In an inspiring example of how to give back, Oprah Winfrey’s generosity was inspired by a time when she was 12 years old and her mother told them they didn’t have enough money for Christmas. “Just when I started to accept there would not be a Christmas, three nuns showed up at our house with gifts for all of us. There was a turkey, a fruit basket, some games, and for me they brought a doll.”
“I remember feeling that I mattered to those nuns, whom I had never met. And what it meant that they had remembered me.”
“I wasn’t forgotten. Somebody had thought enough of me to bring me a gift.”
The story is beautiful in itself. But the fact that so many years later, she was inspired to pass that joy along to 50,000 school children and orphans in South Africa… it reminds us how we never know the effects one small act of giving can have!
It’s easy to get caught up in the chaos of the holidays. We’re busy with gifts to buy, trips to plan, and parties to attend. When the consumerism, feeling of overwhelm, and the downright violence of Black Friday shoppers set in… the best remedy is a peaceful, meaningful holiday.
We’re often unaware that the highly stressed, on-edge persona we’re portraying is on full display for our children. We tell them that giving is more important than receiving (and it is), but our actions potentially send a message that it’s all about the gifts.
This year, amid the hustle and bustle of finding those wonderful gifts for our loved ones, let’s incorporate other means of giving into our schedules and, in turn, consciousness. Getting our children involved in even one of these “simple acts of giving” on a small scale will impact the givers just as much as the recipients.
WHY GIVE BACK?
▪ It’s Needed – Even in the U.S., you don’t have to look far these days to see someone who could use a hand up (as in hand to help up, not a hand-out). But worldwide, well over half of the population is without electricity or running water. Makes the Black Friday fight over a $2 waffle machine seem pretty pointless, doesn’t it?
▪ It’s Good Karma – When you give with an open heart, you’ll always end up with more to give. Giving creates the flow of good things coming right back to you. And it just feels good.
▪ It Sets a Good Example – If you’re a parent, one of the most rewarding things you’ll ever do with your child is let them choose a cause to donate time or money to. Kids are naturally caring and generous, but you have to encourage it to keep them that way.
HOW YOUR FAMILY CAN GIVE BACK
Growing up, our parents made Christmas giving a priority – choosing a family in need to buy gifts for or volunteering to help deliver holiday meals. Our grandmother gave all year round – donating dolls to charity, quilts to church raffles… everything from attending fund raising events to sending us down the street on Sunday with a plate of food for an elderly friend. I have a feeling we’ll never even know the extent of her giving, but she always said, “You can’t out-give God.”
GIVE THE GIFT OF TIME
Giving doesn’t always mean money. There are plenty of ways to make a difference by volunteering your time. Getting involved will reward you in ways that writing a check and dropping it in the mailbox just can’t do. Let your children choose how they’d like to donate their time.
Since time is ultimately the most precious commodity during the holidays, finding just an hour or two to donate is a huge deal. Don’t think that a local organization wouldn’t appreciate it, whether you volunteer at a Salvation Army red kettle for an afternoon, work a church bazaar to benefit needy families, or serve during the busy times at a soup kitchen.
Be sure to turn the activity into a family affair, if age appropriate, and it could become an annual tradition.
▪ Plan a good deed of the day or week
▪ Volunteer at your local animal shelter
▪ Sing Christmas carols or visit lonely patients at a hospital or nursing home
▪ Shovel snow from someone’s sidewalk
What is one thing any grandparent would love to receive, more than any item on his or her wish list? Hands down, special time with a grandchild. So, wouldn’t it be a wonderful change for the child to be the one who asks for some quality time together (especially from a particular tween or teenager who has suddenly become far too busy)?
This doesn’t have to be a holiday gift, necessarily, and can be as simple as a child calling up and requesting a date to make some Christmas cookies together. And, yes, we said “child calling” rather than having Mom or Dad do the contacting or shooting off a quick text.
GIVE A LITTLE EXTRA
Keep your radar on the watch for local charitable activities like bake sale to help an animal shelter, a “Stuff the Bus” toy drive, or food drive at your child’s school. Then, while you’re busy making Christmas cookies, toss an extra plate together to drop off for the good of the animals, purchase an extra toy while shopping to help stuff that bus, or grab a few extra canned goods (the ones you’d buy your own family) while grocery shopping to send into school with your young one.
Even those small donations of a dollar here and there can add up to have a pretty big impact, and children take notice. It takes very little extra time, but helps in unknown, amazing ways.
Set aside some money to bless others in need, and when the time comes, do it as anonymously as possible. This might be something like leaving double the tip for an excellent server… or buying Christmas dinner groceries for a family in need. Our boys love taking dollars and change to put in the donation boxes outside the cat and dog rooms at our local Humane Society.
GIVE A LITTLE LESS
Sure, this is contradictory to the last point, but hear us out. If you want to give back but are having difficulties making ends meet, especially at this budget-strapped time of year, consider what you’re giving and how much.
Look at the gifts that will truly be held in high regard and nix one or two of the “filler” presents (you know the ones). The money you would spend on those items could be put towards a family with no gifts or towards the extra groceries for a family in far greater need than we might imagine.
CHOOSE GIFTS THAT GIVE BACK
If you love shopping, you’re in luck. There are more than enough ways to give gifts that really matter.
You can give presents…
Malls, churches, and many office buildings have Angel Trees or organizations like the Operation Christmas Child or the Salvation Army that collect gifts for kids, elderly, or families who need help during the holidays.
You can choose your recipient by name, gender, or age and let your children help pick out the gifts for your special Christmas “angel.” Other organizations offer ways to donate gently used toys and books. If you go this route, make sure the items are clean and in good condition. Make sure these kids get the message: You Matter.
OR YOU CAN GIVE IN LIEU OF GIFTS
Most likely, your gift list includes more than one “person who has everything.” Rather than another gift certificate, find out what cause they truly care about and donate to it in their name.
Companies like TisBest are making it easier to give charitable gifts. You make the donation, and your recipient chooses which charity receives the money. Our friend Beth Terry, author of Plastic Free, researched how eco-friendly charitable gifts really are and how much goes to the charity.
Other popular and easy to give charity gifts are…
- Heifer International provides livestock and training to families around the world.
- Nest works to change the lives of women in developing countries by providing small business loans and education for a lifetime of self-sufficiency.
- TreePeople’s Holiday Tree Dedication Program supports efforts to plant and care for trees in mountain forests and park woodlands that have experienced devastation from fires, neglect or other natural causes.
- For the animal lover on your list, consider supporting your local shelter or The World Wildlife Fund Species Adoptions.
- The Nature Conservancy has several environmental charity programs. One of our current favorites is Plant a Billion Trees.
- The Conservation Fund partners with community, government and corporate leaders to protect America’s favorite outdoor places and to conserve resources for healthy, sustainable communities.
- Children of the Earth United aims to accomplish this through a free comprehensive, interactive educational information system accessible through the Internet and through specific educational programs geared towards mainstream society.
- Our Hen House is working to catalyze a mass movement in which individuals do not merely follow the leadership of animal advocacy organizations, but also take personal responsibility for leading the way to a new world in which the exploitation of animals is recognized as no longer necessary for human progress.