This holiday season my Facebook feed has been filled with shares of “Telling Kids the Truth About Santa” followed by little heart emojis. The gist is you break the news in a conspiratorial tone over hot chocolate and transition your kid from being a recipient to a giver. And oh, is it ever beautiful and gentle. Most of all, I love the natural transition. A transition I have watched unfold in our own family this year – all on its own without the prodding of conspiracy or warm liquid cacao goodness.
Flashback to 2014, our Little One is five years old and she’s staring Santa straight in the eye with a crinkled brow and the deadly serious look of a child on a mission. I’m thinking, “This is it. This is the year she stops believing.” The next few sentences that come out of her mouth left Santa speechless, the elves gasping, and my husband and me absolutely floored. In a quiet little voice, Little One says to Santa, “ I don’t want anything this year. I have everything I need and lots of what I want. I think you should take my toy and give it to someone who doesn’t have as much even if they were naughty.”
Granted, Little One has always had a peculiar gift list: one year she asked for a grown up compact flashlight, the next year a headlamp, and currently her little heart’s greatest desire is a packable first aid kit. A tidbit she is unwilling to share with Santa. Nonetheless, I have thought about that moment many times in the last couple of years mostly trying to figure out when my daughter’s desire to give caught up with her desire to receive. Where in the traditions and rituals of our family was this spirit of giving born?
I’d like to say that I have a long history of community service starting in my youth, but the truth is the only time I put in community service hours back then was because I thought my college application could benefit from a little more padding. It was a convergence of experiences and friendships that showed me the joy in giving. The first summer after I started dating my now husband, we worked with Habitat for Humanity building two homes from framing to completion. I learned a lot that summer not just about building, but also about the joys of doing something for someone wholly unconnected to me.
Several years later we became parents, and our family moved to the Huntsville-Madison area. It was a stressful tumultuous time with a house still up for sale a thousand miles away, a newborn, and all the struggles of not having a network of friends and family for support. On the suggestion of a college friend who is a military wife, I looked into local playgroups. These groups were my lifeline and gave rise to one of my most seminal friendships. This friend who is a no-nonsense, straight shooting, never pulls a punch MBA showed me what it means to give from the heart. She lives the motto “See a need, fill a need.” While our children played together, potty trained together, and made mayhem together, she and I would plan holiday giving together. I honestly don’t think I would have had the motivation and know-how to find need and fill it, if not for this friend. Through her, this became a holiday habit.
Then came the year Little One and I picked an angel from the tree at Parkway Place Mall on our own. She and I read the wishes and we found a little girl the same age, 4. She wished for a warm coat, books, and a few other things. Little One asked me why we were doing this, and I said something about us having plenty and sharing that blessing with someone who could use a bit more. We spent the afternoon shopping and delivering the gifts. That one angel grew into other projects: more angels, adopting families with my friend, bags of supplies and food for the homeless, cards for soldiers, Toys for Tots, shoeboxes for Guatemala, etc. All because we were grateful for all that life afforded us and knowing someone else out there could use a bit more.
This year was a watershed moment for our family. On the way home from school a few weeks ago, Little One said there was something really special she wanted for Christmas. I was thinking that we would finally be visiting Santa this year again after a two-year hiatus. And again, she surprised me. She asked if she could be Santa this year, and use the money she earned throughout the year and set aside for charitable giving to buy a Barbie for a friend at school. I promised to ask her teacher about it the next day knowing that this friend had several siblings at our school as well. We learned that this family had fallen on hard times recently and there was a real need for coats, clothes, and other supplies. Little One and I made a deal: she covered half the costs and I the other half. We set a budget per person and set out to find the perfect gift for each recipient. Our gift was anonymous. I happened to walk by as our gifts were being loaded into the family’s minivan and her friend’s mother was offering her thanks to a school representative. When I shared what I saw with Little One, she beamed and thanked me for helping her be Santa this year.
Here’s what I’ve learned: You don’t have to give extravagantly to make a difference. Truly, every little bit counts and adds up. That there is real need at home here in North Alabama, even if does not get as much attention as need in more far flung places. In fact, it might be right under your nose. Most of all, we can all use a little kindness: build a longer table, not a taller wall.
My family and I wish you light, joy, and kindness. Merry Christmas! Happy Holidays!
P.S. Dear Reader, you are the first to know: Santa will still be bringing by a very special first aid kit.
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