Thursday, December 11, 2008

Getting into the spirit

My daughter is finally old enough to understand the concept of Santa. At 3 1/2, she can grasp the concept that a jolly bearded man in a red suit might bring her presents IF she is good all year. I have just started to capitalize on this fine new tool of behavior blackmail. At the dinner table during a whine fest. During a sleep-deprivation inspired meltdown on the kitchen floor. You better watch out...

The potential is huge.

But, I've been recently having second thoughts about this Santa-biz. I don't want Christmas to be all about getting. Sometimes, the way she acts, I think: wow, you have no idea how lucky you are. Sometimes, she is a complete brat. How to make her understand how blessed she is? To appreciate the joy of giving gifts (in all senses of the word) to others? Can they get that at this age?

And then I think of my friend Jen and her daughter M and know that they can. Jen runs a homeless shelter in the Bay Area and M, very close to my daughter's age, helps out at the shelter from time to time. Hearing about M at the shelter is inspiring. Her daughter is sensitive, loving, empathic, and so utterly giving it takes my breath away. I want that.

It may be cliche to volunteer at a homeless shelter during the holidays but what better time to start a family tradition of giving? I want my daughter to really understand that people out there don't have homes, don't have food, and sometimes, the only difference between us and them is luck. I want her to know this intimately, more than the times she asked me why I rolled down the window at the stop light to give money to the man standing at the island. (Why doesn't that man have a house?)

So I'm looking for local shelters where our whole family can go and help. The experience probably won't overshadow the receiving of Christmas presents for my daughter this year, but I'm hoping it will be a seed of awareness, of goodness, that grows.


  1. Coming out of lurkdom to respond to this (and I love this blog, by the way)... This year and last, I decided to make a big transition in how we do Christmas with our kids. They get so much stuff between both sets of grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, etc. on top of what we give them (and I try to be very moderate). It just drives me crazy because 1) they don't need any of it, and 2) there are so many people that don't even have a roof over their heads. I'm one of 12 kids and so I have some distinct memories of lean Christmases. I don't want that for my kids either - just a happy medium.

    So last year, we decided on my hubby's side to take the kids shopping for gifts to donate to a charity instead of exchanging gifts between siblings and cousins. It has gone very well. My DD (age 5) is still pining a bit for the Barbie she gave away, but both my big kids have talked several times since we dropped the gifts off this year about how some people don't have any toys to play with.

    New this year on our tradition list is to sponsor a charity drive instead of doing neighbor gifts. We live in a close knit neighborhood, and generally give out about 50 little plates of goodies or other inexpensive trinkets. It always stresses me out, and while I enjoy socializing, getting that much stuff back in return is overwhelming. This year, we had a "garage party" open house to gather canned food, and managed to fill the back half of our minivan as well as some cash donations and decorated boxes that they use to take food to shut in seniors. It was received very well in the neighborhood and I intend to make it an annual tradition. I took my kids to the food bank to drop the goods off, and it was very good for them to see people sorting and boxing stuff up so that they could understand why we collected everything.

    Whew, that was long.

  2. Heidi- you totally rock. Seriously.

  3. Sometime when I was pretty young (6 maybe?) my mom and I started a tradition where we'd each take a kid's name off the Angel Tree at the mall and go buy a toy for that child. We did it every year until I left for college. It meant getting to spend the afternoon with my mom and I learned young that Christmas is about everyone. My husband and I still buy at least one charity gift/donation/whatever each year.

  4. I totally agree with you. I took my 2 preschool-aged kids this year to BJs and had them pick out gifts they would like to get, and then we donated them to Toys for Tots, which they thought was fun. Another cool thing we did this year is that in my extended family, we have a name draw. Each person makes a wish list of things they would like to receive as presents, but also makes a kindness request that whoever gets his or her name has to honor. Some examples from our family this year: do something unexpected and kind for a neighbor, bake cookies and then distribute them to residents in a retirement home saying you are there to honor your grandparents' memory, volunteer to wrap toys for a store with an Angel Tree, and gather up gently used coats, hats, gloves, or scarves from the house and hand them out to homeless people on the street along your commute. We enjoy the "kindness swap" more than the regular gift swap, frankly, both coming up with ideas and fulfilling the ideas of the person whose name we drew.

  5. This has been something that's been on my mind, too. I want to raise my kids knowing how lucky we are to have our home, our clothes and books and toys and good food, to know that many families aren't so lucky. I want them to feel a resposibility to help.


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