Inside: Christmas is a time of “giving” and “getting,” with hopefully more emphasis on the “giving.” If you want the Best Christmas Giving Tradition ever–here it is! It’s one your whole family can participate in and one that will teach your kids firsthand why “it’s better to give than receive.”
At the age of twelve, I became very interested in baking, especially things made with yeast—rolls, loaves of bread, and pastries. I read everything I could find about yeast; how to make it “grow” (with a little bit of sugar), the best temperature of the water (110 degrees), and how to determine if the elasticity of the dough was going to create the perfect loaf of bread (it’s all about gluten, baby!).
Our family was large so I made two loaves each week (that were devoured very quickly).
One day my dad asked me if I would be willing to make an extra loaf of bread to give to a neighbor or someone in need. I was excited to share my newfound talent so I readily said, “yes.”
For the next year, each week I made an extra loaf of bread to be given away. It made me feel good.
Then I turned into a pissy teenager.
One day I told my dad I was sick of making bread for people who never gave our family anything back in return. After all, we were poor, too and it would be nice if somebody made something for us.
My dad was a gentle man. He sat me down and said:
“Sharlene, if you don’t learn to give when you don’t have anything, you will never give when you do have something.”
Even in my obnoxious teenage state, I knew what my dad was saying, “Yes, we are poor, but if you don’t learn how to give now, you never will. And part of giving is not expecting something in return.”
I have never forgotten that conversation. It’s what motivated me as a college student to get involved with charity organizations; it’s what motivated me when I got married to make certain each Christmas season and throughout the year our family was involved with helping those in need.
My dad passed away in 2013 at the age of 95 but that conversation is still vivid in my mind. I credit my dad for helping me leave selfishness behind.
Best Christmas Tradition
If you’re like our family, you probably practice dozens of traditions around the holidays. One year I counted 36 traditions we celebrate just at Christmas! (ridiculous, I know).
Of those 36 traditions, several involved giving to others. But there is one activity that we did for others that stands out above the rest: “The 12 Days of Christmas”
This is a tradition that even your youngest child can get involved with.
Here’s how it works:
“The 12 Days of Christmas”
The 12 Days of Christmas is an activity where you choose one-to-three families and deliver little gifts to their home every day for 12 days. It’s more fun to do this anonymously by leaving the gifts on the doorstep.
Here are some basic organization steps:
- The first part of December, hold a family council meeting. Discuss one-to-three families you want to do the “12 Days of Christmas” for. Don’t make your criteria for choosing a family only those in “financial need.” “Need” can also include people who are lonely, sad, overwhelmed, or short of money.
- Decide on a budget. It may be that you can only do one family—and that’s enough.
- Start this activity on December 13 with the last delivery day being December 24—Christmas Eve.
- Discuss as a family what you want to make/create/do each day. For instance, what kinds of baked goods, treats, gifts, D.I.Y. projects, books, etc. do you want to give?
- Decide in advance what you will do on each of the 12 days. Then prepare as much as you can in advance.
- Choose gifts that all your family members can help create. In other words, don’t just go to the store and buy a bunch of things.
- Assign tasks to each family member. Everyone in the family needs to feel they are part of the giving process.
- These daily treats do not have to be big or expensive. I’ve included some ideas below, and there are literally hundreds of ideas online (i.e. Pinterest)
- The first day you deliver your goodies, include a note to the family. Tell them you have chosen their family to receive the “12 Days of Christmas.” Let them know that each day for 12 days you will be leaving some goodies on their doorstep. Again, explain that your family would like to remain anonymous.
A Great Lesson for Teaching About Giving
Of all the things we did to teach our children, “it is better to give than receive,” this was the most successful and effective. Probably because there was an element of fun and a BIG involvement of each family member—everyone helping to make things, sneaking up to the door, leaving the goodies, ringing the doorbell, and dashing back to the car before anyone can see you.
Try this activity on for size. You might find your family loves doing this type of service.
