Every Christmas we hear the question and see the videos of small children being tested by adults as they are asked, “What is Christmas really about?” We hope that, if our children were on that video, they wouldn’t respond like many of their youthful peers with, “Presents!”
We want our children to know that Christmas is about giving, not receiving, and recognizing God’s great gift to humanity–the gift of Jesus. We want them to articulate this belief when asked. After all, we tell them enough times they should be able to remember it, right? Yet the messages we send to our children with our actions and priorities sometimes don’t match what we are trying to instill.
I was convicted of my family’s holiday giving when I read Jesus’ words, “So if you sinful people know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give good gifts to those who ask him.”(Matthew 7:11) The majority of my Christmas giving was to people I knew and loved: my children, my extended family, my friends, and close neighbors. I was challenged to think about God and the way He gives. What does God give? Good gifts! All blessings flow from Him. Everything He has created and gives is beautiful and good. How does He give? Lavishly! Who does He give to? To us–His children, a.k.a., the sinful people Christ was referring to in the first part of the verse. He even gives to those who reject Him, to those who don’t know Him; yet He gives regardless.
My Christmas giving was not reflecting the heart of our Savior. My holidays were packed with decorating and holiday crafts; numerous advent countdowns and nativity scenes with their accompanying Bible stories; Christmas party planning, Christmas baking, and getting presents ready to wrap and ship. All good things, but the more I examined where I was putting my time and resources, it didn’t match God’s example. Sure, I dropped money in the bell ringer’s bucket outside of the store or picked up a gift for a needy child, but once the action was complete I felt I had done my part. My attitude was more of a pious Pharisee than of Jesus–obtaining knowledge and not putting it into practice by reaching out into our community.
Please realize, I’m not advocating not purchasing anything for your children or family; that’s not at all what I am saying! What I am trying to express with this post is that if we do not put those who are outside of our “inner” circle on our priority list, we are perpetuating the “Christmas is presents” mentality by our actions not matching our words.
Here are some ideas to get your children thinking about and enjoying the blessing of giving:
1. The homeless get a lot of food assistance on holidays since many families like to serve on Thanksgiving and Christmas, but our service to those in need could be easily be expanded outside of those two days.
- Special treats are appreciated and a steaming cup of hot chocolate with a candy cane stir quickly warms a heart. My family has an advantage in this area since we have befriended many in the homeless community; we know exactly where they stay and are welcome at their “residence.” If you do not have this luxury, then I suggest traveling with a thermos and disposable cups to pass out at store fronts or street corners. You could also make their waiting in line at shelters for food or a place to stay the night pass more quickly by meeting them there an hour before the doors open.
- Socks are another gift the homeless delight in. Clean, soft, warm socks are a pampering treat to tired feet.
- Hygiene kits are practical gifts that last through the holidays. Deodorant, toothpaste, tooth-brush, hair brush, baby wipes, shampoo, soap, and razors are blessings we rarely think about. For women, be sure to include feminine hygiene products like pads and tampons. Often I buy Ziploc bags and divide the products that I buy to help save money and save them from having to store entire boxes of products.
- Many in our homeless community have dogs; show God’s love to all His creatures by purchasing canned dog food or treats for their canine friends.
2. You and your children may spend a lot of time with their grandparents, but there are some elderly folks who rarely have a visitor.
- Take your family caroling or put on a play at a local nursing home.
- Many residents love to read but can no longer see well; reading a Christmas story or holiday poetry will be a refreshing escape.
- Find out how many residents a senior center has and make holiday place cards or a tiny craft to accompany their food trays.
- Bring board games to play with individuals or small groups. Trivia games and holidays party games can be played with large groups.
- Make wreaths ahead of time with your family, or craft together with your new senior friends so they have beautiful decorations for their doors.
- Suncatchers for windows are another idea that brightens a day.
- Speak with the administration and see if there is a particular individual that could use a family. You can adopt a grandparent for the holidays by bringing treats, visiting, holding a hand, and building a relationship that will last.
- Your family might be able to bless the employees and residents alike by offering to decorate the facility or main hall (or to un-decorate after the holidays).
3. It breaks our hearts to think a child wouldn’t be at home at Christmas, but that is the reality for those in the pediatric units of many hospitals.
