Teaching Kids the True Meaning of Christmas with Giving

The year was 2010. I was a busy mother of four, with kids ranging from six to fourteen. And I was discouraged. Christmas, for all its good intentions of being the holiday of peace and goodwill toward men, was shaping up to be a season of crummy behavior in our house. Kids fought and bickered constantly and, unfortunately, the focus was all “me, me, me.”

One evening, about a week before Christmas, I hit my breaking point. After several unheeded warnings to improve behavior, I grabbed a large black garbage bag from under the kitchen sink and filled it with all the gifts under the tree. I then dramatically took the bag to the garage and threw it in the “trash.” I meant business, and now the kids knew it.

There would be no Christmas cheer at our house unless they learned how to give at Christmas.

The challenge was simple; each child had to provide one thoughtful gift—a handmade item or act of service—for each member of the family to be opened on Christmas Eve. No store-bought gifts allowed. The intent was to shift their focus from getting to giving at Christmas.

The kids spent the next week focused entirely on what they were going to give to each member of the family on Christmas Eve. While their motivation began with earning back Christmas, it quickly transformed into a concerted effort to forget about themselves and focus on the needs and wants of others. Suddenly the incessant refrain of “me, me, me” turned into honest feelings of giving and love as our kids turned their hearts outward. Magically, Christmas was becoming what it was meant to be.

That Christmas Eve, each member of our family, parents included, felt the joy of giving rather than receiving at Christmas—all without a single trip to the store. Here is a sample of the gifts they exchanged.

·   A shoe-box-and-rubber-band guitar

·   A painted, hand-carved dolphin

·   A pop-up book entitled “The Year Without Christmas” (That one was an instant classic!)

·   A handwritten poem

·   An organization box for art supplies

Because the kids shifted their focus from getting to giving, they earned back the other gifts they had lost. But it’s not an exaggeration to say that they loved and valued the personalized gifts so much more. It was the best part of Christmas. What started as a lesson to young kids became a tradition in our home for several years.

The Benefits of Giving at Christmas

According to Cone Health, giving can help your kids (and you) in significant ways. When your kids adapt a giving attitude at Christmas (and throughout the year), they can enjoy lower anxiety and depression and higher self-esteem. Additionally, Kitty Stafford, Nursing Director of Adult Services at Behavioral Health Services for Cone Health, suggests these 4 Health Benefits of Giving to Others. She says:

  1. Giving makes you feel happy. Your brain’s pleasure circuits are stimulated by acts of charity and release “good feeling” chemicals such as endorphins, which give you a sense of euphoria, and oxytocin, which promotes tranquility and inner peace.
  2. Giving is good for your health. Stress is the catalyst for many known health issues. Giving has been proven to decrease blood pressure and reduce stress. This reduction promotes longer life and better health.
  3. Giving promotes social connection. Studies show that when you give to others, your generosity is often continued down the line to someone else or returned to you. This strengthens our ties to each other.
  4. Giving is contagious. When one person gives, it inspires others to do the same. ​

15 Ways to Teach Your Kids to Give at Christmas

If you need some suggestions to get you started on the road to giving this Christmas, try one or more of these ideas.

1. Twelve Days of Christmas. Pick a family in your neighborhood to shower with gifts for the twelve days leading up to Christmas. Doing this anonymously is even more fun. You can follow a theme, pick random gifts, or stick to the traditional holiday song when deciding what to give. Then pile everyone in the car after sundown and leave the gifts on the doorstep before ringing the doorbell and dashing.

2. Cookie Exchange. Get your kids involved in this fun holiday tradition. Have your kids invite some friends to bring a plateful of favorite holiday treats. Then assemble plates with an assortment of goodies to take to deserving families in the neighborhood or church congregation. Nothing makes adults happier than being served treats by kids.

3. Donate Gently Used Toys. If you’re like many families, you have a few toys lying around the house collecting dust. If your kids are asking for more toys this Christmas, encourage them to donate those they don’t use to others in need or to local Goodwill stores.

4. Giving Trees. Many stores and other establishments sponsor giving trees during the holidays. Invite your children to pick one or more items off a giving tree and shop for new items as a family. Consider inviting your kids to donate some of their Christmas gift budget to purchase items for others. They truly appreciate the benefits of giving if they’re asked to sacrifice something in the process.

5. Salvation Army Buckets. Make a habit of encouraging your kids to donate a portion of their own change to the Salvation Army Buckets every time you go to the store during December. Better yet, sign up as a family to ring the bell for the Salvation Army Bucket in your area. Register today.

6. Coat/Clothing Collection. Encourage your kids to start a coat or clothing collection. These items can be donated to local Goodwill stores, refugee organizations, or homeless shelters.

7. Make Donations to Charities. There are many trustworthy charities that can benefit from online donations this time of year. Several charities have partnered to present the Light the World campaign, which offers Giving Machines around the United States where you can purchase items, vending-machine style, to donate to charity. And if you’d like to give online, you can donate at serverefugees.org, unicefusa.org, carepackage.org, cwsglobal.org, wateraid.org, unrefugees.org, and many more.      

8. Shovel Snow/Serve Seniors. If you live in an area that gets snow at Christmastime, encourage your kids to seek out opportunities to shovel for seniors—for free. And if it doesn’t snow, look for other ways to serve seniors in your neighborhood this time of year.

9. Caroling. Residents at local retirement and assisted-living homes get lonely this time of year. Take your kids and share your musical talents and spread some Christmas cheer. You might even consider blessing the patients at local hospitals with your musical talent. Just make sure to call ahead to honor COVID-19 and other restrictions.

10.  Volunteer at local soup kitchens or food banks. As the weather gets colder and schedules get busier, more hands are needed to serve those in need. Check with your local services to see if you can help.

11.  Bake Sale for Charity. Encourage your kids to sell baked goods for charity. It’s a great way to earn some money to give back to those in need.

12.  Free Hot Chocolate Stand. Help your kids set up a free hot chocolate stand. Everyone loves a little warmth and good cheer on a cold wintery day. Especially think about first responders when choosing whom to serve.

13.  Gift Cards. Sometimes teenagers in need get forgotten at Christmas. Consider donating gift cards for local restaurants and clothing stores to at-risk teen centers in your community. This gives teenagers an opportunity to purchase things they need and want on their own terms.

14.  Extra Snacks to School. On a smaller scale, send an extra snack or two with your kids to school each day. Encourage them to find someone new to share them with each day. This is a simple act of giving that can give your kids confidence, help them make new friends, and encourage them to experience the joys of giving.

15.  Letters to the Military. Help your kids write letters to people in the military or others giving service away from home.

Giving is the Reason for the Season

We can hardly celebrate Christmas without embracing the traditional Christian value of selflessly giving to others. If you’re finding that your Christmas season is becoming more and more hectic and me-centered and less and less filled with peace and goodwill, consider adding a little more giving to your agenda. Speaking from many years of experience, I can verify that when you and your kids focus on giving to others during this time of year, you will feel more contentment and satisfaction as you bless the lives of others.

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