Headmaster-Approved Presents

From the Headmaster's Desk, December 20, 2017

I received a Whatsapp message from my brother-in-law last week, and it simply said: ‘What’s this whole sleep out thing about?’  It made me smile – perhaps if I give you more context, it might make you smile as well.

In November, emails started going around my family asking what people wanted for Christmas.  I ‘replied all’ to the family with a proposal: rather than all of us buying each other presents, which often feels rather excessive, why don’t we just draw names out of a hat and each give just one present?  I thought this would help to avoid unnecessary materialism that I have experienced on previous Christmas Days, which always makes me feel a bit uncomfortable.

Some members of the family liked my idea; other family members started calling me a Scrooge.  My brother-in-law sent me another message accusing me of trying to ‘take away the joy of giving’.

Since I knew I had to put something out there, as my family will inevitably buy me presents, I wrote that what I would like, more than anything, is for them to donate to the Big Sleep Out at Blue Coat.  This was the charity fundraising event that we hosted on the night of December 8th, where Sixth Formers raised money for Launchpad, the homelessness charity in Reading that is doing fantastic work.  (I spoke more about the work of Launchpad in a recent assembly.)

Hence my brother-in-law’s message saying, ‘what’s this whole sleep out thing about?’  Well, it’s about Christmas gifts that are approved by the Headmaster.

So, that’s one present I approve of, and I thought I would round off this final assembly with other things approved by the Headmaster at Christmas.  Let’s call it, my Christmas top five:

The first, as I’ve discussed, is donating to Launchpad, (which you can still do here).

The second, I received last week in a Christmas card from one of your families.  In the card, the family signed their names, and then wrote at the bottom:  ‘We bought a meal for a homeless person as our gift to you this year’.  I must say that this gift is my favourite received thus far, and by far my favourite Christmas card, and I have replied with thanks to the family.

The third thing that I wanted to recognise this morning is not a gift to me or about me, but it is something that one of our Sixth Formers is doing this Christmas.  It has come to my attention that one of our girls has signed up to do two eight-hour shifts, one on the 23rd and one on the 25th, at a Crisis Christmas Centre in London, helping homeless people to celebrate their Christmas.  A lovely contribution of time, effort and warmth – to me, the best of this season, so thank you to this person.

Finally, and, for me this is very difficult to beat:  remember that you can always buy charity gifts on the Oxfam website.  Oxfam is a charity that fights to combat poverty, both in emergencies and in the longer term.

For Christmas, Oxfam offer a range of presents that you can buy, which are donated in a needy part of the world in the name of a loved one, and then you send a card to the loved one informing them of the gift.

For example, for several years now, I have bought a goat for my father for Christmas.  The goat costs roughly £25, and helps families in poverty earn a better living.  The goat is fit, healthy and fully vaccinated, and can provide milk and manure, and even be used to breed.

My father is still involved in charity work in Kenya and Tanzania, and I have encountered many goats in this part of the world when travelling with him.  So the goat for us is a unique bond – it is called nyama choma in Swahili, and it is Kenya’s unofficial national dish.

If this does not appeal, Oxfam offers a range of other gifts, from safe water to solar energy to pigs.  And this year, quite relevantly, they also offer support of a refugee or you can make a contribution to end violence against women.

So there you have it:  a clear list of Headmaster-approved ways to do good this holiday season.

And once you have done something thoughtful for the less fortunate this season, then you can sit down at the Christmas table and feel a little better about yourself.  Perhaps even play some Christmas music.

I wish you all a very Happy Christmas.

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