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Christmas has long been my favorite holiday. I just love the whole atmosphere it brings. I enjoy the coziness of late fall and early winter, the smell of pine and cinnamon, the warm glow of a fire, cozy socks, and Christmas carols. But one of the things I love most is the opportunity to give gifts. From a young age, my mom instilled in me a love of giving and to this day it still brings a smile to my face as I walk store aisles and browse online for just the perfect gift for the ones I love the most! But you don’t have to stop after Christmas. A joyful giver can continue giving all year long!
How I Learned To Love Giving
When I was young, we didn’t have a lot of money. But every Christmas I remember my mom taking me and my sister to the store and letting us each pick out special gifts for our grandparents. She would give us a dollar amount we could spend – normally $5 or $10 and let us pick out whatever we thought they would like most (with a little guidance of course). This became a treasured tradition for me that really sparked my love of giving.
It was really special to be able to pick out something just perfect for the people I cared about and be able to give it to them and know that it meant something. Honestly, most of what I gave probably didn’t last long and maybe wasn’t great quality, but I’m sure my grandparents adored it because they knew it was something I had taken time and thought to pick out just for them.
And that’s what I love about the gift giving holiday season. It’s not just about being able to pick out the most epic or expensive gift – but more about the time and energy and thought that I love to put into each and every gift I give. The little details and comments-in-passing that I notice and store away in my memory for later that really help me know exactly what gift would make that person smile.
One of my favorite years was a while ago, but I still remember it so clearly! It was one of the first years I had a job and therefore was able to use my own money to buy gifts for everyone. I bought my mom a whole new set of bathroom towels because ours were literally threadbare and she had been talking about needing new ones but we couldn’t afford it. For my sister, I got a little portable stereo with a CD player and about five CDs with her favorite artists. And my step dad got the new Silent Hill DVD because the video game was something him and I enjoyed playing together.
They weren’t gifts that were really extravagant or fancy, but they were valuable because they showed that I listened and I cared what the people in my life cared about. That’s what I truly love about giving gifts!
How Can We Encourage Our Children To Give?
So how can we work on building this same spirit of joyful giving in our kids in this culture that has become so me-centric and entitled over the last decade or two? How to we reverse the trend and share a love for generosity with our children?
1. Let them give!
Just like my mom took my sister and I to pick out gifts for our loved ones when we were young – even when we really didn’t have the extra money – we must give our children the opportunity to give as well. It’s hard to develop an enjoyment or a passion for something you never experience.
Let them be the one to go to the store and spend the time to pick out a gift and wrap it and give it to the person. Let them see how happy the recipient is. Even better if they can use their own money to purchase the gift. If they would rather, let them take the time to handmake a gift – however imperfect it might be!
If you have a little free time and are able, take the time to do something like volunteer to serve in a soup kitchen or a homeless shelter. Go out as a family and pick up trash or rake yards or shovel driveways or scrape the frost off of people’s car windows. There is never a shortage of things you can do for others.
Maybe even do something for someone else anonymously, which can be super fun and helps you tamper down the pride because it’s not about getting recognized for your work, but instead its about just doing something good for someone else.
3. Have them spend their own money
Like I said before, it often is a lot more meaningful for a child if they have to part with some of their own hard earned cash. They feel it a little more. If you just hand them a $10 bill and say go pick out a gift for Grandma, they may not make as much of an emotional connection to it. But when they’ve worked hard for that same $10, it means a little more that they spent it on someone besides themselves.
4. Don’t interfere with their process
Any parent can tell you that kids are s.l.o.w. It takes them a million and a half years to do everything! From telling a story, to putting on their shoes, to finishing their dinner. Let me warn you that picking out a gift will likely be no different. But let this be the one time where it’s ok to take your time.
Remember, our goal is to encourage a spirit of thoughtful giving and that includes taking your time to pick something you know the recipient will love. Kids are often so intuitive and creative and thoughtful on their own that they may take some extra time to reign it all in and decide on one gift. And they may change their minds a few times. That’s ok.
That’s not to say you can’t set limits, but don’t rush their process. Don’t derail them in the middle of a complex-to-them thought or decision. They want to get it just right and that’s something you can sit back and admire in their innocent little personalities!
5. Give to someone in need
One of the best ways to foster a spirit of giving (and humble our own spirits of entitlement and selfishness, because let’s face it, we all have them) is to spend some time giving to people less fortunate than you. We all know of a family who’s struggling or who has recently gone through something hard. Or we know of an organization that helps those in need.
Find a way to connect your kids with them. A couple years ago, my nephew and his mom collected hats, gloves, scarves, and few other little trinkets. My nephew took some time to wrap the gifts up one by one and write special notes for each one and then they drove around town and passed them out to people who were standing in the cold with signs asking for money. It was such a humbling and joyful experience for my nephew, who was six or seven at the time, and he was really excited to see their happy faces when he gave them a gift.
