It’s that time of year. We are smack-dab in the middle of the holiday season. Christmas crap is out before Halloween, friends are posting pictures of Christmas trees up before Thanksgiving and local parks, stores and eateries are putting up all their decorations. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not a Scrooge, but come on people; I can only listen to “Jingle Bell Rock” so many times before I want to pull out my hair out!
In an era of commercials bombarding us with huge Christmas trees perfectly decorated and overflowing with presents, black Friday specials starting Thursday night, and gift sets galore, there’s no wonder our landfills are overflowing with trash and food.
With my daughters being raised in a tech-saturated society, with an emphasis on a “more is better” ideology, it’s more important than ever to teach my girls the importance of generosity. I learned generosity early.
Since I was in grade school I remember on Thanksgiving and Christmas morning, my little family (consisting of Mom, sister and myself), would deliver food to the needy and less fortunate through Meals on Wheels.
Growing up, my Mom didn’t sugarcoat much. We were diligently taught there are people in the world who don’t have the basic life necessities. Individuals who don’t have houses to live in, coats to keep them warm, food to fill their bellies, and fans to keep them cool.
While I run around town with my girls in tow, I honestly answer the questions they so often ask.
“Mommy, why is that man sleeping on the ground?”
“Because, Baby, not everyone has a house to sleep in.”
“Well, Baby, there are many different reasons why. Maybe they lost their job, or lost a loved one.”
It’s my personal opinion that you are doing your children a disservice by telling them a lie. Instead, take this opportunity to have open, honest dialog (age appropriate of course) about what we can actively do to take action. Make "goodie" bags filled with basic necessities for example. Include your children in each step of the process. Talk about what basic necessities are and make a list. Go shopping and prepare the bags together. When out and about, let your children pass out the bags to whomever they choose. When you are at a stoplight, share snacks with the person behind the sign. Or when you’re running through the park, wave and say 'Hi!' Better yet, stop and have a conversation.
Another way to teach your children the importance of giving, and a life of minimalism is to clean out those closets and toy boxes and donate to a local shelter. Our family happily does this a couple times a year. My older daughter will often accompany me, and we discuss the importance of giving to those that are less fortunate. I regularly drop our gently used clothes and toys at Austin’s Children Shelter.
Another family tradition that is near and dear to our hearts is adopting a family for Christmas. My girls want for nothing. However, there are thousands of children in the Austin area that might not have presents under the tree if they are not adopted for the holidays. http://www.givingcityaustin.com/takeaction
If helping/ talking about the homeless seems too much for your little one, start closer to home. Here are a few ways to teach your child(ren) a great gift--The Gift of Giving:
· Volunteer at a local food bank
· Visit a nursing home and sing carols
· Stand outside a store and ring the Salvation Army Bell
· Look at what volunteer opportunities are available through your church
· Take cookies to a neighbor’s house/your classroom/teacher
· Cook a meal for a friend that is sick/just had a baby/or just because
· Pay off a class mates lunch balance.
· Pay for the car behind you in the Starbucks drive through line
· Let your children pick out snacks for the classroom
· Teach your children to stand up to bullies/stand up for someone being bullied.
This year instead of indulging our children with toys they don’t need (and will likely toss aside within ten minutes of opening), why don’t we instead take them to a local food distribution center and help them to serve nourishment to those in need? Why not find a family to adopt for the holiday season? Take them to a Nursing Home to sing songs to the residents.
Let’s teach them compassion, generosity, selflessness. These are characteristics that will build their self-esteem, boost their self - confidence and go far in developing future responsible adults. More importantly, they will learn to feel accomplished when they have done something for others. You will be giving your children the gift of “service.”
Don’t we all need a little help in our lives, a bit of compassion, forgiveness, inspiration in a world filled with hate?