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#1 Do You Give Presents or Gifts?

Present or Gift?

Our KIND of Christmas, Holiday Blog Series

You probably never thought about the difference between the two. I never thought too much about it until things started to change. Our only, Drew, turned five. I remember his first day of Kindergarten like it was yesterday. It was that same day in August he came home with questions. He was confused because he’d been treated poorly by some kids at school. Then one day I got a call that he’d been punched in the face standing up for a friend. Drew was about to turn six that November and two things occurred to me.

One, I was discussing how to cope with bullying type behaviors with my five-going-on-six-year-old almost daily. I knew from my work in child advocacy that the kids who were treating Drew poorly had hurting hearts and that is exactly what I told him. It changed his perception of the kids and the situations. I encouraged Drew to start conversations with these kids and offer his friendship and that is exactly what he did. Most kids were candid about what was bothering them, and Drew always did his best to help.

Two, since Drew is an only child and an only grandchild, I knew people would expect him to be a self-centered terror. With no siblings in his future and me being a firm believer in the self-fulfilling prophecy,* I knew he needed a fun and engaging way to learn about kindness and giving. Plus, based on birthdays and Christmases past, I could see that we really needed to make some changes.

I announced that we were going to do something a little different for Christmas. We gathered inexpensive trinkets, made goody bags for kids and purchased small gift cards at a local coffee shop. We took our treats to a Christmas festival and helped Drew pass them out randomly to strangers. Reactions from both kids and adults ranged from flat refusal to accept, to speechless shock, to hearty smiles. Much to our surprise, a time or two, Drew was spontaneously given small tokens in return. We all walked away with warm, happy hearts. Drew mentioned this often and we enjoyed talking about our experience.

A few months later, while paying for groceries, Drew opened his newly purchased stickers and found there were two pages. Drew gave a boy in line the extra sticker page. The boy hugged the page in delight. Drew then removed a sticker from his page and gave it to the cashier. Then, he gave me a sticker. Once in the car he announced, “Mom, it really makes me feel happy to give things to people. Even people I don’t know.” I got a little misty eyed when I realized our activity at Christmas had inspired this behavior.

Then it hit me. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could inspire other kids? I thought about the potential to make a positive impact on kids with hurting hearts. I bubbled with excitement at the thought of giving them an opportunity to see just how wonderful it feels to be kind. My mind swirled with ideas.

Soon, a year had passed, and we were approaching Drew’s first grade Christmas party. Determined to share the magic of kindness inspired by Drew and his stickers, I sat down and wrote three random acts of kindness missions aimed at giving kids the opportunity to do something kind for someone else. The fun, rhyming words poured onto the pages as I fashioned the missions after a top-secret birthday party invitation I’d done the year before. I decided to call these kind acts, “Secret Service Missions,” because they are top-secret. You don’t do them to get thanks or be recognized. You go undercover to do a good deed or small service for others. I called the activity, “Operation Good Deed Doer.” Once the kids completed the Missions, they would graduate basic holiday training and be certified to do good deeds year-round.

Hoping to inspire little minds to think kind, I printed the Missions then we stuffed them with the trinkets and tools the kids would need to carry out a good deed. I made sure the Missions could be carried out by kids even if they did not have help from an adult. With the enthusiastic blessing of Drew’s teacher, we did Operation Good Deed Doer, Santa’s Secret Service Missions with Drew’s class that year. After that, I knew it would always be a part of our holiday.

That same year Drew got his first Santa suit. We purchased some gift cards and a few small gifts that we wrapped. Drew put on his suit and on Christmas Eve we set out on our own Secret Service Mission. Our goal was to find those who were working since they could not be with their families, those trying to do something small for Christmas at the very last minute or those who were alone. Just finding these folks is much more heart wrenching than we ever imagined. If you’ve never been out at night on Christmas Eve because you’re always home celebrating with your family, let me tell you, it’s an eye opener. We stopped at discount stores, pharmacies, hotels, and any place that was open, in hopes of giving a few smiles.

