Christmas is truly a wonderful time of year. Holiday cheer, a snow covered ground (which is severely lacking this year), quality time with family, and delicious meals are just a few things that brighten my day. One of the things I detest are the mobs of people rushing out to get gifts for friends and family, sometimes accompanied by road rage once they are back in their cars. Now it is going to hard to not sound like a scrooge here, but gift giving is not my favorite thing to do and for several years now in our immediate families (parents, siblings and their spouses) we have bucked the trend and decided not to exchange presents. Now before you judge, let me explain.
First of all, we started doing this when there were no young kids in the family so we are not depriving any children of the magic of Santa. We just collectively agreed that giving each other a gift because we were supposed too was not the true essence of Christmas. Yes, Christmas is about giving, but not about giving stuff. With a few of us leaning towards more of a minimalistic way of life, Christmas gift giving was sort of wasteful. Sometimes you just know right off the bat that an individual is going to absolutely love their gift but this does not always happen. So sometimes gifts just sit on the shelf or maybe even get re-gifted. Instead of buying into the Christmas tradition of buying gifts for each other we decided that we would spend quality time together celebrating our family (as we do actually enjoy getting together) and instead give back to the community.
As Christmas is a time of giving, we haven’t completely abandoned this concept, we have just redirected it from our immediate family to those in need. Six years ago we contacted a local community program that provides to families in need. Caseworkers go out to families in need that might not otherwise be able to enjoy Christmas and put together a wish list. You let them know how many children you want to sponsor then receive a list with the first name, age and a list of items that the child might want. You can buy some or even all of the items listed.
The first year we participated we sponsored three kids. Two were brothers aged 15 & 16 and the third was an 8 year old boy. Although for confidentiality reasons you really don’t know a lot about the kids and their situations, this particular year I was able to find out that the father of the teenaged boys had unexpectedly died a few months earlier. After finding this out and reviewing the list of items, my heart broke a little. Some of the things listed were winter jackets, hats, gloves and winter boots. Being we live in an area that is (normally) cold and snowy in winter, I felt like we couldn’t miss any of these items. Other things listed were winter Carhartt coveralls as one of the boys was a student in the auto mechanics program. Knowing the importance of having the right clothing for a job and that this could very likely be this kids job out of high school, we also purchased these. Out of anything that this family could ask for, everyday essential items were what was wanted most. I did some of the best deal shopping of my life and bought every single item on those lists. I felt such joy dropping off bags of items to that case worker who was overwhelmed by our generosity. It still brings tears to my eyes knowing that we could make a difference in a person’s life simply by redirecting our gift giving to someone who actually truly needs it.
I will admit it is hard to buy a gift for someone who you don’t know at all but I just hope that the gifts I have purchased in past years really did bring some joy to families in need (one year I did get a thank you note from a mother). After participating in this program for 5 years this is the first year we haven’t sponsored any children. We are still giving back but instead have decided to donate to local charities such as ones that provide either food or shelter for those in need. The most important thing to us about this tradition is that the holiday’s shouldn’t be about giving gifts to our middle class family members but to instead give back to the community and to those who really do need it.
One of the interesting things is that our Christmas tradition really has improved the holiday season for us. Instead of stressing out trying to do all the shopping and preparing for the holiday’s, we get to concentrate on just enjoying it. It is so freeing and works so well for us. Sometimes when we share this with other people they look at us like we are crazy but other people get so envious as they are up to their eyeballs with things to do and stressed out. Whatever your holiday traditions might be, I hope they bring you joy and happiness and don’t break the bank.