I love Christmas. I love the fact that there is something magical and familiar about this time of year, and that my kids get to participate in the tacky old traditions I used to love myself as a kid. Dodgy Santa photos. Constant impromptu barbecues as an excuse to drink moderately priced champagne. Swimming till your eyes are red raw. 6 weeks of potential beach days. A non stop soundtrack of Christmas carols which fluctuate between the nonsensical (ain’t never gunna be a Frosty the Snowman in this hood) and the ridiculous (I’m pretty sure Santa did not in fact pull his rusty holden ute through the sky with six white boomers.)
And then there’s the presents. And this is the part that always feels a bit gauche to me. I do love seeing my kids open their presents and I love giving friends and family something special – I am in fact, that cliche of a person that derives great pleasure from giving rather than receiving. It’s just that there’s so damn much of it, and like plenty of others I worry that the magic of giving part of Christmas can sometimes be overrun by the wild eyed crazy joy of receiving. So I’d like to teach my kids this year a little about the giving part of Christmas, and see if maybe I can’t gain back some ground. We are so, so ridiculously lucky – we are happy and healthy, we have food to eat and family and friends, and we have enough where other people don’t. This is the Inaugural Year of the Real Giving Tradition, and as part of our new Christmas tradition I asked a few dozen parents what they did to spread Christmas Cheer and give back to the community.
Look, I’m not completely naive. I know that I may very well have to bribe my kids with Santa presents or threaten them with the lack thereof in order to get through the Christmas holidays in tact (Jesus, 6 weeks at home!!) But long term I think this part of the season is important, and in fact it may help them to develop the right attitude towards giving, compassion and even materialism. Even if they stamp their feet a bit now. Kindness is in such short supply in this world, and I want them to feel the joy it can bring to show it.
So here’s a list of the ways that some families give back, if you want to follow suit.
- Wishing Trees
There are plenty of these around. Kids hospitals and shopping centres often have a tree, Kmart has one, and you can even add a few extra dollars to your groceries at Coles to go to a gift for a sick child over Christmas. The concept is simple – you buy a gift and pop it under the tree for an unknown recipient. Our school started their own after a few mums felt they wanted to contribute to the greater community. If you are brave enough, you could do the same. Some trees donate to children living in poverty, others to the elderly.
2. The Reverse Advent Calendar.
I LOVE this idea. I think it is my favourite. These are homemade calendars that are pretty simple to make. A friend of mine used a photo frame and hung 24 gift cards off it, (one per day). Each tag reveals when turned around reveals a different Christmas activity. Some are simple, like watching a Christmas movie with a friend, others are a charitable activity like donating to a local hamper, or volunteering time for a local Christmas Drive. You could even do it with random acts of kindness, adding in 24 different acts leading up to Christmas.
3. Collect Canned Goods and Donate to the Homeless
Adding a can of non perishables to each pre Christmas shop in late November/early December can create a pretty good supply of food for a needy family over the festive season. There are plenty of food banks around that will be glad of the donation.
4. Donate to a Women’s Shelter
I love ideas that recycle items that will remain unused. Some people collect unused toiletries either from hotels or from their own cabinet (we all know there’s a secret stash of stuff we can’t bear to throw out at the back of the bathroom cabinet that we’re never going to use), and donate to a local women’s shelter. Others participate in drives like the Share the Dignity initiative, filling an unused purse with items that may be useful for a mother in need.
5. Open Home Christmas Events
Another friend of has a rather special Christmas tradition where she opens her home to anyone – friends, family, neighbours or random people off the street – who don’t have any Christmas events to attend. It’s easy to forget that Christmas can be a particularly lonely time for many. This is a very simple way of spreading kindness – she does a tree decorating afternoon, but I know of others that open their home for Christmas day too.
6. Go Christmas Carolling at a Retirement Village
Many residents of retirement villages will have nothing to do on Christmas Day or in the lead up. A group of teenagers I know have joined together to go carolling in local retirement homes in an effort to spread the Christmas spirit and bring a smile to the faces of the residents that can’t see family over the Christmas period.
7. Buy A Chicken or Pig to Feed A Village
Plenty of charities run seasonal promotions that provide food for a village over Christmas. This may seem like a less tangible way of giving back, but it has definite impacts on some of the poorest people in the world. It also allows for a little education if you get your kids involved in the process – living in a country that is so very lucky, we can sometimes lose sight of the hardships that others around the world face. This is especially true of children.
8. Buy Gifts at Oxfam or Other Charity Stores
We have a beautiful local charity that sells handmade items (and amazing coffee) from Ethiopia in order to raise funds for medical assistance for Ethiopian women. The gifts are gorgeous and they have meaning beyond Christmas for mothers and children in the villages of Africa.
9. Forgo a gift
I’ve actually done this before – each year when the kids were smaller we would donate one of their brand new gifts to the Smith Family. In some families, parents pool money instead of giving each other gifts and donated to charities like Planned Parenthood, or Hope for A Village in Fiji.
10. Shoebox Gifts
Some charities organise a shoebox appeal, where a family packs a shoebox or basket full of gifts and food for kids who would otherwise not receive anything at Christmas. I love this idea because you can donate a lot or a little depending on your own circumstances.
List of Charities Recommended By Families that Give at Christmas
- K-Mart Wishing Tree
- The Food Bank
- The Red Cross
- Share the Dignity #itsinthebag appeal
- OxfamFeed a Village appeal
- Hamlin Fistula Ethiopia