Finding a true season of giving
No parent wakes up one day and says, "I'm going to do something that may seem to be good for my kids, but it's actually harmful."
Yet, it's exactly what sometimes happens.
I thought I was being a good mother when I showered my daughters with a lot of Christmas presents.
From the time they were little girls, I encouraged them to look through the Sears Wish Book and make a list of what they wanted from Santa.
If I had been smart, I would have said, "Pick the gift you most want." Then I would have put only a few presents under the tree just as my mother did. She limited our Christmas gifts to three inexpensive things.
When I got married and had my own children, Christmas morning always looked like Santa's sleigh broke down so he dumped all his presents at our house.
I continued that tradition when the girls were grown, making the dumb mistake of trying to show love by buying far too many presents.
I didn't realize how much harm I was doing until I watched my daughters continue that tradition. The excessive gift buying made me sick in the stomach, especially knowing I was to blame for setting a bad example.
Well, last year my daughter Andrea finally got smart. She announced ahead of time there would be very little under the tree because she hates all the excess we have come to call "Christmas."
She wanted more meaningful Christmas traditions than filling a trash barrel with discarded wrapping paper and boxes from far too many presents.
I didn't believe her when she said she was stopping the insanity of presents, presents and more presents. But she followed through with her intentions.
This year, she's even wiser. She found an even more meaningful tradition than "gift dumping."
She says it all started when she pulled up to her home with a car full or groceries. When she went to unlock her house before she carried in the groceries, a neighbor from across the street rushed over to carry her groceries.
"What's going on, Lisa?" She asked her neighbor. "Why are you doing this?"
The neighbor thanked Andrea for giving her the opportunity to do a good deed, explaining that she and her family were involved in a "kindness epidemic."
Their goal: To give the gift of kindness to as many people as possible. They were turning the so-called "Season of Giving" into an opportunity to do good deeds for others.
One plus side to the idea is that it made the children in the family aware that each small action on their part could make someone happy. Maybe the good deed would be something as simple as picking up toys without being asked or befriending the kid everyone else picks on.
Another of Andrea's friends uses much of that idea during the Season of Advent. We've all seen or used typical Advent calendars.
At one time, Advent calendars were religious in nature. Behind each paper door of the calendar was a religious image, poem or portion of story about the Nativity of Jesus. The calendars helped build excitement for the highlight of Christmas - placing a figurine of Baby Jesus in the manger.
Like much of what we call Christmas, what started off as something religious turned into a secular version. In many popular Advent calendars, gifts for children are placed behind each door, leading, of course, to Dec. 25 when the day will bring bigger and better gifts.
My daughter's friend uses a different kind of Advent calendar where family members give the gift of kindness to others.
For each good deed, family members get to place a popcorn kernel in their homemade advent calendar. During Christmas week, the kernels will be popped and made into a Good Deed Garland for the Christmas tree.
Imagine the feeling of seeing a tree decorated with a string of good deeds.
I like the fact that Andrea and her friends are finding new ways to emphasize giving the gift of kindness to others. And I see the fruits of her efforts in that her children are developing a keen sense of doing for others.
When she asked her three kids if they wanted to go skiing during a day off from school, they said they instead wanted to visit their 95-year-old great grandmother because she sits alone all day.
That meant traveling three hours each way, something no lively kid enjoys. But all three youngsters did feel good when they saw how happy it made their Baba.
Andrea isn't the one who is trying to put more meaning in the Christmas season. Many people have told me they are getting away from giving gifts galore.
Some are cutting because of financial reasons. They no longer can afford the luxury of overspending.
Others with the means to spend are cutting back because they don't want to do major frivolous spending in a year when so many others don't even have enough food to put on the table.
"My friends and I are doing more giving to the needy and less lavish spending," one woman told me. She backed up her words by organizing a major drive to provide Christmas dinner and Santa gifts to a needy family.
I'm happy to see new traditions that put real meaning into Christmas.
We can overload on giving gifts. But we can never give away too much kindness and compassion.