For gift ideas, think of things that require family involvement—both for your family and for the family you are doing this for. For example, it’s nice to give a batch of cookies—but instead give the dough, the cutters, and decorations…which is more fun for the recipients.
Here are some ideas that we did:
- Candy Trains: Make a train for each family member. Include the book, “The Little Engine that Could.” (instructions below)
- Painting Canvases: include the paints & brushes: these are available at Michael’s. This is a fun gift! Painting is very therapeutic for kids and adults. And it’s just what most of us need during the busy holiday season—something to help us unwind and relax.
- Sugar Cookies: include the dough, the cookie cutters, frosting, sprinkles, and basic instructions for baking the cookies
- Christmas book: choose one that your family loves. Have each person in your family write a note about the book and why it’s special to them and to your family
- Gingerbread houses: use graham crackers to make the houses (instructions below) and include the candies, frosting, etc., for the family to decorate the houses with. My sister Sharon gave this recipe to me years ago and it’s a lot easier than making traditional gingerbread houses.
- Small Christmas tree (table-size): include the tree, some decorations and a package of lights. Write a note and suggest that this is a tree to use in the kids’ bedroom
Instructions for Making Candy Trains:
- 1 package lifesavers (the ones on a roll)
- 1 package gum
- 1 piece of Rolo candy (must be packaged; for the smokestack)
- 4 Red & White round mints (for the wheels)
- Orange slice (for the cow catcher)
- Hot glue gun
- Heat up the glue gun
- Glue the package of lifesavers on top of the package of gum
- Glue the Rolo candy on top of the lifesaver (smokestack)
- Glue each of the wheels around the train
- Glue the cow catcher in front
These are easy-peasy. You can make these up in less than 5 minutes (it takes longer to find the materials). I’ve made these for 30+ years–for family gatherings, treats for school, and for the neighborhood kids. Adding the book, “The Little Engine that Could,” makes the gift more meaningful.
Instructions for Making Graham Cracker Gingerbread Houses
- Graham Crackers
- Melt about 1 cup of sugar—do not add anything to the sugar. Once it melts, it acts as a glue to put your gingerbread house together. Be very careful with this melted sugar–it is extremely HOT! Keep away from your children and keep some lavender oil close by in case you accidentally get burned.
- You need 6 squares with 2 crackers per square
- Dip the edge of two squares into the hot melted sugar and press them together
- Dip another (edge) of a cracker into the sugar and add to the others—it will be the 3rd wall of the house
- Dip another cracker into the sugar and press against the others—now you have all 4 walls
- Next, turn the house upside down and dip into the sugar mixture.
- Quickly dip the edges of the last 2 crackers into the melted sugar, press together to form a triangle. This is your roof of the gingerbread house
- Attach the roof to the house
- Decorate with candy, shredded wheat (for the roof) and other candies such as m&m’s, skittles, marshmallows, etc
Here is a short 20-second video of how to put together the gingerbread houses. Click here
Here’s the finished gingerbread house! (not!). I’m not showing you the final product. Why? Because you want your kids’ creative juices flowing without showing them what the end product is “supposed” to look like. So what if their gingerbread house looks like something Picasso made? Remember–his paintings may look “strange” to some but he started a whole revolution in the art world!
The point is–embrace your child’s creative spirit. Let them decorate their gingerbread house the way they want sans preconceived ideas.
Last, if you’ve done this tradition with your family–please comment below. Would love to hear how your kids enjoyed it and what they learned from it. Yes, it takes some planning–but is well worth the effort.
Traditions Are Important
To see just how important traditions are, try this experiment:
Just before Christmas, ask your children what presents they received for Christmas last year. I doubt they will remember and I bet you won’t remember either.
Now, ask your kids what traditions you did as a family the year before. They will probably rattle off tradition after tradition and what they mean to them.
It’s amazing how we can’t remember what we get for Christmas from year to year, but we DO remember the traditions we celebrate as a family.
And the “12 Days of Christmas” is one tradition they will never forget. Why? Because it’s giving and doing for others!
That’s the power of a Giving Tradition!
You can access the 2-minute video here