Welcome to the second Pause in Advent! The posts from last week were diverse and fascinating, but also had some kind of unity amongst them - we often find that we are dwelling on the same ideas as we prepare for Christmas. Thanks for all your posts and to all who took time to read and comment on others' posts, which is so encouraging and interesting.
My first ingredient of the true 'essence' of Christmas was tradition. My second is 'other people'. It's generally suggested that the more you care about other people, the happier you feel. Focussing on addressing your own (and your family's) immediated needs, exclusively, is a self-defeating strategy - people who take time to help others are happier and feel more satisfied. There've been times when I've been pretty active on 'saving the world', but these last few years have been more about the family and me - I really don't want to get so insular that I forget there are others out there with far greater needs than our own. Dormouse has some great examples of how people are helping out around the world on her recent post here. Ben spends some time each year collecting food for the French Restos du Coeur (Restaurants of the Heart) - he was at a local supermarket charming old ladies (I don't doubt) today, for the big collection before Christmas.
Sakado project (there is a great French pun there if you know where to find it...). Sakado is a national organisation which organises the collection of packed rucksacks (sacs à dos) for homeless people. The idea is that you use new or good quality second hand material to provide warm clothes/blankets, hygiene products, communications aids (like a phone card or envelopes with stamps on) and Christmas goodies, and pack these into a rucksack along with your own personal message of encouragement. The rucksacks are then given to homeless people in the area - Toulouse in our case.