Written by Jill Hardie, this story first appeared in Guideposts magazine, a monthly publication, founded by Rev. Dr. Norman Vincent Peale, that provides hope, encouragement and inspiration to millions. Download a condensed version of 'The Power of Positive Thinking' absolutely FREE.
Every year, under our family's Christmas tree is a small box wrapped in sparkly silver foil. And all of us--my husband, Tim, our kids, Jack and Katie, and I--look forward to opening that gift more than any other present under the tree. After all, it transformed our Christmas.
The box with the sparkly wrapping wasn't always there. The first time it appeared was when Jack was seven and Katie was 15.
I found myself struggling with the usual holiday stress. Did the kids get enough presents? A skateboard, Legos and a sled for Jack; books, earrings and some new CDs for Katie. Did I have enough stuff for their stockings? Should I get bigger stockings?
One day I threw up my hands in frustration. Is this what Christmas is supposed to be about? Really?
I love giving at Christmastime, especially to my family. But as a parent, wasn't it also my responsibility to teach my kids why we give on Christmas? I felt like my family had been pulled into the vortex of commercialism and needed a way out.
Inspiration struck while Tim and I strolled with the kids through our church's "Alternative Gift Market." Organizations that help those in need, like Habitat for Humanity, Heifer International and the YWCA of Canton's homeless shelter, had set up tables explaining the programs you can support.
In years past, we donated art lessons to a child in honor of my mother, an art lover. For my brother, a young, single guy, we donated "a flock of chicks," which made him laugh and helped a poor farm family in need.
That night, Tim and I made a deal with the kids. This year, each one of us would give something to people less fortunate. "Every time we make a donation, we'll write it down," I said. "This will be our gift in honor of a very special someone."
"Who, Mom?" the kids asked.
"You'll see. Now let's get going!"
Over the next few weeks, the kids got busy.
"Mom, my class is collecting mittens for the poor," Jack told us when we picked him up from elementary school one day. We stopped at a department store and he picked out several pairs. Katie earned money and picked out gifts to help her Girl Scout troop fill shoeboxes for Operation Christmas Child.
One evening at the dinner table, we passed around a catalog from Heifer International and picked a goat to give to a family in a poor country.
On Christmas Eve, I put all the gifts we'd recorded into an old jewelry box and wrapped it in sparkly foil. Then I tucked it under the tree.
"Who's that for?" the kids asked on Christmas morning.
We opened it first, and I unfolded the pieces of paper inside. "Jesus taught us, whatever we do for those in need, we do for him," I said.
Jack and Katie sat quietly beside the tree and beamed with each gift I read--the perfect birthday presents for Jesus.
Filling that sparkly box has been our Christmas tradition ever since. Last year, Jack, who was saving his money for an iPod touch, donated half his savings to buy mosquito nets to help prevent the deadly spread of malaria in developing countries. Katie matched him by giving money to a water-filter project in Africa.
That small sparkly box transformed our Christmas. It reminded us to remember the greatest gift of all on Christmas.
Watch as Jill Hardie discusses her book, The Sparkle Box.