I remember the Christmas when my sons were 5 and 6 years old. As usual, there was a big build up to Christmas. We participated in all the things that makes Christmas - especially a Christmas with children, magical. We had the elf doll that showed up in a new place every morning and the holiday cooking baking parties and the nighttime Christmas light drives through town complete with cocoa and blankets. We searched for the perfect gifts for our friends and family and were especially excited to see our kids’ faces when they opened their presents.
To be honest, when all the wrapping paper was strewn around the room and the boys were already squabbling over their new toys, I felt a little hollow. It seemed like somehow in our efforts to make their Christmas magical, we forgot to teach them what the real Christmas magic comes from. Rather than imparting the joy of giving and the importance of community, we inadvertently taught them that the holiday was all about them.
That Christmas, I promised myself that the next year would be different. And it was. When the next Christmas season rolled around, my husband and I spent time thinking through how we could teach our kids about the true meaning of Christmas, about community and service, about social responsibility and compassion. As Black Friday came and went and Giving Tuesday came around, the solution waved its hand at us. We decided to donate to an organization that we loved with a mission that we respected and values we shared. I wrote a thank you letter with a brochure from that organization to my sons and wrapped it in a box and set it under the tree. It was a gamble. Would they appreciate the idea? Would they even understand the significance?
On Christmas morning, one of my sons picked up the box labeled with their names and unwrapped the letter:
Thank you for sharing your Christmas with others this year. Instead of another gift for you, the money for that gift was donated to an organization that helps girls around the world who are slaves. It helps these girls be free and stay free so that they can live happy and safe lives like yours. For this gift this year, you aren’t receiving something for yourselves, but rather passing it on to someone in need.
It was simple and… they loved it! One of the boys said it was his favorite gift because it made him feel “good inside” that he got a little less so that someone else could have something much more important than a toy. They understood, and I have to say that it was an incredibly satisfying Christmas knowing that the meaning of the holiday had not been lost in all the lights and traditions and presents under the tree.
It’s been 5 years since that Christmas, and that idea has become one of our most beloved family Christmas traditions. Every year, my husband and I thoughtfully consider where we want our family donation to go, and we keep it a secret until the boys find out on Christmas morning who it is that our family has cared for this year. It’s been an incredible teaching tool because as we’ve given to things like disaster relief efforts or significant social problems like human trafficking, homelessness, and war refugees, we’ve also been able to educate our kids about these things in a gentle and hope-filled way.