Giving Back: The Only Holiday Tradition My Family Can Manage to Stick With

girl with a gift

When the first of my two kids was born, I decided our new Christmas tradition would involve a neat little trick: me transforming into Martha Stewart.


I envisioned The Perfect Christmas. Our house would blaze with holiday lights. Every ornament on our tree would be homemade. I'd roll out dozens of sugar cookies and dapper gingerbread men to pass out to our neighbors. And forget hot apple cider -- I would be making wassail from scratch.

But 12 years and two kids later, all of that has yet to happen. In fact, every holiday season at my house gets a little sloppier.

Gifts are wrapped between 10 p.m. and 1 a.m. Christmas morning, usually while my husband and I ration itty-bitty pieces of transparent tape because we both forgot to plan ahead and buy more.

For holiday decorations, I sheepishly rely on whatever my kids bring home from school. (And allow them to tack up said art creations wherever they like, although maybe that explains what happens to my tape.)

As for "Santa," he's lucky if he's left a few carrots on a plate. My kids figured out years ago that he wasn't real -- maybe because we never encouraged them to sprinkle "reindeer dust" on the front yard like other families did.

(For the record, that was on my list, too.)

It's not than I'm anti-holiday. I love Christmas. It's just that every other day of the year -- which includes things like work, homework, getting a new clutch in the car, running the dog, vacuuming up after the dog, etc. -- leaves me needing a day off. And, um, that's usually around December 25.

But my family does stick to one annual holiday tradition. Every year, in between looking for that wretched tape and gorging ourselves on the lovely homemade gingerbread people we get from other moms who are well organized, we do something nice for someone else.

Exactly what we do varies from year to year. Once, we brought bags of dog food and blankets to our local humane society. Another time, we donated gifts and books to a toy drive.

There was the Christmas we made fudge for pretty much every person we knew. (Even the mailman.) We've donated books to the library and given money to the barn where my daughter takes horseback riding lessons.

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Last year, a classroom at my son's middle school was trying to give a family in need the best Christmas ever. My son, without hesitation, gathered up a brand-new skateboard that he'd gotten for his birthday -- because a skateboard was on the family's wish list -- and handed it over.

(Did I get a little teary at that? Yep.)

Sometimes our tradition doesn't happen until after we ring in the New Year. But the important part is that we do something for someone besides ourselves. With all the selfishness in the world, I like to think I'm raising two kids who buck that trend, even if it's one package of donated socks at a time.

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And it's not just about money, or what we can buy and give away. When my kids learn a sick neighbor needs her yard raked or a friend needs help catching his lost dog, they don't hesitate to help out.

Do I still wish my mantel had something on it besides, uh, the same things that are there the rest of the year? And that our holiday lights were dazzling? Of course! But unlike holiday cards which are eventually recycled, or a Christmas tree which gets hauled onto the curb in early January, our "giving" tradition keeps giving back to us.


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