come together and give back. Whether it is friendship bread, your knowledge, time or money, giving is the key. Whatever level of giving, the impact is felt and appreciated.

As for the studies, we could ask the question: Are people who give happier and healthier because they are generous and caring, or are happy, healthy people more likely to give? Talk among yourselves. In the meantime, generosity never goes out of style, is non-controversial, non-fattening and does not have to be done on a Tuesday.

Kay Stellpflug is an educator and trainer in interpersonal and professional communications. She works and lives in Beaver Dam and can be reached at kaystellpflug@gmail.com.