Let's be honest: Kids get greedy during the holidays. Despite all the heartwarming Christmas specials about being all together for the holidays, kids are all thinking about what presents they're going to get or what to ask for from Santa.
We can't really blame them -- they're just following what the grownups do. Everywhere: on tv, in magazines, at the mall, it's all about sales and shopping and presents. Even us mom bloggers, with our holiday gift guides and giveaways, are perpetuating the materialistic focus.
I'm not suggesting that we do away with holiday presents and shun all forms of media to isolate ourselves from all the commercialism, not by a long shot! I actually love gift giving and receiving, and shamefully count myself among the masses who spend more money on their kids than they probably should. That's why, even though I agree that community giving and involvement should happen throughout the year, I think there needs to be a special focus on it during the holidays. Giving and buying presents is all fine, but the important thing is to pair it with selflessness, not selfishness. That's why we always give to Toys for Tots and One Warm Coat, and the kids always get to select a wish card at their school's Family Giving Tree -- because if they're going to get all excited about holiday shopping, I want it to be paired with an excitement about shopping for others.
Buying presents for others is just the first step -- the next step is to take that desire to make other people's holidays as happy as theirs, and translate that into non-monetary ways of helping. I want them to realize that even with all the money in the world, people in need cannot get help they need without the efforts of dedicated volunteers who are willing to give their time.
The problem is that most organizations require volunteers to be a certain age, usually 15, 16, 18 or older. Volunteering websites and parenting websites suggest ways for kids to be involved like making cards or running lemonade stands or participating in change drives. That's all very good, and the kids have done that, but I thought it would be nice to get them directly involved. So this year, I signed the family up to wrap presents for the Family Giving Tree. I've tried signing us up for several years now, but each time they have run out of volunteer slots. This year I got lucky -- we got a 3-hour slot on a weekend for all 5 of us.
When we got to the Giving Tree warehouse, we learned that they were so overwhelmed with toy requests that they didn't even have time to wrap presents at that point. Our job was to go through piles of sorted presents and match them up with their proper recipient lists, then bag the presents so they would be ready to pile into a delivery truck the next day. Sometimes there would be duplicate presents, or there would be a present missing, or the wrong present would be in the pile. In those cases, we had to "shop" for the missing (or unmatched) present in a "store" (made up of extra or duplicate presents) based on the child's wish tag.
I'm so proud of our kids -- all three of them helped so much, and they had a great time doing it. We stayed for the whole 3 hours and were the last ones to leave, long after all the cub scouts and office groups and corporate teams had gone home. The Pea, 3Po and Jammy worked like draft horses, tirelessly checking their lists (and checking them twice), sorting, bagging, taping, running to and fro to get bags or tape or scissors, taking special care to make sure every kid got what they had asked for. After the night was over, we were all full of enthusiastic stories about how they had felt so sorry for a kid who had been given the wrong present (Chunky Crayolas and a coloring book for an 11-year old who had asked for a drawing set? Really? Come on!!), and how excited they were when they found the perfect present for the child in the "store". They all wanted to come back the next day, and were all sorely disappointed to hear that there were only a limited number of volunteer slots. I loved how excited the kids got over making other kids happy for the holidays! They got all the materialistic gratification of "shopping" for presents at a "store", but they knew they were doing it for someone else who wasn't as lucky as they were -- and that made them even more excited to do it. We'll definitely be signing up for this again next year, even if I have to check the Family Giving Tree website every day from October 2012 onwards. It was such a wonderful opportunity to turn that shop-shop-shop mentality into something more constructive and selfless.