If Christmas is to be “the most wonderful time of the year” then it’s going to cost big bucks to make it happen, right?  Have you ever sat down and calculated the cost of Christmas?  If you do, just be careful that you don’t end up pinching your pennies like Ebenezer Scrooge and miss the meaning of the season altogether this year.

Around this time of year, many families struggle with fostering an environment of hope, joy and love without developing a humbug spirit or creating an environment of materialism for the kids.

As Christians, for our families it always begins with remembering that Christmas is the celebration of the first gift ever given, the birth of Jesus. What an incredible gift that was! 

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Think about it…would you rather have an “official Red Ryder, carbine action, two-hundred-shot-range model air rifle” or the gift of heaven?  (I wonder what Ralphie would say?)  This gift came at an incredible cost; so remembering this helps keep things in perspective in the Benham households.

But no matter your faith, Christmas still has financial costs today.  Did you know that according to the American Research Group, Inc., the average American plans to spend $861 on Christmas gifts this year?  And that’s only what we plan to spend! Who knows what that final number will be by the time the last gift is unwrapped and all the gingerbread men are eaten. The cost of Christmas adds up pretty quickly if we’re not careful!

A simple way we try to keep costs from stealing the spirit of the season from our homes – like the Grinch tried to do at Cindy Lou Who’s house in Whoville – is to give thoughtful gifts to needy families in our community.  

We call it the Christmas box tradition. Not only is this a simple way to teach our kids the timeless value of giving during Christmas, it also provides excellent quality time as a family and builds memories that last a lifetime.

Our parents started the tradition when we were eight-years-old growing up in Dallas, Texas.  We lived in a small neighborhood where there were needy families all around us.  

One Christmas, Dad came home and told us about a family of seven where the father had lost his job. He was working nights delivering pizzas just to keep food on the table, so we decided to help. We put together a small box of gifts for the family.    

We’ll never forget walking in the door on Christmas Eve as the mother was rocking her baby to sleep in front of a barren Christmas tree.  The other kids were all in their beds as their father was still delivering pizzas late into the night.  

As we quietly placed the gifts under the tree she was overwhelmed with such joy and hope that she couldn’t stop smiling and thanking us. The look on her face and the tears in her eyes warmed our hearts and changed us forever.  That night Christmas became real to us for the first time.

We didn’t have a lot of money and the gifts we gave were really small, but that one simple act of giving gave us a tiny glimpse of the joy God must have felt when He gave us His Son. 

We discovered that night that giving what little we had was well worth the cost, because it truly is better to give than to receive.  To this day we carry on the Christmas box tradition with both of our families.

One of the ways we identify families in need of a box is by making an ornament for each of our neighbors, hand delivering them to each house, allowing us to connect with them and scope out any needs we might otherwise have overlooked. 

This has been an incredibly rewarding tradition, as some years a neighbor just might receive a Christmas box. Another avenue for finding Christmas box recipients is to contact a local charity.

Our local Boys & Girls Club always knows of a family or two that could use some extra hope around the holidays.

What we include in the boxes depends on the family and their needs, but we almost always pack a gift card for groceries, a blanket and a candle. We also add in small gifts for the kids, but nothing too outrageous. Remember, the point of the Christmas box is to provide love and hope for a family who needs it, not to stress over buying lots of extravagant things.

As parents, one of the most rewarding parts of the Christmas box tradition is to see our kids get so excited about giving to others. 

We save up throughout the year, and actually have a separate bank account to hold our Christmas box money so that we’re prepared when the season comes. Our kids love contributing to the “Christmas box fund” as well, and love seeing the joy of those receiving their gifts even more.

Another giving tradition our kids embrace is the “spot bless.” Just this week, we went to the mall with a few gift cards and let the kids pick families to receive them. We simply say, “Merry Christmas—we want to bless you this year!” and then go about our business. 

Another way we practice the “spot bless” is with those who serve us everyday—waiters and waitresses, hairdressers, mechanics, the mailman, garbage man, etc. The looks on their faces when they receive a little extra money for Christmas from someone they serve is priceless, and the impact on our kids is profound.

We have found that the easiest way to catch the true spirit of the season really doesn’t have to break the bank. Simple traditions of giving to those in need closest to you – whether through your time, talent, or treasure – will likely be the traditions you and your kids treasure most for Christmases to come. 

If you pause for a moment and look around this season you’ll find easy ways to give. And it doesn’t take much – like our little Christmas box tradition or “spot-blessing” those who serve you – to fill someone’s heart with all the hope and love that this “most wonderful time of the year” has to offer.

David and Jason Benham are twin brothers, nationally acclaimed real estate entrepreneurs, and the authors of the forthcoming book, "Whatever the Cost: Facing Your Fears, Dying to Your Dreams, and Living Powerfully" (Thomas Nelson, February 2015).