“Did they have a home?” Sprout asked me. I had just finished telling him the Christmas story.
“Yes, they did have a home after that,” I said, skipping the whole “escaping into Egypt” bit.
While his question surprised me, it wasn’t totally out of nowhere. We’ve been talking about how not everyone has the same privileges we do, including homes. As both a Christian and someone who’s concerned about our society’s most vulnerable people, I want Christmas to be about a lot more than Santa and presents. In fact, I want to teach my kids how to serve others during the this time of year.
Here are some ways to turn away from consumerism and towards others at Christmas:
Have kids pick out gifts for others
With Sprout coming up with his own Christmas list for the first time, it’s good timing to involve him in getting gifts for other people. Engaging him in the process reminds him that he’s not the only one who gets gifts and the real reason for giving gifts in the first place – to show our love for each other.
It also helps him consider that other people have needs and wants different from his own. We recently bought a birthday gift for a friend’s son who is turning five. When we asked Sprout what we should get, he recommended the same Little Tykes’ tractor that we bought for a one-year-old’s birthday party a few weeks ago. After explaining that he would be too old for such a tractor, we helped him think through options for more age-appropriate gifts.
Talk frankly about economic inequality
Giving to charity at Christmas is a great starting point for conversations about economic inequality. One thing that my mom always taught me as a kid was how lucky I was to have a good home, loving parents, plenty of toys/books, and wonderful experiences. She wasn’t trying to pull a guilt trip – just making me aware of my privilege. And I’m so glad she did.
In addition to picking out gifts for his friend and his brother, I also wanted to make sure Sprout picked out a donation to Toys for Tots. Before buying the present, we explained that some kids’ parents don’t have enough money to buy their kids Christmas gifts. By donating a toy, we could help those kids get presents. Participating in an Angel Tree, which allows children of prisoners to ask for specific presents, is also a great opportunity. While explaining the idea of a parent in prison may be too much for a small child, it could be a way into a particularly difficult conversation about the criminal justice system for an older one.
Another good jumping-on point are the Salvation Army bell-ringers. Being able to drop a dollar in that bright red bucket is a great chance to get a conversation started about why they are collecting money.
Include service in your holiday traditions
When I was a kid, my mom made an Advent calendar where we would do a different activity each day. While most of them were focused on our family, like decorate the Christmas tree or go view lights at the local park, “Donate to Toys for Tots” was always on there. Having it there not only meant that it had to get done, but it was part of my childhood Christmas memories. That’s why I pass it on to Sprout now. You can even use a whole advent calendar devoted to acts of kindness!
Make something unique for the local homeless program
Our local homeless outreach program provided our church with a handy-dandy list of activities kids can do to help. They include everything from baking cookies to drawing colorful holiday placemats to bring some cheer to the people they serve. While your local program may not have the exact same needs, find out if they have any suggestions for kids in particular.
Get your kids’ organizations involved
Getting a church youth group, Scout group, or class to collect goods for a local charity multiples your impact. Our church is running a collection for a different charity each month. For December, we’re collecting socks, hats, scarves and gloves for the aforementioned homeless program. In particular, you may want to focus on non-food products. Food banks and soup kitchens can often get food very cheaply, but non-food goods are more difficult to get large discounts on.
Make something for the animals
Not everyone we serve has to be human. Pinterest has loads of ideas for making edible holiday crafts for our feathered and furry friends. You can set the stage by reading books where Santa (or the animal equivalent) brings animals presents, like Merry Christmas, Ollie! and The Animal’s Santa.
How do you encourage kids to serve others around Christmas-time?