Monday, December 15, 2008

One spiritually meaningful idea for Christmas

Many ask about how they can celebrate Christmas with both secular and more spiritual joy and meaningfulness. Here is an idea that I’ve just developed, and will do myself.

If you have a Christmas tree (or a Hanukkah bush, as I know many families with children will create), or a place where you put the presents that the family will receive, here is what I suggest that you add.

Decide on the several charities that you already or want to steadily donate money to each year. Many people give cash donations to charities around Christmas, before the end of year, both for charitable reasons of the season, and also so that the gifts are included as deductions in the closing year’s taxes. So you probably already have a list or, alternatively, you tend to reply to the more recent appeals that are mailed to you. Identify a core list that you intend to donate at least a small amount to each year at this time. I recently blogged about the Catholic charity Caritas, so let’s use that as an example; add to it the Salvation Army and let’s say a pet charity like the ASPCA.

Now, select an empty box for each charity, and place inside the box a slip of paper with the name of the charity written on it. Wrap the box and decorate it with bows and so forth, just as you would any other gift with one exception: you will be looking at that box year after year under your tree, so decorate it especially nicely. Then place a tag on the box, labeling the recipient as being the charity and the dollar amount that you intend at the very least amount to donate. Thus, one box would be tagged: “To Caritas, $25” for example. Every year you place this under your tree as a reminder to make the donation, but also to recognize that when you give alms or provide charity you are also giving a gift to yourself.

This will be especially meaningful and fun for families with children. This is one way that very young children can learn that at Christmas one gives a gift to people who are poor, and who do not have a tree or gifts of their own. Little children can learn to place the charity box presents under the tree, and watch then when mom or dad write the check or make the online donation. Children can learn to put an “X” on the tag and the written year when the gift has been made, and understand that this “gift” is on its way to the poor and other needy with good causes.

As children get older they may help to make the donation. As they receive an allowance or earn money through chores or part time jobs when they are of age, they can add their own “causes,” make their own boxes and tags and commitments under the tree.

This is a fun, attractive, easy to do and enduring way to make the Christmas and Hanukkah holidays more spiritually meaningful for the entire family (and for those who celebrate the holidays alone, what a nice way to have something that is also of good cheer for you under the tree). Decorating the box is fun for everyone too because, as I said, it is an enduring decoration, one that is not unwrapped and discarded year after year, but instead, viewed and enjoyed each year, with markings on the tags added that the donations were made year after year. And ha, we know there will always be some children who unwrap those presents and that's cool... that is why the slip of paper with the name of the charity is inside, just in case they do, so they learn that gifts take place even if there is an "empty box," that it is never truly empty if alms or charity have been given. You may even let your kids unwrap the charity boxes and then they can have the choice of new decoration for wrapping it for next year's gift box!

I hope that you like this suggestion!