I had one of “those” Mommy conversations last night. You know the ones I mean? Where you are so distracted by noise, chaos, happy children & making sure they are safe while having fun – whilst at the same time, being aware of wanting to give all your attention to the conversation. The awareness that there are juicy layers of deliciousness to be unpacked, explored and shared…
This mom was talking to me about how her daughter’s birthday is so close to Christmas, and they’re encouraging her – the daughter – to consider gifting some of her Christmas money to a charity, and asking if we do anything like that, or what we do along the lines of giving to a charity… Now that she’s getting older, they – the parents – are wanting to develop that way of thinking… And what do we do along those lines…? Or do we do anything along those lines specifically at Christmas time?
I’m honoured that she thought to have this conversation with me. For so many reasons…
But here’s what I said to her – and the thoughts it triggered overnight…
We don’t gift at Christmas time to a charity – primarily because, at Christmas, we just don’t have the funds. There’s so much invested in this one day in a year around “making it special”. And, as a single mom, I do want to make it special for my child. Maybe I feel more pressure than I should because of the judgement I have that it’s just the two of us and a dog – and I do so want to make it extra special.
At the same time – I love to give. And I want my child to enjoy giving too. The tradition we have, is that leading up to Christmas time we make things – Home-baked biscuits, Rosemary Salt, vodkas or whiskeys with fruit from the Summer season, Jams with the left over drunken fruit… Simple things, that we can make earlier in the year (if we remember, and have time) – and then, at Christmas time, we go round leaving them on our neighbours and friends’ doorsteps early in the morning with a note from Santa’s Elves. We don’t put our name on the gifts. And, what I used to tell my child from an early age is that we were being Secret Santa Elf helpers, spreading a bit of extra love and cheer around our neighbourhood… We started doing this because, when he was wee, there simply wasn’t the money to buy presents for all the people I wanted to buy presents for – but we could do this with what we had growing or in the cupboard…. And, he went through a phase where he didn’t want people to know “it was him doing things”. Performance anxiety and shyness about being visible – I get it! I’m the same….
But 6 or 7 years down the line, and it has become one of his favourite things to do at Christmas.
And yes, it sets him up for unconditional giving…
Here’s the thing. It is easy to gift cash or presents. But the time involved in making these things, that is precious. It has become stressful to fit it all in… And yet, I’ll keep doing it.
Because Time is Precious, and the memories of what we do at Christmas will keep rippling throughout his life – not just at Christmas time but into all sorts of other areas. And that joy of just giving, even when no-one knows it was you who did the giving… That is a powerful Joy that rests within, and feeds my heart.
We do also always take a loaf of bread or a tin of biscuits over the road to the neighbour whenever we bake throughout – and watching my child puff up with pride at being able to gift something he knows our neighbour will enjoy – that brings me such fierce joy, and pride. It brings tears to my eyes, and my heart flows over… It is not a Christmas thing, it is just what we do.
And, our neighbour often turns up with windfall apples, or a fish, or venison – something he has extra of – and shares it with us. We have other friends we do this with, who do the same with us.
At the same time as all of this, we are the family that during lockdown needed support. Needed food vouchers from the local church, needed the stranger who randomly – and regularly – would drop off £40 through our letter box – which left me dissolving in tears of gratitude and wonder… And not just during lockdown, prior to that, since then… We’ve struggled sometimes and without the bags of pre-loved clothes that friends share with us as their children grow out of theirs we would have struggled even more. And all of this is ok. I made – and make choices – which have meant that the money is tight sometimes. Finding child care, balancing timings against jobs in the area, being self-employed and trying to re-start my massage practise, teaching online – all choices I’ve made as I’ve tried to balance honouring what I see and feel within me, with what the world around me expects or considers normal and acceptable. And still paying the bills. Time is so precious, and how and where we choose to spend it – so vitally precious….
Time is an investment. Both with what it creates right now in my life, and what it creates spooling forward through life in my child as he grows – what he will value later on as he grows. Deep empathy, compassion, an ability to give – and an ability to receive – I hope these are some of the things he grows old with.
So, here’s my thought. Gifting and receiving are natural parts of a cycle. Gifting only, and never receiving because of being too proud, or being ashamed, or not feeling worthy to receive, or because of being within a community of hoarders – I’ve been there, and it puts things out of balance. Receiving only, and not gifting – whether that’s time or money or resources – I’ve seen that and again, it puts things out of balance, creating a cycle of selfishness for some, poverty for others and a culture of fear, distrust and unhappiness. But to gift, and to receive, knowing that both are perfect and that each have their place – this fills me with Joy. Knowing that today we gift cake to our neighbour, and next week or the week after someone might gift us with a bag of clothes, or windfall apples… This brings me joy.
And it is not linked to Christmas, or a birthday, or a charity… It is simply a natural state of being, of gifting, receiving and sharing. Which can occur any day. Or Every Day.
And to have one – or two days – a year when I can say to my child – or any child – “This day is for you. It is a celebration of YOU, and of JOY, and of Being Together. This Day is a Celebration.” With whatever traditions or ceremony or name that we call it, Birthday or Christmas, or a day of Celebration and Being, it seems to me that this Celebration of THIS Individual, is a deep Validation that This life, This Being, is Precious. Just in this moment. Validation of this one Being and their place, in amongst all the other Beings…
Rather than asking a child to give up part of their Christmas presents to others less lucky, perhaps we can make giving an everyday thing so that, as they grow, perhaps they ask to give up their Christmas presents themselves, when they are ready to. When they realise for themselves that they have “enough” already, and when they realise for themselves that giving brings them as much, if not more, Joy, than receiving… When they feel full up, secure enough, whatever words we could use to describe this, that they simply, naturally, want to give more….
If we can make Giving normal, everyday – What a culture we then create of gifting, receiving, sharing, trust and faith – in every moment.
Because, I know, from having watched my parents to whom gifting was normal, that it became normal for me to give. And, at some point I reached an age where I just didn’t feel the need for more. More stuff. And I got more joy out of gifting…. Part of that was the investment of time and energy my parents put into being with us – it filled us up. And part of that time and energy, was in creating things we could give… So giving became normal, and the making of things – that time spent together – to give became the source of our Joy. My brother was older than I was when he switched from wanting lots of presents, to wanting to gift more. So what? He is a different being to me, with a different personality and emotional make up. And being younger, felt for a while that he was “less” because he was “younger”.
So, what I would say to the mom I was talking to last night, is to give time. Volunteer, get involved in local community projects and charities – and let the children see you, and me, doing that. Without making a big deal out of it. Take them along to spend time so they can see the eyes of people they give to – how they light up with joy at seeing children giving… Receiving is hard sometimes for so many. There is shame sometimes, and heartache. But when children are involved, it can help to break that down a bit, especially where it is a community project and people are just working together to offer more into the whole. Children naturally then grow up with a giving mentality, and when they are older, they will naturally give more themselves…
Make giving normal. Make it unconditional. Make it fun and sneak around in the dark to leave unexpected and beautiful presents on people’s doorsteps. Give what can be used and appreciated, that you have a connection with from having grown it yourself, or baked. And let the children enjoy the fun of it – and naturally, they will grow to want to give more…. And delight in those packages dropped off on your own doorstep by the Secret Santa Elves….
Make giving and receiving normal….
And a culture of gifting part of your daily way of being in the world, whilst still celebrating each precious being in your life with a space of time that honours just them.