The morning after our extended-family Hanukkah party last year, I freaked out.
It may have been the haze of post-latke consumption, but I looked around our living room at the shreds of wrapping paper left on the floor and the piles of big gifts for my children and felt like we hadn’t done enough to help our kids realize that many children right in our city wouldn’t have a holiday like they have. I didn’t want them to feel guilty — but I did want them to feel generous, to instill the desire to share our fortune with others.
I gave my daughter a extra-large garbage bag and asked her to go up to her closet and fill the bag with the stuffed animals, books and games that were sitting in there that she had already stopped playing with. I explained that we were driving over to a local homeless shelter that needs gently used toys for the children who live there.
She protested for a minute, but when I reminded her about all of the presents waiting for her from her aunts and uncles and grandparents, she worked quickly. We drove to the shelter together and she helped me carry the three large bags that she had filled.
That trip generated some very productive conversations about giving, money, poverty and how each person, regardless of how much money you have, can cultivate a spirit of generosity.
In the year since, I’ve tried to bring generosity into our home in different ways. At this time of year, when our children are surrounded by commercials and catalogs, we have a wonderful opportunity to help our children think about and share their resources with others. Here are a few ideas that work in our home.
All year long: My kids are growing quickly and seem to outgrow most of last season’s clothes. We put aside what doesn’t fit anymore to donate — and look over our “things” at the same time to see if there are also books and toys that can be parted with. Since my daughter took the trip with me to see the shelter, she is much more likely to pass on things she isn’t using anymore.
Find opportunities in your community: Look for opportunities at your child’s school, at your house of worship, in your neighborhood association. Toys for Tots is always a great way to give —take your child to the store to purchase something for another child with you so he/she can take ownership of the giving. If your child gets an allowance or has money saved from gifts, encourage him/her to contribute to the gift or buy a small gift with his/her money.
Talk about it: It’s healthy to talk about money, savings and the cost of things with our kids, and I believe that doing so can be part of a productive conversation around their personal “wish lists.” Recently, my daughter was looking at the American Girl Doll catalog and asked if she could get a new outfit for her doll for Hanukkah and I said yes. She found a doll bed that she liked and asked if she could get that, too — we looked at it and saw the price tag: $125. I explained to her that $125 could actually buy a toddler/child bed for a real child and it seemed like a lot of money for a doll. Sharing that information gave her a reality check — we decided to look at Target for a doll bed instead.
Wishing you and your families a holiday season full of love and generosity.