- If you have children who can tie knots you can easily teach them to make simple fleece lap blankets for youthful patients (these would be great for the nursing home as well).
- If you have children who are able to sew, many pediatric wards like to hand out small pillows that can be used after surgeries to aid in getting out of bed and offer comfort from coughing. The more brightly colored and patterned the better!
- Beautiful or fun pillowcases are great ways to bring cheer and are perfect for carrying stuff home in when they leave. It’s another easy sewing project or an inexpensive purchase.
- Your family could establish a “drive” for your local pediatric ward. The items you collect could be crayons and markers, coloring books, stickers, character band-aids, teen/children’s magazine, or slippers.
- Parents are sometimes not expecting to stay the night (or days at the hospital); you can make small care packages with snacks, pens and paper, and a few hygiene items.
4. Many single parents are not afforded the luxury of staying home with their children. Balancing life, work, and holidays can be overwhelming.
- Your family could easily bless their family with a home-cooked meal or baked goods. Easing the burden of the mom or dad who wanted to bake Christmas cookies, but hasn’t had a chance, would be an immense blessing.
- Another idea is to to bake sugar cookies, but don’t decorate them. Send some icing and sprinkles with the plain cookies for an easy evening or weekend activity for their family.
- Putting up Christmas lights can be another holiday blessing when a single-parent family is short on time or resources.
- Chores like yard work, laundry, or babysitting are a Christmas gift every mom or dad could use.
5. Christmas can be a lonely time for a husband or wife that lost their spouse earlier in the year.
One year we heard about a man in our neighborhood who lost his wife to cancer at the end of the summer. We didn’t know him, but we decided we would “elf” him for the 12 days preceding Christmas in hopes of bringing him some Christmas cheer. When it would get dark we would sneak a small practical or silly gift on his doorstep with a note, ring his doorbell, and run! We would watch from afar as he would open his door and look around and smile. My kids were beside themselves with excitement and anticipation for our evening covert operation and we had fun coming up with gifts and riddles.
The first night we left a small ornament and a note that said something like, “A Christmas gift for you, from guess who. In twelve days you’ll find out. – The Christmas Elves.” The gifts we left were inexpensive or things we had around the house and we paired them with silly sayings, like oranges with a note that said, “Orange you glad it’s almost Christmas?”
On Christmas Eve day we went to his home for the reveal with a homemade cake and introduced ourselves. I won’t lie, it was a bit awkward because he wasn’t expecting strangers, but we quickly formed a great friendship from that day forward. He told us later how much our “elfing” meant to him and how it helped him get through that first holiday without his wife. The blessing to our family was immeasurable as well.
You don’t have to reinvent the wheel this Christmas. There are many great established organizations that bless people at Christmas. Get your entire family involved!
Here are a couple standouts:
- Operation Christmas Child – Your family can be a part of sharing God’s love to children in one of 130 different countries by filling and decorating a shoe box. Simple enough, but potentially life-changing to a child who hears about the love of Jesus. You can even make this into a homeschooling co-op or neighborhood project. What a great opportunity to teach about leading and coordinating a group project!
- Angel Tree – Angel Tree is an amazing ministry that purchases gifts on behalf of prisoners to give their children. This program is dependent on the generosity of individuals and families to go out and do the shopping for the incarcerated parent. How loved a child feels when he receives a present from a parent he won’t get to spend time with this holiday. This beautiful sacrifice of time and money will speak volumes about empathy to your children.
Our goal for Christmas should mirror the words of a repentant Ebenezer Scrooge, from A Christmas Carol, who said, “I will honor Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year.” We do this by modeling our giving after the example God has set. He gave a great gift to a sinful and broken world. He offered hope that those who feel they don’t belong could one day have a permanent home with Him. He offered a considerate and compassionate hand to those society wanted to forget. He offered healing to people who were physically and spiritual ill. He came alongside those who were trying to do it alone and carried their burdens. He offered comfort to those who had lost so much. At Christmas we are reminded of His style of good, generous, and sacrificial giving, a giving we are to imitate and embrace not only during this season but everyday.
Full disclosure: Although I have done many of the things on this list I have not done them all. I love hearing how families serve their community during the holiday and all year. Please share some of your ideas for serving and giving at Christmas below in the comments!