This year, we decided to participate in the Family Giving Tree through my husband's work. My husband picked 3 cards, each with a name, age and Christmas wish for a local, low income child.
We set aside time this weekend to shop for the 3 presents. We wanted to include our children in the buying experience to give them an opportunity to learn about giving during the holidays. They were already pretty good at receiving.
On our way to get the presents, we thought it would be a good time to talk our children about the idea of giving to charity and why it's especially important during the holidays to share what you have with others. We told them the names of the 3 children and what each child wanted for Christmas.
Our oldest, Josie, was having a hard time understanding why we needed to get gifts for 3 children she had never met.
"But why are WE buying them gifts?" Josie asked from the back seat of our car.
"Because the people who love them aren't able buy them the gift that they want," I struggled to explain.
"Because it's a nice thing to do," my husband chimed in.
I worried we weren't saying the right things. It was such an important lesson.
"What are they going to buy ME?" Josie asked.
"They don't buy you anything," I said trying not to be too frustrated or appalled by her 4-year-old logic.
Josie paused for a long time. Finally she said, "Well, maybe I can invite them to my birthday party.”
For a nano-second, her words warmed my heart. She was inviting these children she had never met to her birthday. She was finally starting to understand what it meant to open your heart to people in need, I thought. But then, Josie clarified her intentions.
"If they come to my party, then they can bring me a gift," Josie said. Owen nodded in agreement.
I decided to give up on giving for now. "Let's just go and look for their gifts," My husband said as he pulled into a parking space at Target.
Every time we picked out something, my children whined a little that they didn't have that game or they wanted to wear that jacket. I stayed calm and told them time and again that these gifts were for children who weren't getting anything else for Christmas. I fought off urges to tell Josie and Owen to quit whining or they weren't getting anything for Christmas.
I tried my best to make this a positive experience. And, eventually, it was.
Josie and Owen started to look for gifts and call the children by name, “I think Nathaniel would like this computer,” Josie said as she pointed to a pretend laptop with musical buttons. “Nathaniel needs a Cars shirt too,” Owen said.
I can't say that this Christmas, I gave my children a true understanding of what it means to give to people in need. But I can say that as a family, we did it. We made a small difference in a holiday for 3 children that we will never meet and that will never give us anything back in return.
We did it to remind ourselves and our children that Christmas is really about giving and helping people in need. And eventually, if we keep doing it, I hope that one day my children will finally understand what it means.