So what about giving people our PRESENCE rather than our PRESENTS for Christmas?!

The Winter Solstice is just around the corner and I hope it will be a turning point for many people individually and for our whole world. It is time to rethink many of our habits, thoughts, actions and roles in our families and communities.

For every Christmas that rolls around I feel less willing to ‘play the game’: buying presents I don’t want to buy, receiving presents I don’t need or want, receiving Christmas cards that make me think of the trees that were felled to produce the paper…

As a mother of three boys I can’t escape Christmas or Christmas presents altogether. I am Dutch and in the Netherlands we celebrate the Feast of St Nicholas (Sinterklaas) on December 5th. Children receive presents from the Saint and grown ups exchange presents too and write funny small rhymes. Often the present is disguised as something it is not. For instance you are giving someone a book but you use paper mache to make it look like a horse, or an airplane – or anything that wrong foots the receiver about the true nature of the gift but reflects some obsessive interest they have! Then you rib them in a funny little rhyme – but only gently and affectionately!

What I like about Sinterklaas is the fun, the creativity, the together time with family, the hot chocolate and the marzipan – but the gift is the least important thing and it is rarely of great financial value (not in my family anyway!)

My husband is Swedish and in Sweden people do put Christmas presents under the tree – just as people in England do. So, as I recently said to my mother, I can hardly swim against two dominant cultures all by myself, considering that my three Dutch-Swedish children live in London, not the Netherlands!

So our children will receive some Christmas presents in Sweden next week, under a tree harvested from a forest belonging to the family friend we are staying with. (Come boys, let’s step outside for just a moment to get the tree!)

The word PRESENCE jumped out at me late last night (in a post on FB) and again first thing this morning, in a newsletter a colleague of mine sends out. And this got me thinking about the power of words: two letters difference can make a WORLD of difference!

Many of us are so good at being on the run from ourselves’ that we are hardly more present to others than to ourselves. Just look at the way people are using their i-phones: always plugged, always tapping and punching, in the street, in shops, in the doctor’s surgery….. As soon as my clients arrive I ask them three questions: 1 Can I take your coat? 2 Would you like to use a bathroom before we start our session 3 Have you switched off your phone?!

And all that 24/7 ‘so called availability’ means we are barely present to those around us and to All That Is around us: the air, the trees, water, music, clouds, birdsong, crying toddlers, dancing Autumn leaves, elderly people in need of  smile…. and so forth.

So what if we made a PRESENT of BEING PRESENT? Of giving our full and undivided attention to all that surrounds us.  And over Christmas: giving our full and undivided attention to the people we are with?

Speaking as someone who has family visits lined up in two different European countries (with thousands of kilometers of driving between) I know I myself am I going to be tempted to mentally absent myself from what is going on. Daydreaming, my i-pod, a good book, long walks in the forest or on the mountain… And all of those can and will have their place. But my intention this Christmas is to give loved ones the present of being present and also to be present to anything else that presents (Do I need to express love in some way or form? Ar the ancestors asking for something? Other unspoken requests? What are the trees in the forest asking for? How can I honour Mother Earth at this Dark Moon Winter Solstice time? What will my children need from me in 2015 as they grow older and more independent?)

Those are some of the questions I will be contemplating – but isn’t presence the best present of all?!

Imelda Almqvist