Next Gen: Teaching our kids to give

By Susanna Barbee | Dec 04, 2013

I’m not sure when or how it happened, but at some point in the past century, Christmas changed from a special, holy holiday involving a few small gifts, time with family, and a rare hearty meal to a full blown money-spending, gift-buying frenzy.

For goodness sake, people are willing to literally knock someone out of the way for the hot toy of the season or forego spending time with loved ones on Thanksgiving to get in line for a Black Friday special.

Don’t get me wrong here, I love to spoil my own boys as much as the next mom, but our family’s budget holds us back from giving them too many presents, and I’m actually thankful for that. If we had an abundance of money to spend, it may be a bit harder to limit the gifts. Further, I’m all about a great Black Friday deal as long as I’m shopping on Friday and not on Thanksgiving Day.

Few people can deny the joy felt when watching a child open a Christmas gift, but as I’m watching my children’s brains grow, develop, and soak up everything around them, I want to make sure they don’t start to think that Christmas solely concerns them receiving gifts and about little else.

They are sweet boys, and they are the joys of our lives, so of course they are going to get presents and yes, we are going to bake cookies to ensure that Santa visits our house, but we’re also going to focus more on giving this year. I’m not talking about buying more presents to give other people who are already blessed with many things. I’m talking about giving our time in some way to help our community or a cause.

A couple of weeks ago, my 4-year old and I packed Operation Christmas Child boxes with our church. This activity stimulated a great conversation between the two of us. It was difficult for him to comprehend that these children had very little and would be super excited to receive hair barrettes and school supplies or one Matchbox car and a small ball.

I told him to think about the 15 or more stuffed animals he had in his room, then reminded him that the stuffed animal we put in the box was the only one this child would have. He enjoyed picking the items to put in the boxes, decorating the box with stickers, and writing his name on the cards. I could see the wheels turning in his brain. It may be sweet to watch a child open a Christmas gift, but it was equally if not more special to watch my child engage in packing these boxes.

We weren’t sure at what age our children would understand the depth and gravity of giving one’s time to help others, but because our son responded so well to the Operation Christmas Child activity, we’ve decided on a couple more to complete during the Christmas season. We are planning to deliver Angel Tree gifts to children at their homes, volunteer at the Open Door, and make some of our gifts as opposed to going out and buying them.

With all of that being said, I love the cheesy parts of the holidays. I’ll listen to Christmas music until midnight on Dec. 26. I will send Christmas cards, pick out and decorate our tree, enjoy wrapping gifts, kiss under the mistletoe, blah, blah, and fa la la la la!

I will also try, however, to place a bigger focus on the deeper meaning and spirit of Christmas. Toys will break and cakes will fall, but the feeling of Christmas will live forever in our children’s heart, so I want to at least try to make it something intangibly beautiful.

Susanna Barbee is a Waynesville mom, writer and educator. Find more on her blog, Reach her at

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