We saved our largest gift card for last. We stopped at a gas station. Once inside I made eye contact with one of the clerks. I would guess him to be in his late teens, early 20s. I shot him a large grin and he quickly looked away, unamused by Drew’s get-up. He continued to drudge along, unenthusiastically waiting on a customer. I didn’t say a word as I scanned the area hoping to direct Drew to the perfect recipient for our surprise gift. Suddenly, Drew turned to me with the gift card. “I want to give this to him.” He pointed to the young clerk. “Him?! Are you sure?” I was met with a steadfast, “Yes.” Before I could say anything, Drew had already walked over and handed the clerk the gift card. Aside from a hint of confused skepticism, the clerk’s expression did not change.

Our deed done, Drew and I hurried out. When we got in the car, I had a rush of guilt. That night on Christmas Eve, my seven-year-old child showed me what I should have already known. How many times had I told Drew that kids who are not nice have hurting hearts? Adults are no different. That night Drew saw what I chose not to see. His choice was intuitive and perceptive, and I will never forget it. The innocent heart of a seven-year-old child, not yet jaded, saw past negative, outward expression and straight into the hurting heart of another. He chose to give a gift of kindness to the person who clearly needed it most.

How could we ever go back to doing Christmas any other way?

Another year Santa Drew purchased meals for those eating their Christmas Eve dinner at a fast food restaurant. In the back corner sat a woman who was homeless. Upon seeing this Drew immediately decided to forgo doing other meals to give her what we had left. He went to her and wished her a Merry Christmas as he handed her his gift. She hugged him. It was evident that both Drew and this woman each received a gift worth far more than something you can unwrap. You see, to me, a present is a material item that brings someone joy in that present moment. How long the joy lasts can vary greatly. A gift, on the other hand, is something that cannot be wrapped and keeps giving.

I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking that we are giving stuff so how is that not a present? It’s the spirit of the giving that makes it a gift. Restoring someone’s faith in humanity, making someone feel like they matter, giving someone a bright spot during a dark time, these are the gifts. As a matter of fact, material items are not even necessary. A gift can be something you do, time you spend or a talent you share. The material items are simply the proverbial cherry on top.

How could we ever go back to sitting around our tree just giving presents to each other?

What if we’d missed the little boy in the drug store parking lot? When Santa Drew handed him a huge, wrapped package (a giant monster truck) he was so excited that I was smiling through hot tears. I can still see the look on his face as his little body bounced around in crazed excitement before he ever even opened the package. As he and his mother left, he was still bouncing around in glee as he hollered a muffled, “THANK YOU, THANK YOU,” from the back seat. His mom proceeded to tell Drew through the car window that he just made her son’s Christmas because a monster truck is exactly what he wanted. I can’t sit here and type this without choking up. We will never know the extent of the gift this little boy received that night, but I know it was more than a toy. And I most certainly know what a gift it was for us. This is a memory that Drew can share with his children, a memory none of us will ever forget. It plays out in my mind like a scene from a Christmas movie.

We don't spend thousands of dollars stressing for months buying a zillion gifts that people don't need or even want. Been there done that. Instead, we shop for toys and pick up a few gift cards. It’s not stressful. It’s fun. We don't have a huge budget, but we want to give to as many as we can. So, I still get to rise to the challenge of shopping frugally. It’s a fun way to teach Drew about thoughtful giving on a budget. Our holiday season is spent focused on giving and we spend more time together than money. It’s the best change we have ever made. It’s the best gift we have ever received.

If the holidays leave you feeling exhausted, broke or uninspired, then make a change! You simply cannot beat the gift of giving. It never stops giving and it gives back! It gives back tenfold in the form of valuable lessons and experiences, treasured memories and hearts forever touched, both on the giving and receiving end. Don’t miss the gas station clerk or the little boy in the parking lot or the homeless woman at the fast food restaurant. They need you. They will always remember the kindness of a stranger. And just so you know, you need them too. Let them inspire you with the smiles on their faces and the gratefulness in their hearts. You will all walk away with priceless gifts that will last a lifetime and maybe even for generations.

So, if you find that you are always searching for that perfect gift, a gift your kids will always remember, start your own giving traditions. You’ll soon find that the best gift you can open is your heart.

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*Self-Fulfilling Prophecy: Process by which one’s expectations about another person eventually lead the other person to behave in ways that confirm these expectations.


Merry Christmas! Happy Hanukkah! Happy New Year!

This is the first post in our Holiday Blog Series called,

Our KIND of Christmas!

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Styled by Ryn's Holiday Blog Advent

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