Just the word usually brings a flurry of emotions and memories. For some it truly is “the most wonderful time of the year” and for others it is the season of extra traffic, extra busyness, and extra expenditures. Whichever end of that spectrum you land on colors your perception of the whole season.
I can remember as a child laying under the tree and gazing for hours at the twinkling lights and magical beauty of the ornaments. As a young mother, I enjoyed watching my kids eyes light up at that long-awaited toy. I considered the adventure of shopping for just the right gifts for family and friends downright fun, and the thought of giving someone money or a gift card never even had a possibility of happening.
Then, somewhere along the way of life, something changed. Christmas shopping became a chore, wrapping – a task to complete, and putting up the tree a pain. Finding just the right gift gave way to just getting the job done, especially as the family grew and the number of presents to buy increased. Some brave soul in the family suggested that we set a $40-dollar limit and draw names for the adult Christmas presents while still giving presents to all the kids. That worked great for a few years, but soon enough more and more of the gifts were gift cards or cash.
A few years ago, my husband Scott glibly made the comment that we should all just sit in a circle on Christmas morning and pass two twenty-dollar bills to our left and call it good. Ouch! We had turned Christmas, a sacred holiday, into nothing more than a money exchange. That comment put me on the path to find a way to bring back the joy of Christmas.
As a family, we decided to try pooling our money and sponsoring a needy family. None of us truly needed $40 worth of anything, not even Starbucks. But together we could turn an individual’s $40 into a family’s almost $500 and make a huge difference in someone’s life. That first year we found a needy family and purchased items for the individuals in the household. We tried to make sure that everyone had something they needed and something that was for fun. We bought coats and bicycles, toys and DVD players, socks and car seats and everything in between. And it was fun. Way more fun and more importantly rewarding than buying gift cards!
Last year we struggled to find a family until late in the season and at the last minute noticed a televised plea from the Salvation Army for toys and supplies for their toddler shelves. My sister-in-law and I had a great time spending the money at Buy Buy Baby. When we explained why we had baskets full of items for toddlers, the cashier kept finding more of those wonderful 20% off and $5 off coupons for us so we had even more money to spend. At the end of the shopping trip we brought sack after sack of supplies to replenish the Salvation Army’s shelves.
I love my family, and I don’t need a gift card to know that they love me. But when we can work together and give out of our abundance to someone that needs what we can provide, I love them even more. We give gifts to each other at Christmas to celebrate the gift that God gave to us when he sent His son. But over the years Christmas has become more about expectations than about giving of ourselves. When we give to those who are less fortunate, we look beyond ourselves, and I think we honor God with our gift.
Do you feel like you just pass around money at Christmas? If so, give this a try. I guarantee you, that shopping takes on a whole new meaning when your gift is truly needed. Christmas may still be extra busy with lots of extra traffic and require some extra expenditures, but with the right direction it is again a “most wonderful time of the year.”
"If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him? Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth." 1 John 3:17-18
SUSAN NIGHTINGALE | VOLUNTEER COORDINATOR