Making connections through gift-giving and receiving

christmas-gifts-1322621-mI don’t know about you, but every year as the winter holidays begin to creep closer, I start to have a moment of panic.

Well, maybe it is not so much panic but more dissociative in nature.

What I am preparing for is the list that is coming, the list of items that I know my children are going to be wishing for as they begin to write down all the material goods that they desire.

The panic is what creeps in first as I prepare myself to show willingness to accept these lists that they have worked so hard to create. The dissociation comes in when I want to go into denial about this time of year, how many gifts to purchase or what it all really means.

I am lucky to be in a position where I am usually able to purchase whatever my children need or to obtain exactly what is desired throughout the entire year. As a result, these lists that my children are creating seem like extra stuff that they do not really need but are developed out of the idea of the gift-receiving concept that comes with the winter holiday season.

What if things were different this year? What if gift-giving and receiving really came from the heart? Could this provide us with an opportunity to see and distinguish between what we need, want and desire?

Could we expand upon this concept to move away from the material side of the holidays and look more closely at the altruism and willingness to open to others in love?

Instead of leaving my children alone to make a gift wish list, I could spend time with them. We could look at what passions they have and then volunteer or make financial donations to organizations or charities that are aligned with their interests. We could make a decision to support only local businesses when we want to purchase items. We could spend time together making gifts or finding other ways to engage within our community.

All of this we could do without any expectation of return, which is one way of defining what it means to offer gifts.

Maybe this year will be about embracing a different side of the economy that does not involve me going to multiple stores to purchase every item on my children’s wish lists.

lisa feiertag 3Instead, we are opening doors of connection, providing opportunities for me to understand what my children enjoy doing and how we can share that love with others.

This could become very contagious.

As we step outside the norm to offer gifts from the heart that involve our time, energy and money, others may see how much joy we have. They may wonder where this comes from and may experience exactly what it means when we offer service or gifts to others without any expectation of return. This could be the encouragement needed for my girls to continue doing it and has the potential to get others involved.

What a great way to form connections with our loved ones and to embrace community instead of continuing within a pattern of panic and dissociation.

Teaching the art of giving

I have such fond memories of my childhood Christmases.

I remember the emotions and feelings of warmth, love and happiness more so than the bountiful supply of gifts we eagerly unwrapped each year. I want my 3-year-old daughter to have the same kinds of cherished memories that I have stored so lovingly in my heart.

My daughter’s favorite traditions are probably the Christmas countdown chain and the 12 Days of Christmas tree, which both help to give a tangible reference to the amount of time left until Christmas day.

We have also started many Christmas traditions this year, including a kindness manger, where acts of kindness are written on pieces of hay (paper) and are placed in a manger (shoebox), to create a bed of love and kindness for baby Jesus to be placed in on Christmas.

While my daughter will certainly get gifts that she has expressed interest in or requested, I do not want the receiving of gifts to be what she equates with Christmas, nor do I want it to be the cause of most of her joy surrounding the season. Instead I want her to hold most dear the traditions we partake in as a family: the art of giving and the act of charity.

We talked about how great it feels to give someone a gift that lets them know they are loved and thought of. I flipped through an Oriental Trading catalog and decided to have Juliette choose a craft that she would like to make herself to hand out to friends and loved ones at Christmas this year. She is quite the creative soul and will spend hours with whatever craft supplies she can get her tiny hands on.

mittensTo my delight, she flipped through the catalog with the same enthusiasm as though it were the advertisements for Toys “R” Us. She settled on a mitten craft, which could be turned into ornaments. It was perfect — inexpensive, easy enough to do herself and something that could be cherished year after year by family and friends.

When the supplies arrived, she frantically tore open the package and begged to start creating her gifts right away. She cannot wait to hand out her own gifts this Christmas exclaiming, “Family is going to be so happy!”

bulbWhen I suggested creating simple gifts for our neighbors, she was more than happy to help put those together as well. We filled plastic ornaments with red and green M&M’s and attached a Christmas poem. She is just as excited to walk the neighborhood and hand out these gems as well.

Juliette is a very curious child. My husband and I love the questions she asks and how inquisitive she is. When she asked what the word “charity” meant, I decided to show her rather than to simply explain its definition.

We talked about the meaning of charity and what it means to help and serve others. She decided she wanted to help babies, so I spoke to the staff at Gabriel Network, an organization where I have done volunteered in the past and arranged for Juliette to do a projects that would benefit the moms and babies who rely on Gabriel Network’s services.

snowmanJuliette helped to design footprint snowmen cards and sold them for $2. The money she raised was donated to Gabriel Network. Not only did she enjoy doing yet another Christmas craft, but the look of joy and pride on her face as she handed over her donation and explained that she wanted to help babies in need was priceless.

Children may be small, but they still have much to offer.

Being intentional in holiday family traditions

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWith the holiday season upon us, I am reminded of how important it is to keep our family’s focus on the true meaning of the season. For us, that is Christmas but no matter what your family celebrates or believes, I think everyone can agree that family is what’s most important.

It is easy to get wrapped up in the chaos of this time of year and lose focus on what’s important. While I love watching the magic of Christmas come alive for my children on Christmas morning as they open presents, I want the presents to be one part of a much bigger picture.

I have been doing a little behind-the-scenes work leading up to Christmas to ensure our family comes together to truly celebrate the holidays this year. This includes:

  • Chippy — This is the first year our family does the Elf on the Shelf tradition. We introduced the elf and named her Chippy last year, but our daughter was too young to fully grasp the concept of her. For those not familiar, the elf is sent by Santa to keep an eye on the kids; each night, he/she flies back to the North Pole to report to Santa and comes back by morning, each time hiding in a different spot. I’ve recruited Chippy to help facilitate giving back this holiday season. Some ideas Chippy will suggest include baking cookies to bring to our local police and fire departments, selecting a few gently used toys to donate and decorating Christmas cards for veterans who are away from their families.
  • Reading Basket — On December 1, we brought out a decorated box filled with wrapped books. Each night before bed, will be pick one book to unwrap and read together as a family. These books are all holiday- and/or winter-themed and are not normally on our bookshelves. This way, they all seem new. Some are just-for-fun books about snow, and some explain the meaning behind Christmas. To do this, I’ve gathered any appropriate books we already owned, combined with a number of books checked out of our local library. It’s a win-win for the family as it gets us reading together, and the kids get to unwrap something!
  • Jesse Tree — For our family, it is important to teach our children the true meaning behind Christmas. We are trying the tradition of a Jesse Tree this year to do this. The concept is that each day, the family comes together to read a passage of scripture and then puts a corresponding ornament on a special tree. We use a children’s bible designed for preschoolers to keep it understandable, and our tree and ornaments are a DIY project from felt that will adorn our kitchen wall for the month. Even if some concepts are lost on my kids, it will still serve to bring our family together with purpose each day.
  • OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAField Trips — I have planned a handful of special family outings for the month of December. They give us a chance to step back from the craziness of everyday life and simply enjoy this magical time of year. We will be taking a train ride to the North Pole via the Essex Steam Train, visit the Christmas tree in Rockefeller Center and go to a tree farm to cut down our own Christmas tree, to name a few.

I know that our plans for the holiday season may not resonate with what works for your family but I hope it can inspire you to come up with something that does.

This is a magical time of year, especially for children. No matter what holiday your family celebrates, it can be a time to create precious memories and traditions that will stay for years to come.