Skip partridges and pear trees; here’s a modern take on the 12 days of Christmas

Watch the lights go up at the Cambria Christmas Market

Cambria Pines Lodge sets up lights and Christmas displays for a past incarnation of the Cambria Christmas Market. Workers put up 30 miles of lights for the annual event.
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Cambria Pines Lodge sets up lights and Christmas displays for a past incarnation of the Cambria Christmas Market. Workers put up 30 miles of lights for the annual event.

You may need a cheat sheet to remember the lyrics, but for sheer whimsy, no holiday carol can beat “The 12 Days of Christmas.”

Sure, on the surface, it’s a paean to conspicuous consumption, but give it a modern-day twist and it takes on an entirely new meaning.

We learned that several years ago, when we heard about a young San Luis Obispo couple who put their own spin on the traditional song. Rather than exchanging extravagant gifts, they performed 12 good deeds loosely inspired by the Christmas carol.

Among their “gifts”: One pint of blood (his) went to a local blood bank; five toys were donated to Toys for Tots; and 10 inches of hair (hers) were sent to Locks of Love.

We liked the idea so much, the following year we decided to borrow (aka steal) it.

Here, then, is our sixth annual edition of “The 12 Days of Giving” — a compilation of suggestions for readers looking to spread some holiday cheer.

First Day: A partridge in a pear tree

Good luck trying to corral a partridge in California (according to our admittedly shallow and hasty research, quail is the closest we can come here). Let’s focus on helping our stressed-out tree population, which is a great way to help the planet, too.

According to TreePeople, a Los Angeles-based nonprofit, an acre of mature trees can absorb in one year the amount of carbon dioxide produced by a car driven 26,000 miles. If that’s not enough, trees also filter impurities from the air; provide cooling shade; reduce erosion; muffle noise; increase property values; and, oh yes, some of them provide fruit, such as pears. You can donate to TreePeople, which is helping to rehabilitate forested land burned in the Woolsey Fire.

If you’d like your contribution to stay closer to home, several local organizations have tree-planting programs that accept donations.

For instance, you can mark a special occasion or honor a loved one by donating to San Luis Obispo County’s tree program. The county doesn’t allow commemorative markers to be placed on the trees, but it does present certificates and keeps records of the donated trees and their locations. For information, call 805-781-5930.

Second Day: Two turtle doves

Commit to volunteering for two different nonprofit organizations in 2019. We’re not talking about a lifetime commitment — it could be a one-time gig. And just think, this could double as a New Year’s resolution.

If you’re not sure how to get started, try LoveSlo, an annual, one-day event that places 1,200 volunteers in programs throughout San Luis Obispo. Assignments range from landscaping to letter writing. Mark this one on your calenders — it’s set for March 16, 2019 — and register early, as some assignments fill up fast.

Or, consider helping with special events like benefit dinners, auctions and charity runs, or staff the phones at a KCBX pledge drive. To learn more about volunteer opportunities, check the United Way website, www.volunteerslo.org.

Third Day: Three French hens

Sometimes, it’s the little things that count, so find three ways to brighten someone’s day.

Some ideas: Write three letters of appreciation (texts and emails count, too) to a former teacher, a nurse, a firefighter, a service member, a parent, a friend who did you a solid or — are you sitting down? — an elected official you admire.

Walk three dogs (or walk one dog three times).

Donate three books to a school or the Friends of the Library organization in your community.

Spend three hours helping out a neighbor.

Make three dozen cookies to share with friends, neighbors and co-workers.

Pick three bouquets to share. (Extra credit if you include French lavender.)

Fourth Day: Four calling birds

They may not be in the headlines as much, but there are still plenty of calls to help Californians displaced by the Woolsey and Camp fires. Monetary donations are needed most.

In Southern California, United Way of Greater Los Angeles and United Way of Ventura County have partnered to create the Southern California Disaster Relief Fund to help low-income individuals and families affected by fires, www.unitedwayla.org/en/give/disaster-relief-fund/.

The United Way of Northern California, www.norcalunitedway.org/camp-fire, is providing emergency cash assistance to residents displaced by the Camp Fire.

Another way to help: Several California breweries, including some here on the Central Coast, will be raising funds through the sale of Resilience IPA, a special release benefiting victims of the Camp Fire. (SLO Brew expects it will be available here Dec. 22.)

Fifth Day: Five golden rings

This one’s easy. Put $5 in the first Salvation Army kettle you see (or hear). Oh, and the bellringer might appreciate a cup of coffee.

Sixth Day: Six geese a-laying

For $20, you can donate a flock of geese to a needy family through Heifer International, a nonprofit organization dedicated to ending hunger and poverty throughout the world. Or, you can donate a flock of chicks, a hive of bees, a pig, a llama, or, of course, a heifer. There’s also an opportunity to shop for gifts, such as jewelry and holiday ornaments, with sales benefiting craftspeople in developing nations.

Seventh Day: Seven swans a-swimming

Celebrate living on the Central Coast with a donation to an organization dedicated to the marine environment, such as the local chapter of the Surfrider Foundation, Pacific Wildlife Care or the Central Coast Aquarium. And to help keep plastics out of the ocean, consider putting reusable water bottles and straws on your holiday shopping lists.

Eighth Day: Eight maids a-milking

Donate eight items to the Food Bank Coalition of San Luis Obispo County. No perishables like milk, please, but the shopping list does include canned fruits and vegetables, canned meat and tuna, canned soup, canned beans, peanut butter, dry cereal and rice. The donation drive runs through Dec. 14.

Or, consider a cash donation: For every $1 donated, the Food Bank can purchase $10 in food for needy families. Go to http://www.slofoodbank.org and click on Hope for the Holidays.

Ninth day: Nine ladies dancing

If your kids have outgrown their dancing duds (or more practical clothing) the Children’s Resource Network at www.childrensresourcenetwork.org has several dropoff sites. It also provides students with blankets, books, backpacks, school supplies, diapers, toiletries and other items

Tenth day: 10 lords a-leaping

Support the performing arts by taking in a concert, dance recital or holiday play. Also consider a donation to one of the performing arts groups in the county.

Eleventh Day: 11 Pipers Piping

Find 11 ways to pipe up for causes you’re passionate about, be it the environment, healthcare, homelessness, poverty, child abuse, animal welfare, LGBTQ issues, climate change, education. Write a letter or two (letters to the editor count double), attend a meeting, call your elected officials, volunteer, donate, march.

Even better: Convince 11 people to register to vote.

Twelfth Day: 12 drummers drumming

The Infinite Music Foundation based in Morro Bay provides free beginning drumming and ukelele lessons for underserved students in San Luis Obispo County and northern Santa Barbara County. It sponsors after-school music programs in local elementary schools and, starting next year, will also provide lessons at learning centers at People’s Self-Help Housing projects, including the Canyon Creek Apartments in Paso Robles.

The organization hopes to raise $5,000 by the end of the year to fund music lessons; a donation of $50 pays for beginning ukelele lessons for three students for eight weeks. Donations of musical instruments also are appreciated.

The all-volunteer organization could use more help as well, and no, you don’t have to be a musician to be of service. (Example: On a recent afternoon there were 150 envelopes to stuff.)

For information, go to the group’s website, www.infinitemusicfoundation.org, or call 805-772-7978.

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