The Value of Giving

Tags on the Giving Tree

Photo: Eugene Active 20-30 Club.

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.

Giving Thanks by Giving

The First Thanksgiving

Jennie Augusta Brownscombe, The First Thanksgiving (1914)

Today, as we give thanks for all the blessings in our lives, it is important to remember those who have less than we do. This Thanksgiving weekend, as Native American Heritage Month draws to a close, let’s say a special prayer for the Original Americans, who most often are the Americans struggling the most.

Here are some ways to help them.

Futures for Children (
Children’s education charity with connections in Red Mesa, AZ.
Charity Navigator rating: 3 out of 4 stars.

Native American Heritage Association Holiday Program (
Helping Native Americans living on the tribal reservations in South Dakota. Charity Navigator rating: 4 out of 4 stars.

Adopt a Native Elder (
Providing for Navajo elders.
Charity Navigator rating: 4 out of 4 stars.

The American Indian Science and Engineering Society (
Increasing  American Indian and Alaska Native representation in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields.
Charity Navigator rating: 3 out of 4 stars.

American Indian Services (
Providing scholarships, opportunity, and hope for Native Americans out of Provo, UT.
Charity Navigator rating: 3 out of 4 stars.

(Thanks to Peggy Rapier for posting this list on the Save the Redskins Facebook Group.)

Happy Whatever

Generic Holiday Decoration (now be festive...blah, blah, blah)

Image: Café Press

Anna’s elementary school has a new Holiday Policy that was put in place last September. We received a reminder email two days ago in advance of Valentine’s Day.

The first part I’m okay with.

To promote healthy bodies and minds we will only serve healthy foods during instructional time, foods that align with the district policy. We appreciate parent/family support in maintaining a positive climate in the classroom and ask that parents coordinate directly with the homeroom teacher before bringing any food in for the class for any reason. Unhealthy food will be returned to parents and not accepted in the office according to district policy.

The second part, however . . .

To promote an inclusive learning environment and honor differences we ask that you refrain from sending holiday cards and items of any kind for distribution at school. We will continue to create a fun, positive classroom climate in a variety of ways that simultaneously support our focus on learning.

I’m trying to understand how banning all holidays honors differences and promotes an inclusive environment. If anything, the holiday policy seems to stifle the very diversity it claims to uphold. It’s hard to say for sure, because I’m not in Anna’s class every day and I don’t know what cultural topics her teacher brings up. It just seems to me that this politically-correct leveling off of differences in culture and belief promotes a bland and inoffensive conformity rather than an open-minded appreciation of the differences between us.

"?" on candy heart

My elementary school was pretty diverse for it’s time and location—a fairly well-off East Coast suburb in the 1970s—and I think it served me well. I remember making holiday cards one December (don’t remember which grade). We were encouraged to celebrate the tradition we knew from home.

This meant a lot of Santas and snowmen. A few nativity scenes. And one Hanukkah card. (I remember the girl who made it, as I had a bit of a crush on her.) I remember everyone was fascinated about this different holiday.

“You light candles each night? Cool.”

“You get EIGHT days of presents? I wish I got presents for eight days.”

“What’s a dreidel?”

“What are latkes?”

We were all fascinated. It’s not like any of us would have given up Christmas, but it was something new (to us) and different. I think we learned so much more from her that day than we would have from a book.

Obviously, I stuck with me since I still remember it almost forty years later. But had my school enforced the same holiday policy that my daughter’s school does, I never would have had that experience.

And I would have been a little worse off for missing it.