Monday, December 3, 2012

Thinking outside of the "gift box" at Christmas

The other day, I was kindly asked what my children would like for Christmas. So, I surveyed their bedrooms, looked through their toy bins and took stock of their clothes and shoes. But I came up totally empty.

My husband is an unabashed geek and being technologically savvy is the bread and butter of our existence, but we try to keep our kids as unplugged as possible.  So they don't have hand held devices or even the Wii, and the little screen time they are permitted is more than slightly policed.  Scratch out video games, for the time being anyway. 

Feeling a bit lost, I sat down with a catalog that came in the mail, and tried to narrow down a few things. But I couldn't run away from the vision of the lego debris all over the floor (that never seems to subside in our house), and the matchbox cars that I find under the piano and in my purse on any given day, and the stacks of old board games which no one seems to have the time to play.  Stacks + Piles + Debris = dusty garage sale items. Eeek. Scratch that.

Then I began thinking along the lines of practical things, like fishing gear, a tool box, a telescope or an archery set. But those require time to acquire a certain skill, time which is hard to find at this stage of our parenthood. 

The only thing that makes sense to me is books, since we love to read with our children and reading is my favorite way to spend time with them. If I had to ask for anything, books are the clear winner (cue the confetti!)

But stuff? No, we don't need any more stuff.  Recently we were generously given  by family some great new board games, puzzles and a few fantastic movies. I will wrap those up, with some new shoes that I bought for the boys.  My hubby is launching some secret backyard project, and maybe this will be the year we will get that bike trailer so we can take family bike rides. And we will all be giddy about that!

We are a country of blessed abundance, but that can turn into a culture which makes us feel like we are depriving our children, and ourselves, if we are not showered with gifts at Christmas. It is way too easy to get caught up in the commercialism of giving store-bought presents instead of adoring Christ’s holy presence. It can turn into a fanatical frenzy of trying to find the “perfect thing” for everyone, when really the “perfect thing” is simply to spend time as a family worshipping our Lord and sharing loving acts of service with our community.

In the spirit of St. Nicholas' generosity on his feast day today, why not challenge our families to do something a little different this year.  Children are hungry for meaningful experiences, and really benefit from family growth opportunities. These are lessons that might shape their future careers and families.  Here are some ideas of how we can think outside of the box with gifts we can bring to Jesus and to each other this year. 

Gifts of Service
  • Buy gifts for needy children through the Angel Tree project at the parish. You can also volunteer to help wrap those gifts as a family, or deliver them to homes.
  • Visit a hospital, or the elderly at a nursing home as a family or offer to serve a meal at the nursing home close to your home or a soup kitchen. Our family sings Christmas carols at our local nursing home, and it’s a beautiful way to share the love of Christ on His birthday.  Many are lonely and without family on Christmas Day.
  • Sign up to deliver Christmas dinner to the needy, or have your children help you stuff grocery bags to deliver to a nearby food bank.
Gifts of Worship and Prayer
  • Attend the Christmas cantata or concert at your parish as a family, they are usually free!
  • Share an extra adoration hour as a family
  • Visit a “living nativity scene” and bring some neighbors or friends along to witness the true miracle of Christmas. This is a very special experience for young children!
  • Read the Magnificat as a family and write about your reflections, take turns faith sharing with your friends or family.
  • Attend the Advent penance service as a family
  • Sing Christmas Carols in your neighborhood.  Talk to a few neighbors ahead of time so they know to have egg nog and cookies for you, or at the very least go out of town ;)
If you’d like to do spend your money in a way which can bless a family or community, there are numerous non-profit organizations which devote themselves to breaking the cycle of poverty in underdeveloped nations in very innovative and effective ways. These are a few of my favorite organizations. You will be amazed what a few simple U.S. dollars can do for a family across the world.

Gifts that give twice.
  • Work of Human Hands Sale sponsored by Catholic Relief Services– Purchase Christmas beautiful handcrafted gifts by artisans from impoverished nations. The money you spend goes directly to the person who made your gifts! Also, you can even set a sale up in your own parish! Visit website.
  • Heifer Ranch International – End world hunger by buying a chicken, or a rabbit, a tree or a cow for a whole village to share. For just a few dollars, you could help feed a whole community of people, who will then be able to save their wages to send their children to grade school and eventually college.
  • Christian Foundation for Children and Aging - Catholic organization for sponsoring children  and the elderly
  • Make a donation to Catholic Relief Services  to help bring aid to people facing true crisis, here in the States and across the world, such as those still recovering from the effects of Hurricane Sandy. (
Peace be with us all at the beginning of this Advent season. As we prepare our hearts to enter the mystery, let us all be inspired to believe that our prayers and our actions can make small miracles happen that may ripple throughout the world at Christmas, and continue in the New Year. Let us give ourselves permission to quietly step back from the frenzy, and invite others to follow us, because we have something far more important to be doing.

Let us look to the manger for the greatest gift of all and remember what He asks of us. Love, and more love. 

And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth.  ~ John 1:14

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