Instilling the Spirit of Giving All Year
As a mom of three young children, the holidays hold special magic for me. I relish seeing the joy in my child’s eyes as he discovers that Santa has brought him exactly what he asked for. I eagerly answer the million questions that my middle child asks about flying reindeer, because of course they are real. I love plotting with my only daughter how to surprise daddy, master of knowing what he’s getting for Christmas. I love the holidays.
My favorite part of the holidays though, it has nothing to do with cookies or opening presents, or even anything to do with Santa. My favorite part of the holidays takes place about a week before Christmas. I take each child on a special shopping trip, one on one. This year I took two at once, but it’s ok. If you aren’t flexible during the holidays it can suck the joy out of it. Prior to this trip we sit down and make a list of names, each one someone that my child wants to bless. Then, they spend (sometimes a couple of hours) picking out gifts for those people.
Now, stay with me. Yes, I can take my children to pick out presents on an angel tree somewhere. Yes, we can donate toys and clothing to children’s shelters. We can give money to the Salvation Army. Those are all good things, but those are things that my children should see us do all year, not just during the holidays. The holidays are different. They will be showered with gifts carefully selected by their family and friends that love them. Our children NEED that experience, because the act of giving is what instills generosity, kindness, and thoughtfulness into our children.
Giving to strangers or organizations is all well and good, and I highly encourage it. However, the joy that we get from seeing our children open the gifts we have carefully selected… they aren’t immune to that either. Selecting gifts for them (ie: for their teachers, or for their grandparents) doesn’t give them the same joy and satisfaction that they would receive from seeing their loved ones open gifts that they have hand selected. Sure, my brother in law did not need a dollar store fake mustache, but my daughter was so tickled when he opened it. To be honest, watching her watch him open her present was as amazing as watching her open her gifts from Santa. In that moment she truly radiated the joy of Christmas.
So, here’s what we do. The kids make a list of names, and we head to the dollar store. I don’t select anything for them, they pick out every gift for each name on the list. One gift per person, and they are encouraged and reminded before we get there that they need to think about what the person may appreciate, but that is all the guidance they receive. Every year they come up with a few more people to add to the list while we are there, and that’s ok (because we are at the dollar store). I don’t want to stifle their generous spirit. Ideally, they would spend their own money, but we are still working on saving, so that’s less important to me than reinforcing that giving spirit. When we get home, they wrap the presents themselves (and usually tell each other what they bought for one another!)
It’s really easy for children to get the “gimmies” at Christmas, especially when everyone around them is asking them what they want (and giving it to them). The greatest gift we can give our children during the holidays is to reinforce a spirit of giving and generosity. This is a gift that will stick with them, and grow with them, and will impact the type of person they grow up to be. They will outgrow the Barbie doll house, and the tinker toy set, but this is a tradition (and a lesson) that will last a lifetime.
About the Author
An Army Veteran, Katie is a current military spouse and mother to three incredible little kids, and one naughty puppy. Her middle child has special needs and drives her passion for child advocacy. Katie's background spans from gemology, literature, middle eastern studies, to early childhood education (largely due to her inability to make a decision and her interest in everything). Her proudest accomplishment to date is housebreaking the naughty puppy.