My 6-year-old starts planning his Christmas list on the Fourth of July. It’s an ever-changing catalog that reorders itself faster than I can eat a pile of gingerbread cookies. My kid loves a lot about the holidays, but I’m guessing it’s the getting presents aspect he loves the most. I’ve come to this conclusion because he says, “Mom, I love getting presents the most!” While receiving is certainly awesome fun, I try to find ways to show my kid the other magic inherent in the season — the magic of giving.
There’s something to be said about reveling in childlike enthusiasm during the holidays. I adore watching my little guy dive into a box or swim through wrapping paper with total abandon. His face shines brighter than the lightsaber I gave him last year. His happiness is contagious, and I definitely don’t want to shame his joy — I’m just looking for ways he can pass it on.
It seems I’m not the only one with the idea of looking for ways to pass on the joy of the holiday season and also balance some of my family’s getting and giving dynamic. David Sharp, communications coordinator for the charitable organization St. Vincent de Paul, says, “During the holidays we find an influx of people donating items and also an influx of volunteers.” He also says that on major holidays its open kitchen “is packed elbow to elbow with people and volunteers.”
That kind of compassionate contribution can’t be put in a box to be unwrapped later. It’s not tangible like blocks or paints, and this is why my 6-year-old can easily overlook the concept.
“For the food pantry,” David says, “we always need canned food donations. As the temperature drops, things like winter coats, hats, scarves, and gloves always come in handy.” One hundred percent of the net profits from a donation to one of its thrift stores will help fund programs and services for people in crisis. Donating is one way to encourage my son to spread his gift giving wings. However, in the instances where I’ve tried to nudge him in that direction, to him it felt like a huge push.
When my son was younger, I took some unwanted toys the dust bunnies had been playing with and put them out to donate. When I explained my intentions, all he could feel was loss, and all he could see were his beloved friends going away forever. He totally missed out on the bigger picture because I hadn’t given him the space to make the choice on his own. No gingerbread cookies for Mom on that day.
As my little guy has grown into a bigger guy, I’ve watched his giving spirit emerge — like the time he made holiday cards for family members or tried to organize breakfast in bed for the dog on her birthday. Now I see an opportunity for him to better understand the deep sense of love that’s felt in giving.
We’ve started talking again about what it means to give and taking shopping trips to pick out other items like diapers and coats to donate. His helpful heart is rising to the surface. He’s started looking through his drawers to see what he can offer.
“We see families donating together and a lot of children volunteering with their parents as well,” says David. I can’t force my kid to learn lessons, but I can create the opportunity for him to. Hopefully, my little guy can begin to have an even fuller and more magical holiday experience during the season of giving.
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