It’s nearly dawn on Christmas morning. The sun has not yet risen, but my children have and they are anxious to see what Santa has brought for them. They come sneaking into my bed and pull on my arm, urging me to go with them to look under the tree.
My husband gets the video camera and together, we trek to the living room, where a mound of presents awaits. My son unwraps a train and some Legos. That’s all he gets, but he looks for more. My daughter rips through her loot in a flurry and dumps her stocking onto the floor. As she surveys the bounty before her, she looks up at me and inquires, "is that all?". At that moment, I realize I have failed at teaching my children the true meaning of the holiday season.
That year, I decided to start a new holiday tradition. I packed my family into our jeep, and drove them to the local fast food restaurant. I ordered twenty Super Value meals and headed to the park where the homeless slept. I handed each child a bag and encouraged them to pass out the food to those who didn’t even have a home, let alone a bundle of presents. At first, they were intimidated, but after they received their first hearty thanks and a near toothless smile, I saw their faces brighten and I knew right then, they understood the true meaning of the holiday season.
Each year, the week before Christmas, we bake cookies and collect donations of food and clothing and hand them out to the homeless. This has become as much a part of our holiday as the tree and all its trimmings. This is a lesson that my children carry with them throughout the year and hopefully throughout their lives. My son can’t pass by a homeless man on the street now, without asking to buy him a burger.
Whether it’s Christmas, Hanukkah, or Kwanza, or merely the season itself, the time between Thanksgiving and New Years is hopefully more than just about “getting stuff,” which is sadly what most children inherently seem to believe. Amongst the multitude of present requests, shopping expeditions and holiday concerts and plays, it’s important for us to teach our children gratitude for all the blessings they have in their lives. Not everyone in the world is as fortunate as we are, so most importantly, we must teach them to give back.
Many churches and temples collect donations for the needy during the holidays. Have your child to go throughout the neighborhood, collecting for a local charity. Fire stations, police stations, even some restaurants and stores have toy drives. Encourage your child to purchase a new toy for someone in need and pay for it with their allowance. For older children, have them volunteer while on vacation from school. Organizations such as Meals on Wheels are always looking for volunteers to help through this busy time of the year. Watching a child approach a charity, their faces glowing with pride, is much more satisfying than seeing them smile for a department store Santa. It’s difficult for them to make the shift from thinking selfishly to thinking altruistically, but once they do, it’s an attribute they will carry with them perpetually, helping them make this world a more affable place for all of us to live.