I wasn’t part of a large family. I was an only child and my extended family lived thousands of miles away. So I was never part of a Christmastime family gift exchange.
For those of you like me who are unfamiliar with this tradition, here’s how it works. All the adults put their names in a hat (or bowl or some other container) and each participant draws out a name and buys that person a gift.
Julia’s extended family followed this tradition and held a gift exchange every year. I got to see a couple of these exchanges on consecutive November trips to Indiana (in 2002 and 2003), and I quickly learned both the good and bad of the tradition.
The good part of it is this—that everyone gets to buy a gift for one other person. This saves the expense of buying for multiple family members while assuring that each person gets something.
And the bad part? In the rush to fit one more purchase in amongst the gifts for two, three, or more kids, it’s tempting to grab a gift card in the checkout line and be done. And you end up exchanging a $25 big box store gift card for another $25 big box store gift card.
You might as well have spent the $25 on yourself.
Once Anna was born, we started a new tradition. Instead of taking a name of a aunt, uncle, or cousin out of a hat, we take five or six names off the giving tree at our local mall. And we give five or six kids a Christmas they might not otherwise get.
Once she was old enough to participate, we made Anna a part of our new tradition. She helps us pick out names and pick out gifts for each child. In the process, she learns the value of giving.
Not as part of an exchange, where you give in the expectation of receiving something of equivalent value in return, but giving for the sake of giving.
The kind of giving that should be an essential part of Christmas.
Today is Giving Tuesday. It is also the second day of Addie Zierman’s When You Need a Little Christmas Community Project. Today her focus is on family and friends.