With the excitement that only a child knows, I would run to the brightly decorated tree in our home on Christmas morning and search for the presents which had my name on them. These are childhood memories that I still cherish.
We are touched by the smiles on children’s faces when a present is given to them. However, some children have never known the joy of receiving a Christmas present. Their families struggle to eke out a living both in this country and in the most impoverished places in the world.
In developing countries, some of these children live in homes with dirt floors, no electricity and no running water. Their families have no extra income to buy a present for their children, no matter how simple the gift.
While dirt floors and no electricity aren’t what the great majority of families in the United States are facing, children here in impoverished homes will not be getting the mountains of gifts seemingly synonymous with an American Christmas.
Lamenting the materialism of Christmas happens every year for good reason, since it overshadows the true meaning of Christmas, the celebration of the birth of Christ. Giving Christmas presents traces back to that night when our Savior, as a small baby, received extravagant gifts from the Wise Men.
As Christians, we are called to help each other, to love each other with the love of Christ.
While gold, frankincense and myrrh won’t likely be sitting under any Christmas trees in today’s modern world, the spirt of giving to others lives on during this special season. Christmas giving does not need to be extravagant or expensive. As Christians, we are called to help each other, to love each other with the love of Christ.
Here at home, participating in the Angel Tree or Giving Tree at one’s church is a great way to help families in local areas be sure their children have something to open on Christmas morning and giving those memories to parents who are having a tough time making ends meet.
Other Christian denominations also have wonderful opportunities of helping families who need that extra help to experience the joy of giving on Christmas morning. It’s a beautiful time of year to demonstrate the love and compassion of Jesus Christ.
Internationally, the Box of Joy program from Cross Catholic Outreach offers us a way to put a smile on children in impoverished nations. A box, about the size of a shoe box, is filled with items and given to children for Christmas. The items in these boxes include toys such as a ball, jump rope, or crayons; everyday items such as a toothbrush, comb, or mirror; educational items such as pencils, math flash cards, or writing pad. In short, the box contains whatever the donor wishes to give in order to bring a smile to a child’s face and to make the holidays brighter.
These items, as ordinary as they may be, are treasures to a child who otherwise would not receive a gift of any sort. And it gives families a wonderful opportunity to demonstrate charity to their children during the holidays as they shop together to pack their own box.
Those who distribute the Boxes of Joy consistently report how impressed they are that the children do not immediately begin to use their treasures. Instead, once each has gleefully surveyed the contents of the box, they carefully reclose the box to bring it home and share the presents with their brothers and sisters. It shows how true gratitude understands the importance of sharing.
In both here and abroad, the question is usually raised about the reasons behind giving children material goods that they may not necessarily need to survive versus giving them clean water, food, and clothes. The Catholic Church, Cross Catholic Outreach, and the thousands of churches and charities nationwide do not neglect these basic needs of our brothers and sisters, yet it is also important to feed the heart.
Children need hope; they need to know that someone cares about them. Whether it’s a shoebox filled with small gifts or a present wrapped under a Christmas tree, these gifts brighten the faces of the children and lift their spirits.
The Tuesday after Thanksgiving — and following Black Friday and Cyber Monday — is Giving Tuesday (Nov. 28). In the midst of our personal holiday preparations, Giving Tuesday gives us the opportunity to remember others.
As we shop for presents for our loved ones, perhaps we can remember the children who can only dream of a Christmas present. We can remember that we should be grateful for all we have and that gratitude understands the importance of sharing.