When I teach little children at Christmas time, I like to ask them what they want to give Jesus for His birthday. Their answers usually reflect the kinds of gifts they want to receive themselves, since, in their minds, those are the very best gifts. I love their answers, however impractical they might be to carry out, because it demonstrates that they want to give Jesus what they consider to be the best Christmas presents they can give.
After they have shared what they would like to give Jesus, I point out that it would be very hard to get those gifts to Him, so He’s asked us to give Him a different kind of gift. One way we can give Jesus a gift is by helping someone who needs help. For instance, they can give the toys they named to a child whose family doesn’t have much money. Another way is to decide to keep a commandment better. They might decide to help their parents more, be kinder to a sibling, or always try to tell the truth. They can set a goal to read their scriptures (or have someone read to them) every day, or to pray more often. I help them make a little gift card for Jesus sharing what they plan to do.
By focusing outside our usual Christmas circle, we can remember to keep the gift-giving more centered on Christ than Santa. While it’s completely appropriate to give to our family and friends, we can also look for interesting ways to serve outside that circle.
Formal Christmas gift-giving programs are wonderful for making sure every child has a gift at Christmas time. However, they can sometimes be organized in such a way as to still leave the parents a little sad, particularly if this is a rare time of hardship and they are missing their normal traditions. Many of the programs like to hand the gifts to the children themselves at a party, which means there is still nothing under the tree Christmas morning. Consider finding such a child and selecting a few gifts the parents can place under the tree. Better yet, give the parents a gift certificate and let them buy the gifts themselves. During one hard Christmas, my children had gifts given to them by others, for which I was very grateful, but I felt a deep loss at not being able to do the part of Christmas I loved best—selecting, purchasing, and preparing the gifts. Let the parents have the fun of choosing their children’s gifts. Be sure to include gift wrapping supplies with your gift.
When times are hard, parents are mostly focused on making sure their children have a wonderful holiday. However old we are, though, most of us still love to find a little gift under the tree for ourselves. When there is a single parent with younger children, the parent seldom receives a Christmas gift. If the children are old enough, take them shopping and let them buy gifts for their parents. Help them wrap the gift. If they are too little, prepare a gift yourself and deliver it Christmas Eve with a note to open when the children open their gifts. Try to make the gift a luxury rather than a necessity.
If you want to do something a little different, think about the animals. Many rescue groups need help with food, litter, and other animal supplies during the holidays. Their volunteers are on tight budgets, and the holidays can make it hard for them to care for the animals they are fostering.
At the start of the school year, many people donate school supplies to children in need, but by Christmas, the supplies are often running thin. Drop off a basket of crayons, paper, and other supplies to your local school, who can give them to a teacher or a child who needs them. A winter outfit for a child will probably find a home in the school as well.
Service doesn’t always have to cost money. Time is a wonderful gift to give and since people have so little of it during Christmas, your gift of time might be what they want most. Offer to watch children while parents shop. Visit a few people who don’t get many visitors—and keep returning to them after Christmas is over. Shovel a sidewalk. Volunteer to wrap gifts for a mother of little children, or to hide the gifts in your home for her so her children won’t find them.
If your own time and money are short, try instant service projects. Offer to take the empty shopping cart of an older person so she doesn’t have to walk back to the cart return. Let someone go ahead of you in line, particularly if that person has small, fussy children. Compliment complete strangers on the behavior of their children—they’ll never forget that you did. Buy a cookie while you’re at the mall and deliver it to Santa when there isn’t a line. Praise a mother who is being especially patient with a cranky child or a father who is caring for his children. Leave a larger than usual tip at the restaurant.
As I ask my students to do, choose a specific gift you’re going to give the Savior for the entire year. Write it down and put it where you will see it. Put reminders on your phone or calendar. Write it on sticky note or white board. At the end of the year, report to Him how you did—and then pick out a new gift for the next year. When you make it a gift to the Savior, you are more likely to follow through than you might on an ordinary New Year resolution. Choose wisely—and ask Him for help in making your choice.
Make your Christmas giving memorable this year by giving in new ways.
Terrie Lynn Bittner
The late Terrie Lynn Bittner—beloved wife, mother, grandmother, and friend—was the author of two homeschooling books and numerous articles, including several that appeared in Latter-day Saint magazines. She became a member of the Church at the age of 17 and began sharing her faith online in 1992.