By: Lisa Moore
Tradition is a word that is used often around the holidays. Whether it’s a set menu at Thanksgiving, a specific day designated to decorate, or Black Friday shopping, each and every one of us has some sort of tradition we hold to this time of year. One of my favorite traditions as a child was getting to pick an angel off the Christmas tree at church. On each angel was written the age and gender of a child. My mom would take me to the store and I would get to pick out a toy for that child, help wrap it, and place it back under the tree at church the next week. It was something I looked forward to every year…and to this day, I still select an angel off the tree and bring in a gift for a child that may not have one otherwise.
I didn’t realize it at the time, but that “tradition” instilled a value in me that is one of my defining qualities as an adult: giving. Just look at what I do for a living. As Community Relations Director my job is to find ways for Kavaliro to give back to the community!
With the commercialization of the holidays it’s easy to be greedy and forget how to be generous. Traditions that focus on family or friends can be an ideal opportunity for families to have fun and feel closer to each other all the while putting meaning back into the holidays. They can show kids that giving your time, effort, and kindness is more rewarding than just expecting to receive lots of presents.
Start by sitting down with your kids and talking about it. Be honest. Use the holidays to remind your children there are people less fortunate than they are. Let them know there are families that don’t know where their next meal will come from, where they may be sleeping each night, or are living paycheck to paycheck. Maybe they’ve never seen a homeless shelter or donated to a food drive before. No problem! Explain this year, as a family, you will start looking for opportunities to volunteer. There’s no time like the present…make this the year the tradition of giving begins!
What better way to realize and appreciate just how much they have than to give to another child less fortunate. By helping others who aren't as fortunate, children can better see all the remarkable things to be grateful for in their own lives. Who knows, maybe seeing that there are children out there with only 1 or 2 toys to play with may make enough impact to cut down on the “mine” argument between siblings!
You don’t have to spend an afternoon in a soup kitchen or drain your wallet giving to charities to make an impact. Giving comes in many forms, not just as presents. Your neighbor just had a baby? Have your kids help make a dinner and walk with you to deliver it. You have a friend that is sick? Have your kids make a get well card and send it in the mail. Bake bread or cookies and deliver them to the new neighbors on the street. Make it habit to write thank you notes after you receive a gift. Put together a package or make a card to send to American service members, veterans, their families, or troops deployed overseas. Visit an retirement home and play an instrument, read aloud, or bring personal artwork to decorate a room or hallway. Lend a hand to elderly neighbors with decorating, cooking, or wrapping presents. Emphasizing that giving of their time, effort, and caring can mean so much more, and last longer, than any gift that money can buy. Maybe not on the same scale as charity work, these small acts of kindness are still examples of giving. You might not change someone’s life, but you could change their day.
Let your children decide how they want to give. What are they passionate about? Where are their interests? What fits with your family's values and the things you believe in? Maybe they love physical activity so a charity walk is the way to go. Maybe they love reading so they donate books to a reading program. If your kids love animals, talk to your local animal shelter to help distribute pet food to low-income pet owners or adopt an endangered animal through your local zoo. The more involved a child is in choosing the type of giving the more they’ll learn from the experience. Being involved in the process also personalizes it and sends an empowering message that they are important enough to have an impact on someone or something else.
While writing a check may be the easiest way to “give,” your child may take note of the gesture, but it might not stay with them for the long term. If you expose them to every step of the giving process, making it more concrete from the beginning, it will have a larger impact. Have your children collect toys they no longer play with, clothes and shoes they’ve outgrown, or books they no longer read and bag them up. Drive to a local shelter or other collection spot and have them help deliver the items in person so they can see the people they are helping and how those “extra” items in their home are “needed” items in someone else’s. Take your child to the store and allow them to pick out food, take it to a food pantry, and help stock the shelves. Suggest they put aside some of their allowance money each week, or loose change they find around the house, until they have enough to go with you to a store and pick out a toy. Let them help wrap and decorate it and deliver it to a local charity. Or have your child help you decide where the money should go, or even make a special trip to a local Salvation Army bucket and let them drop in the coins. Another idea is for everyone to give up one gift this year, and use the money that would have been spent on that gift to buy toys or clothing for residents of a homeless shelter in your area. By giving up a toy to a less fortunate child, a child learns that sometimes it's good to sacrifice. Making the act of giving a hands-on experience you can help children comprehend just how important it is and that one person can make a difference.
By starting early with traditions that emphasize the true meaning of the holidays and the caring thoughts behind gift giving, you can help to mold your kids' perspectives on the holiday season and what it means to both give and receive all year long. If volunteering begins at an early age, it can become part of your kids' lives — something they just want to do.
"In everything I did, I showed you that by this kind of hard work we must help the weak, remembering the words the Lord Jesus himself said: ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.'” Acts 20:35 (NIV)