Christmas is a festive time when many families come together, homes are decorated with trees hung with ornaments and lights and sumptuous dinners are prepared. Christmas also can be, for a variety of reasons, a time of stress. One source of stress is the oppression of the shopping list. The longer the list, the greater the anxiety--what shall I get for this niece or that cousin or friend? How do I avoid giving a gift that's too similar to what I gave last year? And of course there are the demands of children who want the latest video game or electronic gadget. Bending to the pressure, many of us join the legions of shoppers hunched over and weighted down by bags full of holiday things.
Amidst it all, we lose sight of the meaning of Christmas. We forget to tell our children why we give gifts in the first place--the story Christians believe about the first Christmas' gift to the world of the Prince of Peace. When he walked on the Earth, he spoke to us of the gifts that really matter: "For I was hungered, and ye gave me meat; I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink; I was a stranger, and ye took me in; naked, and ye clothed me; I was sick, and ye visited me; I was in prison, and ye came unto me." This message of giving speaks to what's good in and required of all of us.
Christmas is a time to enrich the lives of our children by sharing with them the joy and gift of giving. This can be done in many ways. While shopping with your children, have them select a toy to give to a poor child. Some time during the Christmas season, take your children to a homeless shelter or soup kitchen and volunteer to help prepare or serve food. Bake together a few dozen cookies and take them to your local children's hospital or nursing home to brighten the day of someone less fortunate.
There are many in need not only in our own communities but in our global community. I'm reminded of the wonderful children's story of Beatrice's Goat by Page McBrier about a young Ugandan girl whose dream of going to school seems out of reach because her family is poor. But things change for Beatrice when her family is selected to receive a goat from Heifer International, a program that provides livestock to those in need around the world. After months dutifully tending the goat and selling its milk at the market, Beatrice finally has enough money to pay for books and a school uniform. Then one day, dressed in her new school uniform, after taking the goat's milk to market, Beatrice makes her way to her first day of school.
You can participate in the Heifer International program (heifer.org) by giving a struggling family in another land the gift of a goat, alpaca, camel, cow, donkey, horse, llama, pig, sheep, a water buffalo, yak, honey bees, a school of fish or a flock of chickens, ducks or geese. The lives of the receiving family will be improved economically by the wool, eggs, milk or honey provided by the animals. In exchange, the receiving family promises to pass the first offspring on to another family--it's called "Passing on the Gift." This living chain of giving is a dynamic and sustainable approach to grassroots economic development.
The gift of a dairy goat (at $120) can supply a family several quarts of nutritious milk a day--a ton of milk a year. Extra milk can be sold or used to make cheese, butter or yogurt. Goats can thrive in extreme climates and on poor, dry land by eating grass and leaves. Because goats often have two or three kids a year, Heifer partners can help lift themselves out of poverty by starting small dairies that earn money for food, health care and education. Geese (at $20) are easy to care for. They don't require much shelter and can adapt to most climates. They can lay up to 75 eggs a year providing a ready source of protein and income.
My grandchildren picked the animals they wanted me to give in their honor with great excitement! This year I'm also buying my grandchildren three banks each for Christmas: one for saving, one for spending, and one for sharing. I hope this will teach them the value of thrift and how to share their good fortune with others. I also hope this will help them understand the true meaning of Christmas.