Lighten Santa's Load

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"The first paramita [perfection or spiritual virtue] in the Buddhist tradition is generosity," says Tias Little, the founder of Yoga Source in Santa Fe, New Mexico. But that doesn't mean buying stocking stuffers for everyone you know. "How can we share the gift of joy?" asks Little. "It can mean
giving the gift of time, spending quality time with friends and family."

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Betsy Taylor, president of the Center for a New American Dream, says a healthier holiday starts small. Eliminate one or two things you feel you should do but that really stress you out. "Maybe you don't send as many cards. Or instead of
making lots of homemade gifts, cook a huge pot of vegetable soup and take care of six really good friends." If you're stumped for ideas, the center
offers more creative suggestions on its website, www.newdream.org.

If your list is long and your wallet light, consider gifts that can be deferred: a new bike to be delivered when the weather turns more obliging, or an appointment with a top-notch housekeeping service for spring cleaning. It's heavenly to give
or get a present later in the year, and it takes way
a chunk of the season's financial strain.

Or use your creativity instead of your credit card. Ann Austin, a yoga teacher in Sebastopol, California, turned last year's holiday season into "an opportunity for friends and friends of friends to get together and share what they create." She transformed her home into a craft fair for a day and invited the community to bring homemade gifts to sell or swap. Every corner of the living room, kitchen, and bedrooms was filled with handmade items—crocheted corsages, felted
ornaments, jewelry, bath salts, cookies, and the like. Other people offered gift certificates for their services—portrait photography, massage, private yoga sessions. It was a chance to honor the talents and creative impulses of the whole crowd and to truly shop locally.

"I don't go out and shop like a maniac for everyone in my family," says yoga teacher Beryl Bender Birch, who has spent enough time with the Yoga Sutra to know that samtosha (contentment) isn't dependent on getting what you want, but on finding happiness with things as they are. "My mantra is 'Cultivate gratitude.' Focus on
what you have, not on what you don't have."

Mary Elizabeth Williams has written for the New York Times, Salon.com, and other publications. She lives in Brooklyn with her husband and two energetic daughters.