First, I have to give my daughter credit for this post. She was required to write an essay on this topic and it got me thinking about it, too. Stewardship is definitely about gratitude and, as the holidays approach, it can be very easy to get swept up in the commercialization and hype that the secular world would have us believe is the true meaning of Christmas.
When it comes to gift giving, most of us are not thinking about a budget, we’re thinking about the recipient. Oftentimes, we see something that reminds us of someone and we feel compelled to get it for them, not always being mindful of the cost.
Having children can compound this problem because as parents we want to give our children gifts that they will enjoy and that will be well-loved. Factor in the grandparents and other relatives who would like to offer a small token gift or clothing items and pretty soon our cups runneth over!
However, we really want the holidays to inspire fond memories as our children reflect on family traditions that form while they are growing up. One thing we’ve implemented in our family is to participate in The Giving Tree project at our church. Each of the kids gets to take a tag off the tree and we take them shopping to choose their gifts. These purchases do not get wrapped, but the kids still enjoy taking their treasure to the church and watching the bins fill up during the drive.
We have tried to be conservative when it comes to their birthdays as well. Our kids are blessed to be part of a large family and they receive plenty of gifts from family members. When our oldest turned 5, we decided to have a birthday party for her that focused on celebrating her life and the friends she enjoyed playing with.
On the invitations, we indicated that we’d prefer that the children attending the party not bring gifts. However, I’ve been to parties where the host has requested no gifts and people bring them anyway. It does feel a little odd to attend a party without bringing a gift. The way we handled this was to request donations to a charity. We asked our daughter if there was a charity she would like to sponsor and she immediately went for a local shelter for pregnant women. We had just been to one of the homes to help paint before they officially opened it and she was so excited that there would be babies there when it was all done!
It has since become a tradition for our family that when our kids enter kindergarten, the party they have with their school friends is focused on the kids getting together to play and celebrating one another rather than focusing on gifts. The kids choose a charity to support so no one has to feel strange about coming to a party empty-handed. This has worked out really well because the kids get a day to play with all of their friends and a charity benefits by getting gift cards and other needed items.
After the party, we take our kids to the food pantry or the shelter or whatever charity they chose to support and they get to see first-hand how these gift items make a difference. More often than not, the kids run into other people from our church community helping at the charity, so they are able to see “faith in action.” I think it makes a huge impact on them when they realize that people don’t just come to church and go on with their lives unaffected. To me this has been one of the greatest blessings because they’re learning that Mass is not just paying lip-service to God. We are fed at the altar of Christ in order to go out and serve in the community.
“For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me…Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me.” ~Matthew 25:35, 40