Lynette Fay: Manic shopping, crazy car parks, Black-Eye Friday... Calm down, people!

Last weekend on a freezing cold night, I called into the soup kitchen and saw for myself the grim reality of people who don't know where their next meal is coming from, who don't have a home of their own – every day, not just at Christmas

We all get so stressed at this time of year – but for what?
Lynette Fay

DECEMBER 15. Ten days to go and for many, the struggle is real. Christmas-present shopping has become frantic; this weekend will see the world and its granny head out for the Christmas work do, it will be impossible to get a taxi home after 11pm unless you had it booked in July, and Black-Eye Friday is six days away.

Belfast city centre as of now is a no go zone for me. I can’t deal with it. I took a walk into town, as I call it, early last week, innocently thinking that on the morning of December 11 not too many people would be about. Wrong. I lost count of the number of shops that I walked into, only to turn on my heels and walk straight out again. Queues, queues and more queues.

Why do most of us turn into crazed zombies at this time of year? Shopping, shopping, shopping. For what?

A car park space becomes a very valuable commodity and car parks are on the verge of becoming boxing rings. The rage... Calm down, people!

I have no patience for pressure shopping in these conditions. I can shop when I don’t have to, no problem, but when I’m under pressure to find a particular thing for a particular person, I give up in seconds.

Christmas presents? I buy practical presents and lack creativity on this front. I usually hand over a birthday gift three to six months after the event. So when I know that I have a definite deadline of December 25, I can’t cope.

I tried my best to introduce Secret Santa to my family this year. I failed. Given that I dislike present shopping, you can imagine how appealing buying only one present versus buying 10 appealed to me.

For someone who has no imagination when buying presents, I was very relieved when Gwyneth Paltrow’s lifestyle blog The Goop came up with a list of ideal Christmas presents. These included buying a hamlet in Lugo in Galicia, a balloon expedition over Mount Everest and breakfast with a giraffe. Thanks for the ‘inspo’, Gwyn. What would we do without you?

The reality of my Christmas shopping is not extravagant at all. Especially this year, I have decided that my family, including myself, have quite enough ‘stuff’. Don’t we all? What material things do any of us really need?

This week SDLP deputy leader Nichola Mallon spoke out about universal credit ‘cakes’ – someone, somewhere in an ivory tower thought it was a good idea to spend £1,000 of public money on 40 cakes to ‘celebrate’ the introduction of universal credit, which in her words shows "a complete detachment and disregard for the impact that it’s having on people".

That £1,000 would go a long way in St Patrick’s Soup kitchen, or would make a huge contribution to the work of St Vincent de Paul or the Salvation Army and the numerous other charities who are inundated with requests for help at this time of year. They try to help people who are finding it difficult to keep the house warm and put food on the table.

Last weekend on a freezing cold night, I called into the soup kitchen and saw for myself the grim reality of people who don’t know where their next meal is coming from, who don’t have a home of their own – every day, not just at Christmas.

Paul McCusker and his team are doing great work there, as are all the volunteers. But they desperately need donations of food, clothes and money. They distribute these to those in the community who are in dire need.

I understand the desire to make Christmas special for children, with lots of presents. I have been guilty of over buying in the past myself, but I really don’t understand the need to spend money we don’t have and leave ourselves short for a couple of months as we pay off the Christmas excess in every way.

A couple of years ago, I was privy to a conversation where a group of women criticised another for posting a photo on Facebook of the ‘few’ presents that awaited the children on Christmas morning. They sneered at this notion. I think that this person got it right.

Allegedly, it is the season of goodwill. We can all do something for someone less fortunate. No matter how big or how small the gesture or donation, it all helps.

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