An outsider who heard the exchange may have found me indulgent. “Can I have this for Hanukkah, Mama?” “Sure we’ll put it on the list.” By now, we almost sing it like a little tune.
For me, this tune is a way of teaching my child that we don’t buy things indiscriminately throughout the year. It’s a hope against materialism, entitlement and immediate gratification. Putting it on the list doesn’t mean yes either; it means it’s on the list.
Still, I think my kids are getting the wrong idea about the holidays. Gift giving, in essence, is about the giving—or else it should be. Not to recap last year’s whole “Santa thing,” but since that and its kooky , I’ve come to a new understanding of Santa. In essence, Santa embodies what’s best about this season: giving and generosity to those around you, even if you don’t know them. This says to me that we are all one and we really do all care for one another. We must.
But I’m not so sure my 5- and 2-year-old really care all that much about the giving so far. Much of this lack of empathy is very age appropriate. Still, I’m always searching for ways to widen the cracks in their sense of self to include those around them—a way to help that empathy stretch and grow its wings.
So this year we plan on getting more involved with charitable giving during the winter holidays. So far, I’ve found several ways to do this. One approach is to act locally. Focus on local food banks and shelters as sites for seasonal giving such as holiday dinners and gift drives. Get involved with giving at your house of worship. Or, organize a local gift drive yourself and then take the presents to the shelter or nonprofit of your choice in person.
If you have younger kids and would prefer to break them in slowly to the harsh realities of poverty and need, as some do, a slightly more removed experience can be had through an incredible charity called Heifer International. I was first introduced to Heifer by Oprah Winfrey’s organization, which sorts and screens nonprofits and which highly recommended them.
The idea behind Heifer is that you can give a whole lot more by teaching a person to fish than by getting a fish and giving it to them. To this end, they allow people to purchase livestock for those in developing nations as a gift in someone's name that continues to give back for years.
Once you purchase a gift, a recipient is chosen based on need and feasibility for profit. It also comes with instruction on to how to care for and make continued profits from the animals. Thus, a goat is more than just one meal, but rather the potential for years of dairy sales at market that can buy many meals over time. Too, a female goat would be placed with or very near a male goat, with agreements to give away at least one offspring to a neighbor. You can see what a miracle it is to give a gift of such high value for such a small amount (goats run $120, a flock of chicks is $20).
We gave Heifer presents in all our recipients’ names one year and everyone seemed thrilled (or if not, at least they put on a good show). My mother-in-law was so happy when she opened the card with a photo of her flock, you’d have thought she was getting all those cute little fluffy chicks herself.
We’re going with Heifer again this year and will wrap gifts for a local drive. Thus, I’m hoping that the tune will start to change a bit for us. Instead of “Can I have this for Hanukkah?” my daughter could begin to ask, “Can I buy this for Hanukkah and give it away?” Now that would be a tune that would be music to my ears.