As I turned on Christmas music for the first time this year the weekend after Thanksgiving, I explained to my children that in my mind, this marks the official transition from one season to the next. I’m just not ready for Deck the Halls and Silver Bells until I’ve stored the last of the turkey and pumpkin pie, so I hold off on all things Christmas until another Thanksgiving is in the books. I especially love the retailers who let us finish one holiday before we begin the next (I’m looking at you, Nordstrom!).
But once I start the transition to Christmas, I’m all in on all fronts! Decorating, shopping, baking, caroling, and wrapping my way around the house, I’m a veritable Mrs. Claus on a merry-making bender.
And, after a month of squeezing lessons on gratitude into as many dinner conversations and car rides as possible, it’s time to move on to the next life lesson I want to impart to my littles while they are under my roof.
As we enter this season of Advent and prepare our family for Christmas, we’ll be talking a lot about what it means to give generously. While giving is certainly a topic year-round, there seem to be plenty of extra opportunities in December to bring the lesson to life.
For starters, this week, our church put up its Angel Tree, laden with ornaments holding gift requests from children in need. My kids couldn’t wait to pull ornaments from that tree, and we love helping them shop for the children they’ve chosen, reinforcing that it’s our privilege to show these children that someone they’ve never even met cares about them enough to fulfill their Christmas wish.
It would be easy to underestimate the importance of programs like the Angel Tree, but if you’ve ever known an adult who was on the receiving end of this holiday magic as a child, you have likely heard first hand how these simple acts of generosity profoundly altered his or her world view.
Oprah Winfrey famously tells a story of being 12 and being told there would be no Christmas for her that year. Devastated, she began to craft the story she would tell to explain the situation to her classmates, hiding the truth from them at all costs. But then, just before Christmas, her family was visited by nuns who brought food and gifts to her home, restoring her faith that someone did care for her family…that she was not forgotten. Years later, in 2002, Oprah launched the Christmas Kindness project to pay that act forward by giving gifts to 50,000 children in need, a movement which inspired countless others to follow her lead.
Tony Robbins, a world-famous motivational speaker, often speaks of how a simple gift of a holiday meal so touched him as a child that he began feeding families in need as soon as he had a job of his own. What started as a commitment to feed just one family a year has grown into a tremendous legacy with a foundation that has donated millions of meals to food-insecure households.
More personally, a dear friend once recounted a story of receiving a bottle of premium perfume through a charity’s giving tree as a teenager – not one of the cheap drugstore brands that many people might buy as a donated gift – but a brand new bottle of a department store perfume. This treasured gift was a sign to her that she was worthy of something special and that someone out there cared enough about the needs of a stranger to buy it just for her. Today, this special woman is hands-down one of the most generous people I know both with her time and her financial resources.
My own father, who grew up in a home with very limited means, still can’t speak of the Christmas generosity he received as a child without tears filling his eyes and a lump forming in his throat. Each December I watch in quiet admiration as he finds opportunities to pay that generosity forward in ways both big and small.
If there’s one common thread to these stories, it’s that the gift itself matters far less than what it symbolizes to the person receiving it.
If we just pay attention, I think we’ll find opportunities for giving everywhere this month. Let’s keep our eyes open and challenge ourselves to send the most empowering and encouraging message possible through the gifts we give and the acts of service we perform.
You may never learn of the lasting impression your gift makes, but what if we choose to give as though the recipient’s faith in her own worth and in the goodness of the world around her depends upon our generosity? After all, it just might.