Christmas shopping with a difference

Every Christmas, for as long as I can remember, four friends and I have done a Kris Kindle. We each pick a name and buy just for that person with a budget of about €30.00. I look forward to this: not so much the getting, but the giving. But a motion has been made to drop it this year and instead to give each other something far more valuable – our time.

I was horrified. It’s a tradition. We’ve been doing this for years. It’s part of the annual Craigford party. We can’t just stop it…

But on reflection, I saw sense. Our time is a very precious commodity. Choosing to spend it together, pooling the respective €30s to have that togetherness is way more valuable than a gift-wrapped something I could more than likely have done without anyway. I’ve reconciled myself to the change.

That said, I still love buying. If I had to choose between getting a present and giving one, I’d choose the latter every time. There was a void that needed to be filled.

I wrote some weeks back about Zsuzsa Bozo of the Caledonia Scottish Pub and her Levelek Télapónak (Letters to Santa) initiative. Some 160 children from the village of Gáborjan have written their letters to Santa Claus. In them, they say how good they’ve been throughout the year. They also list what they need, what they’d like to wear, what book they’d like to read, and what would make them really happy. Four things.

lp2The letters, and the accompanying pictures that the kids have drawn, are on display in the Caledonia on Mozsár utca. Ready-made wish lists. Just what I needed. I dropped by and had a look. Some I needed help in translating, but that was no problem. Help was there.

Viktor, aged 5, says he’s been good all the time. Fair play, I thought. That kid deserves to be rewarded.  He’d like books to practice writing and drawing, a t-shirt and jumper, a book on motorbikes, and a police car. Doable, I thought. Definitely doable. In writing my name on his letter, I committed to getting everything on his list.

I leafed through some more and came across Dominik, also aged 5, and a little more of a realist. He’s been ‘mostly good’ all year. How’s that for hedging? He’d like drawing stuff, a t-shirt and jumper, a book on animals, and a tipper truck. Mmmm … tempting. I could have fun shopping for the truck. But I’m not made of money. I have a budget. Something else would have to go.  I thought quickly. My dad doesn’t put much store in Christmas  – he’d be well happy with just a book. Dominik – you’re in luck.

I had a few more minutes to kill so I kept reading. Tibor, also aged 5, admitted to being naughty. I loved the honesty. He’d like a puzzle, a tracksuit, a book on cars, and a tractor and trailer. I couldn’t resist. Down went my name again.

So if your Christmas present from me this year is more thoughtful than extravagant, you’ll know why. There are lots more kids from Gáborjan with wish-lists on the walls of the Caledonia whose hopes are just waiting to be fulfilled. And there are 30 more from the Vamósszabadi refugee camp who really need something good to happen in their lives this Christmas.

If you don’t like shopping, don’t worry. Zsuzsa and her team can shop for you. And if your budget won’t stretch to a full child, then give what you can  – every forint goes one step further to making a child’s Christmas one to remember. What’s not to like about that?    Check it out on Facebook:

First published in the Budapest Times 4 December 2015

Putting the hope back into dreaming

The season of giving is fast approaching. For some, the decision about how best to encapsulate how we feel about that special someone (or someones) in something that is wrappable can cause undue angst. We know that hope and disappointment will jostle each other as presents are opened and interpreted. And when we get it wrong, the disappointment doubles. So just what is this gym membership telling me? Where was your head when you thought that I’d love a new ironing board? You’ve never noticed that I don’t have my ears pierced?

I like shopping. I like buying gifts. I think I do rather well at getting it just right. I’ve had years of practice. But my interest in the whole gift-giving thing is waning. The kids in my life have too much already ‒ and they themselves are the first to admit it. The adults in my life want for little. So I ask myself – why bother? And yet my innate need to give is even stronger at Christmas.

This year, thanks to a little Hungarian village called Gáborján which sits in the east of the country on the Hungary-Romania border, this need will be well satisfied.  But let’s step back a bit.

Those with their finger on the pulse on what’s happening on the city’s social scene will doubtless have heard of Budapest’s foremost Scottish Pub, the Caledonia. Those who are well versed in volunteerism in Budapest will know that earlier this year it launched its Social Bite page. Owners Zsuzsanna Bozo and Patrick McMenamin want to do more for the community than simply serve pints of good Scottish beer alongside plates of haggis (the best I’ve had outside of Glasgow, by the way).

Their latest initiative took form when Zsuzsa met up with Józsi Bá, who is what she describes as the ‘soul of this Hungarian village’. Life in Gáborján is tough. Times are difficult. Poverty is rife. But Józsi Bá has hope for the village’s future. His hope lies in its children and the something magical that happens when kids realise that dreams can actually come true.

AsoclaZsuzsa and Co., have printed over 100 blank letters to Santa Claus which Józsi Bá will distribute with the help of the local primary school teachers. Each letter will be sent to Santa via the Caledonia, where they will be added to a special Facebook page: Levelek Télapónak  (Letters to Santa; yes, even Santa is using social media these days). Those participating can take a letter (or three) and make that particular child’s Christmas dream come true. Is there a better way to satisfy that need to give? I think not.

Gifts can be dropped off at the Caledonia Gift Factory at 1066 Budapest, Mozsár utca 9, which will operate as a satellite to Santa’s Factory at the North Pole.  You can save the elves some trouble by wrapping your gifts and adding a personal note. Or better still, you can join in one afternoon in December and enjoy a few hot toddies while wrapping the gifts and enjoying that lovely feeling that comes with doing something worthwhile.  And if you fancy a trip to Gáborján, join the visiting elves for a day of gift giving and church decorating.   And it’s not just gifts that are needed; check the page for other donations that will go a long way towards making life a little easier in this particular part of Hungary.

When we have more than we need, we should think of building a bigger table, rather than erecting a taller fence. This is a perfect opportunity to share with those who are not as fortunate, to give a little back to a country many of us call our second home, to show these kids that dreams can come true.

First published in the Budapest Times 30 October 2015