My favorite Christmas gift each year is the one from my parents. To me, it embodies the true spirit of Christmas perfectly and makes me feel all warm and fuzzy inside.
I come from a family of many, many children who now have many, many children and grandchildren of their own. Buying gifts for each one of them would be chaotic, expensive and impractical. More importantly, all that commercialism wouldn't reflect who my parents are. They are down-to-earth, authentic, self-reflective Quakers (yes, some of that is redundant). Their generosity of both time and money is brimming over with purposeful intent and a goal of leaving all those children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren the most meaningful gift of all...a world made better by my parents having been a part of it. So each year, they carefully select an organization whose mission aligns with the values they've spent a lifetime instilling in their offspring and make a donation in our honor. I really can't think of a better legacy to pass on to my own children.
Teaching altruism is not something you can do except by example, and the more examples our children have of it, the better the lesson is learned. The holidays present a unique opportunity to show our appreciation for those who model the concept throughout the year. One such group is teachers. I used to show our thanks for their service and sacrifice with home-baked goods. But as my kids have grown, we've been blessed by an increasing number of these amazing people in our lives, and there simply isn't enough butter, sugar or time for that to be practical anymore. When the kids entered middle school, with 7-10 devoted educators each, I decided to put into practice the lessons of my parents (finally!...hopefully it was worth the long wait) and teach giving to my children.
It started out with my husband and me making a donation to an educational nonprofit in honor of the teachers at each school. Now that my kids are teenagers with access to real money of their own--not just the Monopoly kind--they set aside a percentage of their allowance each month for giving. During the holidays, they each carefully select an organization whose work touches their heart and donate the money they've set aside all year to them in honor of their teachers. My husband and I match these gifts with a donation of our own to the same two organizations. The kids then write out a holiday card thanking each of their teachers, with a letter enclosed explaining the donation and their reasons for selecting that particular nonprofit. (They also include a candy cane, because it's only fair that the students should have to deal with sugared-up teachers at least once a year...turnabout is fair play, after all.)
The best part of this teacher gift idea is discussing various organizations and the marvelous contributions they make to our world as we deliberate over their selections each year. The decision is not always an easy one. It's also a gift in itself for me too, to see the seedlings my parents started begin to take root in the hearts of my children. I know that long after Dad and Peg are gone, their generous spirits will live on in their grandchildren.
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Valerie Sheridan is a professional organizer, wife, mother of two, and Founder/Owner of EasyPeasy Living.