6. Pay it forward
A super fun way to give back is to pay it forward! This works best when you’re in some sort of line – a drive through, at a grocery store, maybe a sit down restaurant even. The premise is simple, when you pay your bill, offer to pay for the person behind you as well. When they reach the check out and go to pay, they’ll be told it’s been taken care of and will get a pleasant surprise. If things go really well, they may decide to pass on the generosity and start a whole chain of goodness!
Another way to do this is to leave more than is expected for a tip. If you’re eating out or have had any other service where a tip is generally customary, leave 30, 40, maybe even a 100% tip. Your service staff is bound to get a nice little boost to their day from this kind gesture.
7. Deliver a gift to service people
Something else that many people don’t think about are all the people who serve us on a regular basis like the mail delivery person, the garbage truck drivers, first responders, religious leaders, etc.. Instead of forgetting about them this year, why not pick up a small gift card and write a little note thanking them for the work they do. It’s a small gesture that can truly make a world of difference!
If you’re feeling especially motivated (and if you will be physically present when they receive their gift) maybe even consider making them a food gift like a small bag of fresh homemade cookies or fudge.
8. Send a card or care package to a missionary or a military family
Being the spouse of a Navy serviceman myself (and having spent our first year of marriage apart as he served in Afghanistan), I can tell you from personal experience that the men and women who serve our country away from their families treasure those packages you send to them.
On another note, families who are serving the Kingdom of God away from their original home often struggle too. Sending a nice reminder that they are loved and being prayed for will make their day!
Keep in mind, also, the families of those who are serving overseas (whether service members or missionaries). The holidays can be especially difficult for families who have to spend it apart. As you pack up your care package for those serving, consider making an extra package for their family that is home without them.
9. Deliver a meal to a struggling family
There are many families, especially around the holidays, who can’t afford to prepare a traditional holiday meal for their family. Or maybe they’ve recently gone through a traumatic loss or change in their family and preparing a meal is the last thing on their minds right now.
Be the person that steps up and helps them out. Buy all the fixings for a great holiday meal and deliver it to them. If you know they don’t have the time or the tools to prepare it, prepare it for them. Go above and beyond for a family who is struggling in your community.
10. Plan a family service day
I mentioned it before, but I’ll mention in again. Just walking down your own street will present many opportunities to give and serve others. There are likely people in your own neighborhood who are physically unable to properly maintain their yards or their homes. Help them out by doing it for them.
Mowing grass or pulling weeds in the summer or raking leaves, shoveling snow, and putting down salt in the fall and winter can be a tremendous help. You can also clean gutters, wash cars, scrape frost off of car windows, and many more things that are simple yet incredibly helpful. It’s best to get permission before touching anyone’s personal property, though. You don’t want to create any trouble.
11. Leave encouraging notes in random places
If your local store has a community bulletin board, pin up a positive and uplifting message. Leave a sticky note with affirmations on the bathroom mirror in a public place. Slip a kind note under someone’s windshield wiper (be careful with this one, as some places do not allow this kind of thing). Wherever you go, just leave positive messages behind you in places where someone else can see. It might just be the message someone is needing to hear today.
12. Sponsor a child
If you’re willing to commit to something long term, sign up to sponsor a child through a program like Compassion International. It’s usually a small amount you pay each month that makes a huge difference in the lives of people in poverty stricken areas around the world. Typically you will be able to correspond with your sponsored child, send gifts, and even travel to meet them if you choose!
13. Fill a box for Operation Christmas Child
Operation Christmas Child is a program that lets people from all over purchase or make small, useful gifts for children in low income or poverty stricken areas and deliver these gifts to them. Gifts include things like personal hygiene items, small toys, books, trinkets, etc. Each box also contains the Gospel message. This is a great and easy way to get your kids involved as it doesn’t take much to fill up one box and you can choose a gender and age range that you’d like your box(es) to go to. There are specific guidelines for what can or should be included in each box so be sure to follow them so that you can make sure your box gets to a child who needs it.
14. Invite people who don’t have anywhere to go to your family celebration
If you want to start a fun new holiday tradition, plan a non-family family gathering, prepare a big meal, and invite people from your community who don’t have anywhere to go this Christmas!
Make it more fun by incorporating a Secret Santa or White Elephant gift exchange or put together a few fun games to play. You don’t have to make it anything extravagant. The main thing is to gather together for fellowship and let others know you care about them.
If you or your children are creative types, let them (or help them) make gifts for a people. It can be something as simple as a drawing or a picture they color to something as complex as handmade jewelry or a knitted or crocheted item. The options truly are endless!
In our world today it can be so easy to get caught up in the “all about me” mentality. But we should take a step back and realize that there’s so much more to life than just doing what makes us happy. We can find joy in giving and serving others. We need to teach our children this wonderful gift and let them experience the reality that giving truly is a special gift all of its own. Get your kids involved in giving and serving early and you’ll begin growing a love of giving that will last them a lifetime!