Last year, with Christmas just around the corner and the recession still lingering, it seemed a good time to shake up our family’s gifting traditions. So I called a family conference. The result was we shortened our family gift list; added some needy individuals in our respective communities; didn’t spend any extra money and had a great time gifting.
First, as the family matriarch, I explained to our grandsons how Christmas gifting had changed over the years. They have never known a time when underwear was a gift; or an orange and a candy cane in a stocking were to be treasured. They have only known times of plenty not want.
So I told them that when I was growing up in the 1940s and 50s — birthdays and Christmas were a really big deal. Gifts were not given at any other time of the year. As kids we did not have any spendable cash. Our wants and wishes were limited by practicality and availability: clothing, dolls, toy soldiers, bicycles, roller skates, etc. There were no televisions, iPods or computers on our radar.
Things are different today. Even during this recession there is more spendable cash at all age levels. Gift selections are endless. If any of us (young or old) wants something, we somehow save up our money and buy it ourselves. We no longer wait for a special occasion. Buying is often frenetic and meaningless.
The result of this dialog opened the door to a new way of sharing our Christmas bounty. Family councils were held. Ideas were brainstormed. Tradition was thrown out the window.
We challenged each other to think outside of the traditional gift box and become better stewards of our money. Everyone (from the youngest to the oldest) got to choose where he or she would be a blessing and they were in charge of delivering the goods.
Christmas day was exciting. Until then, everyone had kept his or her personal donation a secret. There were big smiles everywhere. Finally, they could share how they had helped make Christmas special for someone — somewhere. The recipients of their gifts varied from close to home to thousands of miles away.
The revelations started with seven-year old Joshua. In Sunday school, he had learned about a missionary family in Cambodia. Rice is a staple of the Cambodians diet and Josh’s money was going to help teach locals to plant rice paddies. “It made me happy,” Josh said. “I wasn’t getting. I was giving.”
Robert, 12, was also concerned about helping others eat. He donated his share to Samaritan’s Purse to plant fruit trees and to stock fish in ponds. “This way, people don’t have to choose between making a living or eating healthy,” he said. “They can do both.”
J.D., 15, was practical. He contributed to a program to build sustainable villages that will put a roof over villager’s heads in Uganda through a partnership with Africa Renewal.
Matthew, also15, had read in the newspaper about a severely abused and rescued dog. The pup’s previous owner had beaten it and broken both of its front legs. The dog was in the process of being adopted but would need expensive on-going care. Later, Matt said, “As I walked into the veterinarian’s office to deliver my donation, I was surprised at their big response. They were really grateful.”
In Ventura, Project Understanding’s mission is similar to our local Community Sharing. In addition to helping with emergency housing they also serve 2900 families from their Emergency Food Pantry.
The day that Paul, 19, and his dad Tim walked in with their donation, their supplies were low and the manager told them that they were down to only $20 to tide them over until holiday giving began. Tim said, “We were God directed.”
Another article in a newspaper touched our daughter Kathy’s heart. An organization was holding a drive to collect suitcases for children in foster homes. Transient foster children often move from place to place with their things in paper bags. Kathy supplied four suitcases. “I felt like I was an answer to prayer,” she said.
Our eldest son Jeff’s contribution went to PETA because of the Dalai Lama who said to “Teach little children to love animals.”
Empty wrapped boxes tugged on our daughter-in-law Betsy’s heart. As a pastor’s wife she sees lots of needy people. But these boxes were in the home of a single mother with no resources to purchase gifts for her kids. Betsy and others filled the boxes from their abundance. “It was amazing to meet someone’s needs,” she said.
Our son John is the pastor of a church who struggles with the same question that most of us have: “So much need! What can one person do?” But he knows from experience what the Salvation Army can do and every year he’s a bell ringer for them at the local post office. “Most folks put in coins,” he said. “Two or three out of 10 people put in paper money. It all adds up so it was a joy to make my donation to an organization that I know works.”
Although Chuck and I chose to give locally, a good friend of mine contributes to a hospital in Germany where wounded soldiers are taken. Sometimes the soldiers come off the battlefield with only their torn, bloody clothing. She routinely sends sweatshirts and pants, socks, hard candy, sample size soaps, lotions, baby powder, mouthwash, books, etc. All are appreciated and acknowledged. Contact me for the address.
Mother Teresa said it best: “If you can’t feed a hundred people then just feed one.” Christmas is a wonderful time to shake things up and find that one special person whom we can feed or help. Why not start now? It will be a Christmas that you’ll never forget.