In our family, we have a rather dubious tradition on Thanksgiving Day of ‘running’ the Turkey Triathlon, which involves the three events of: eating entirely too much, watching NFL football, and pouring over the ‘sale papers’ (for the rest of you, those are the five metric tons of advertisements in the Thanksgiving Day newspapers in anticipation of Black Friday).
This year, we are cutting way back on Christmas shopping. Our medical bills are still a big strain on our credit cards and have showed little sign of easing. (Regardless of what Mary thinks about her hospital stay, all three of us have contributed a lot to the medical debt for this year.) All the adults in the family decided not to buy for each other this year. It’s not like we need anything anyway, well except for someone to pay for our medical bills. I often do shopping for my little business on Black Friday since office stuff is usually way cheaper, but I’m not doing that this year either. We’re still buying for the nieces and nephews, but that’s it.
Below, I’m going to give you some suggestions on better things to do with your holiday dollars.
One tradition we won’t give up regardless of the economy is sponsoring children who are in our local guardian ad litem program, which essentially means that the children’s parents are either absent, abusive, or otherwise unable or unfit to care for their children and someone is appointed by the courts to look after the children’s interests and well-being. Often the children stay with a close relative while all this is going on, and it’s common for those relatives to seek and eventually get custody of the children.
The problem is that these children and the people they currently live with are in a state of legal limbo. Whoever they live with during this does not receive the usual government support that a foster parent or an adoptive parent might get because parental custody issues are still being worked out in the courts. Not surprisingly, the people looking after these children have very little money, and most of the time, these kids won’t be getting much, if anything at all, for Christmas. As bad as that is, these kids didn’t end up in the guardian ad litem program because their parents were model citizens. Many have suffered abuse and even worse.
On the sponsorship forms, the children are generally allowed to ask for three things. Ask most kids around Christmas what they want, and you won’t get just three things on that list and 99.999% of the time that list has just toys on it. Last year, one of the kids asked for pants, a warm coat, and underwear. UNDERWEAR!? Allow me to write this in all caps, NO KID SHOULD HAVE TO WRITE ON A FORM THAT THEY NEED UNDERWEAR! And it kills me to think that he’s probably outgrown what we bought him last year, and I worry whether he has clothes now.
I know the economy sucks right now, but instead of buying things no one needs, go find some children in your community who don’t have anything and help them to have a good holiday. Then go online and help some children who live somewhere else.
Regardless of what you believe or don’t believe about the religious significance of this season, I think the holidays are supposed to magical and full of hope and wonder. Kids shouldn’t have to be asking for underwear; they should know that in this world there are people who care for them, even complete strangers. I think knowing that might help them start to believe, at least a little, that the world might be safe for them.
I look at J-Man and try to imagine him having to ask for clothes on some form just so he can be warm or having to wait in line at a shelter or a food bank just so he could eat. It just breaks my heart.
The J-Man really couldn’t care less about presents anyway. He has rarely showed any interest in unwrapping things and usually doesn’t have much of a reaction to new toys since he only gets attached to things after they’ve been around a while. He has way too much stuff as it is, particularly from the rest of the family. We decided before he was born to not turn Christmas into this orgy of toy buying for our kids but rather have traditions that involve helping others. We try to buy him two or three small things we think he’ll like – if not now then eventually – and a few things from the Teach Me Store that will help him in his learning. Don’t tell him, but we did get him a big wagon this year. ($17 Target sale!)
To help you get started, here are some charities I really respect and who allow you to give ‘alternative holiday gifts’, which make very special gifts both to the person you’re giving them to but also to those who benefit from your donation.
Kiva – Your donations are used as microloans to entrepreneurs in the developing world who use the money to lift themselves out of poverty. Cool gift giving idea – Purchase a Kiva Gift Certificate, give it to someone, and then let them decide which entrepreneurs receive the loan.
Oxfam Unwrapped – (Americans go here; see Oxfam in other countries here) One year I gave my Dad a dried cow dung sculpture for his birthday (it’s OK, we can do that in my family!), which is why he bought me the goat from Heifer in return. So I one-upped him a bought him an Emergency Toilet from Oxfam. The possibilities are endless.
There are plenty of charities out there. Go find one, donate what you can, and buy less stuff for Christmas. Your family is the greatest gift you’ll ever receive anyway, and focusing on what’s really important during the holidays is the best way you can celebrate that.
Thanks for reading.
[Note: Since we’re getting more and more readers from outside the U.S., ‘Black Friday’ is the day after Thanksgiving where half of America goes out and does their Christmas shopping because that’s when stores usually have their biggest sales of the year. ‘Black’ comes from stores hoping to be ‘in the black’ or making their biggest profits of the year, which in our economy is very unlikely this year.]