Last year I posted about ways to shop local for Christmas (still a great idea, BTW). This year, I’d like to focus in on gifts OUTSIDE the family.
In the mass pandemonium that stretches between Thanksgiving and December 25th, it’s really easy to get caught up in the material side of Christmas. Is my nephew going to freak out if this isn’t the EXACT Ninjago spinner-thingamabob he wanted? Is my dad going to be bummed because I can’t find that limited edition sweater w/built in hand warmer thing he’s been hinting for? Will my sister-in-law go online after Christmas & try to figure out exactly how much I spent & get irritated because it wasn’t the exact amount she spent on me? Am I going to be “That Aunt” if I get my nieces & nephews learning toys instead of the random shiny crap they pointed to in the Big Toy Catalog of Magical Awesomeness?
Pssht…I’m TOTALLY okay with being “THAT Aunt”.
Sometimes I worry about my family falling into the trap of a Very Material Christmas. I mean…you get together at Thanksgiving, hand someone a list & say, “these are the things I want”. They hand you a list too. You go spend $50 on things from their list, they spend $50 on things from your list, and then a few weeks later, you get together and exchange your boxes. There are times I think, “why do we bother? Why not go spend $50 of your own cash and get the stupid crap you want?” Is the only mystery and magic left in Christmas spent wondering WHICH of the things on your list they will choose to get you?
That’s why I think it’s important to focus on Christmas as a Season of Giving. Not just to your family, but to your community. Instill in yourself, and in your kids (God bless their sweet, sticky little souls) a mentality of generosity and blessing. If you have an income, a loving family, good friends, a roof over your head, and enough food in the pantry to keep your family from starving, you are BLESSED. If you’re reading this, you likely live in a developed country, with rights and freedoms, and possibly free health care (looking at you, Canada). You are SO blessed. And when you think about those things, does it really matter what your Crazy Uncle Bernie gets you for Christmas, or if your neighbor’s decorations outshine yours?
So here are just a few suggestions for how you can give back this Holiday Season:
- Start a food/coat drive at your work: It doesn’t take much effort. Bring in a big box, place it a common area of your office, and send an email to your coworkers. If you work at a retail shop, ask your boss if you can solicit from customers & allow them to donate too. Some local charities will even provide you with a barrel & signage to use for your drive. Keep it open for a couple weeks, and send a reminder or two via mass email so people remember to donate. You can also allow people to give cash donations—and ask your management if the company will match the cash donations. A lot of companies will be more than happy to, and the initiative you’re taking to organize the drive will reflect well on you in the eyes of your boss, which doesn’t hurt.
- Adopt a Family for Christmas: Many local charities organize Adopt-A-Family programs around the holidays. They have families of all sizes who don’t have enough to spare for Christmas gifts. This is another good one to get your coworkers involved with. Just do a search for “Adopt a Family” and your town’s name. Your church might also know of some families who are in need of a little extra love around the holidays. My coworkers & I have been Adopting A Family for Christmas for several years now, and it’s always so rewarding to see the look on their faces when we show up to drop off the gifts (I won’t lie…someone usually cries, then I cry, there are hugs involved…). They are eternally grateful, and you will touch their lives forever.
- Give Blood: Most major towns will have blood centers that help supply area clinics & hospitals. Your gift of a pint of blood, which takes about 1/2 – 1 hour from start to finish (there’s a bit of paperwork), can help save a life. And many blood centers also have Reward Systems in place for their donors: our Community Blood Center of the Ozarks gives you points when you donate that can be cashed in for gift cards after as few as 2-3 visits. And they are currently giving out bonus points for donations given during the holiday season. I have O- blood, which makes me a “universal donor”, and since only 8% of people have O-, their supply of that blood type is often running low. Here’s a link to find your closest blood bank. Another bonus: many employers offer to pay for a few hours of community service per year; my employer will pay for up to 4 hours each year. Which makes the excuse of “well, I just don’t have time” completely moot.
- Find a Charity & Set Up a Monthly Donation: There are so many amazing charities out there that I can’t possibly list them all. But I will talk about one of my personal favorites: ModestNeeds.Org. This is a group that helps people with small, specific financial needs, like car repairs, or rent that’s past due because the patron was out of work with an injury. The average financial need of the applicant is about $750—which is a big chunk of change for one person, but if, say, 15 people donate $50 to it, it can be met in a matter of days. And you can search for applications that are in your state/town if you want to make sure your donation stays local. Applications are thoroughly researched and checked out before going onto the website to avoid fraud. And—they recently participated in an Impact Study showing that in “94.7% of all cases over the last decade, our seemingly small grants not only resolved the household’s short-term financial crisis; it gave that household the ‘breathing room’ they needed to permanently resolve whatever other financial issues they were facing both in the long-term, and without any additional help from anybody else!” And right now, they have a really generous offer from a benefactor who is willing to MATCH, dollar-for dollar, the next 2,000 people who sign up to be new monthly donors…whether that person is giving $15 or $150 per month. Which means your gift goes TWICE as far…it’s like a Groupon for Good.
- Give to a local Women’s Shelter: When abused women decide to leave a bad situation, it’s often an immediate flight from their home…meaning there’s a lot of things they don’t bring with them. One of those things is bathroom supplies: shampoo, conditioner, soap, lotion, etc. Whenever I travel for work, I collect all the toiletries that the hotel provides, bring them home, and when I get a gallon bag full, I take them to one of the local shelters. It costs me absolutely nothing, but it helps so many. If you don’t travel a lot, you can pick up a few extra supplies next time you’re at the store, or even buy some of the travel size bottles. Many shelters have a website that lists the items they need people to donate. It’s an easy way to help someone in your own community, even if you’re just donating things from your own house rather than money.
- Volunteer: Be a Bell Ringer. Serve at a Soup Kitchen. Help put together food baskets at your local pantry. Go visit your local nursing home and ask about patrons staying there who don’t have family that come & visit often, and introduce yourself. If you live in a snowy area, ask your church leaders if there are some elderly folks or single moms who could use a hand clearing their sidewalks, driveways, & cars. If you’re handy with tools, find a program that helps the elderly & single moms with odd jobs around the house and car maintenance. Get your kids involved: when you teach them that their time can bring joy to another person, you’re teaching them a lesson that can alter their life forever. And like I mentioned before—ask your employer if they will pay for a few hours of community service, which allows you to take an hour or two from work, if your after-work hours are crammed full of holiday shopping and the like.
- Be a neighbor: When I was growing up, I knew all of my neighbors. I sold them Girl Scout cookies, harassed them with Marching Band Fundraisers, babysat their kids, helped weed their yards. Today? I know ONE of my neighbors. And that’s a shame. So this year I’m trying to make an effort to go by & bring each of them a small plate of Christmas treats. If you’re not familiar with your neighbors, maybe it’s time you dropped by with a plate of cookies too. Or helped them put up their Christmas decorations. You never know when you’re going to need help finding your dog (or God forbid, your kid), getting unstuck from a ditch, getting a dead tree out of your yard, or need a jumpstart. And maybe you make a new friend.