The Spirit of Christmas

For kids, Christmas is very much a time for getting gifts.  They can get caught up in the bells and whistles of Christmas and the excitement of getting what they want under the tree on Christmas morning.   But, what about those who aren’t so lucky?

As adults, we often get caught up in the stress of the season, going to crowded stores, trying to get what everyone wants at the best price possible.  It’s hard to feel like helping others when we feel so overwhelmed ourselves.

I’m no exception, and often find myself grumbling about crowds and forgetting to celebrate the spirit of Christmas.  However, the spirit of helping others is what make the season so special and is the most important thing that I can teach my daughter.  So, I’ve had to be deliberate about exposing her to the more selfless side of Christmas.

Ever since she’s been 4 or 5, we’ve established our own Christmas-giving traditions…things we look forward to doing and that force us to stop thinking about gift-getting and instead focus on what we can do to help others during this holiday season.  Here are some of the things we make a point of doing each year, to truly get us into the Christmas spirit!

Operation Christmas Child ( – This is a wonderful way to get kids involved, by having them fill a shoebox with items for a child in need (e.g. hygiene items, school supplies, hair accessories, toys, etc.).  Select a gender and age for your shoebox and then pack it accordingly (my daughter always chooses a girl that is her age, since she’s an ‘expert’ on what they would like).  The Dollar Store is perfect for this task…we generally fill the box for around $20 (make sure you refer to the list of do’s and don’ts provided on the website).   It’s also a good idea to bring along the box you’re going to use (our local Salvation Army stocks the Operation Christmas Child boxes, but you could also just use a standard shoe box), so that you can test things to see how they will fit.

Salvation Army kettle drive – This one has been around for many years and I gladly give to them over the holiday season.  Kids love it when they can actually put the money in the kettle, so get them involved.  For many years, I sat with the kettle at a local mall after work one day during Christmas (call your local Salvation Army and see if they can use your help).  When my daughter got old enough (she was around 7), I had her join me.  Admittedly, it can be a little boring for children, but if you choose a location with quite a bit of activity, it helps make the time go by faster.

A Book for Every Child – This is a program that is offered through our local library.  Certain book retailers (e.g. Chapters) provide a discount for books bought to be donated, then they give the books to the library who distributes them to local children.  My daughter loves this one because she absolutely loves books and can’t imagine what it would be like not to have some of her own.  I set a price limit and then have her choose a cross-section of books for different age levels and genders.

Food Bank – Almost all of our local grocery stores have a big bin for donations to the local Food Bank.  My daughter and I take a little trip to the grocery store and then place our items in the box.  Check out your local grocery stores for a similar program!

School food drive – Every year, my daughter’s school organizes a food drive for the local Food Bank, so we send in some canned goods and other non-perishable food items (I tend to send one or so a day, over a few days, since her backpack gets too heavy otherwise).

Check out this great article for even more ways that you can involve your children in helping others this holiday season.  Click here for some additional ways you can help others this holiday season, and all year round!

There are so many other things you and your children can do, too…some that cost nothing at all.  Just taking the time to hold the door for people or to smile and wish people a Merry Christmas, can really brighten up someone’s day!  Let your child be someone’s “Santa” this year!

What do you do with your children so that they experience the spirit of Christmas (share your ideas in the Comments)?

If you’re really interested in teaching your children the importance of helping others, you may also wish to read my posts on “The Real Meaning of Christmas” and “Giving to charity“.

Have a wonderful holiday season!

Giving to charity

I was so proud of my daughter this week-end!  She decided to have a charity bake sale to raise money for Breast Cancer research. Truthfully, I’m not sure how or why she chose this particular charity, but I left that one up to her (when it comes right down to it, the most important thing is that she was giving to charity, so the charity itself was somewhat secondary, provided it meant something to her).

She was very excited about this event, but I also made it clear that pulling something together like this would require a fair amount of work and that she would need to be involved, even in the ‘not so fun’ activities. I also knew it would be a fair amount of work for me (my daughter is only nine, so would require some assistance, especially when it came to the baking). However, in addition to the altruistic benefits of this event, I thought it had great potential from a learning perspective (I definitely had other things to do with my time, but I was pretty sure the overall ‘return on investment’ of this bake sale was going to be higher) .

One of her tasks was to spend some time planning things out and making sure she had everything she needed (this is always more involved than you think, which she was soon to realize). From purchasing plates and napkins (pink, of course, in keeping with the breast cancer theme), creating signage and posters advertising the bake sale prior to and during the event, and deciding on a money box (she used a jewelry box so that she had separate compartments for bills and change), there was quite a bit to think about before the big day.

In addition to all the organizational tasks, there was also some baking to be done. She and I made a couple of items (my daughter is interested in baking, so I really tried to step back as much as possible and let her learn how to do as much as possible on her own). My daughter invited a friend of hers to help out on bake sale day, so she was bringing a couple of items as well (thank goodness!). Of course, the baking was fun, but I also insisted that my daughter help with the clean-up, which she did without complaint.

The day of the event, my daughter was so all revved up. She lucked out and it was a beautiful day, so there were a decent number of people out and about, enjoying the wonderful weather. Our neighbors were truly generous…ultimately buying up almost all of the baked goods and topping up what they owed with additional donations.

My daughter and her friend were thrilled with the results and so was I. They raised $120 for charity but they also learned many important life skills in the process. She pulled me aside when the sale was over and said very seriously, “Mom, that was a really good experience”, and I couldn’t agree more!  That night, she thanked me for all my help, which made it all worthwhile (what can I say…a little appreciation goes a long way)!

Is there something that your children could do for charity (e.g. Walk for Cancer, go door-to-door and collect canned goods for the Food Bank, buy a gift for a needy child at Christmas, etc.)?  I know that time is limited these days, but helping your children in their efforts to give to others, is a huge investment in their future (not to mention, the future of the world).

If you’re interested in teaching your children about generosity and gratitude, you might also wish to read my post on Saying thank-you.