Wednesday, December 06, 2006

The Gift of Giving

by Sandra

With the holiday season upon us, we find ourselves in the throws of Christmas and Hanukah gift shopping. I'd be lying if I didn't admit it is one of my very favourite times of the year.

When we first began celebrating our holidays with a child, suddenly we're thrust into the coveted role of "tradition creators". Many of us adopt magic making rituals from when we were children and marry them with new ideas of our own.

One of the things that I grapple with is the commercialism of the holidays and all the excess. I want to add a new dimension for my son and find ways to make it meaningful. Most often people are able to do this through their own religious traditions. But for many of us, that isn't an option. Yet, it is still so very possible to keep the spirit of giving and goodwill at the centre of the season.

I love giving gifts. But I don't want this time of year to be just about acquiring stuff. One thoughtful alternative to commercial gifts is to make a donation to your favourite charity in the name of a loved one. Instead of receiving yet another gift basket or scarf, they'll know that they are doing good. Or if you want to put the charity choosing in their hands, then you can even give someone a gift card from Then they can go online and choose from thousands of Canadian charities to direct their donation to. It's like double dipping (the good kind) in the giving department and spreading the love around. (And for my family and friends reading ... this kind of gift would be on the top of my own wish list. hint. hint.)

Understandably, this kind of gift isn't for everyone on your list. If you are looking for a more tangible way to include causes in your holiday giving, there are still endless options. Some of my personal fav holiday gift ideas come from charities. Last season we "adopted" a polar bear for my son and this year his unwrapping will include saving an Orca. We are buying school supplies in Africa on behalf of his teacher instead of the standard issue “World’s Best Teacher” mug. There are so many cool ways to donate in someone's name. You can buy a goat for a family in a developing country or adopt an owl or purchase any number of interesting presents whose proceeds go to help charity. Some fabulous and meaningful holiday giving programs can be found at any of the following (to name just a few):

World Wildlife Fund

World Vision

Foster Parents Plan

Free the Children


Sick Kids Hospital

Children's Wish

Or you can check out dozens more here:

Charity Village Market Place Listings

If you haven't already picked up your holiday cards, some great ones can be found at many of the above. Last year we sent one from the Breast Cancer Foundation and the year before from the World Wildlife Fund. This year we are helping children around the world with one of Unicef's trendy designs. It makes those hours of writing the same greeting over and over feel more meaningful as we are helping raise awareness for an issue and contributing a little at the same time. And they are super easy to order online so you don't even have to brave the manic frenzy in the malls.

Aside from giving gifts to those we know and love that have the added benefit of also helping a deserving cause, what about gifts directly to people we don't know? Here is one powerfully written suggestion that I could not say any better - and that I enthusiastically second.

We are excited about another tradition of participating in one of the many local toy drives. My five year old will be the one to choose a toy for a child in need. It is fun to do and a stellar opportunity for him to actively participate in our charitable giving in a way he can relate to and understand the most. You can donate unwrapped toys to the Chum City Christmas Wish until December 22nd at any Royal Bank, Chum at 1331 Yonge or the Much Store at 777 Queen St w. Or you could give to the Mix FM Holiday Toy Drive, which runs until Dec 16 at Real Canadian Superstores. The Sick Kids Hospital main information desk is accepting toys for children until December 20th. And the hunky Toronto Fire Fighters have a Toy Drive until December 24th at all 81 Toronto Fire stations.

We also plan to bring some bags of good eats to the food drive for Daily Bread Food bank at fire halls, Real Canadian Superstores or any of their ongoing drop off locations. I always sit staring at the excess of leftovers that remain after our holiday feast and wish there were a way I could share more. I want my son to understand that and be a part of sharing and giving and not just getting and consuming.

So go forth and shop my friends. Shop for a cause. Shop for a thoughtful alternative to commercial holiday giving. Shop for kids and families who need it more than your own. Consider thinking of those not on your normal shopping list as a part of your annual family traditions.

For it is true that this season is most certainly a time "when Want is keenly felt, and Abundance rejoices" ~Charles Dickens (A Christmas Carol).

When she is not raising her 5-year-old-boy-genius, Sandra is an ex-advertising exec who spends her days working with a grassroots feminist charity. She is also an aspiring writer, chocolate-loving vegetarian … and a blogger.


sunshine scribe said...

Ooops. Looks like I have some kind of funky spacing on my articles more than the others. Sorry. I'll try and figure out what the html is supposed to be between paragraphs before my next submission.

But don't let that stop you from shopping ...

metro mama said...

Great suggestions Sandra. We want giving to be the centre of the holidays for Cakes too. These are good ideas.

kittenpie said...

I also loved a suggestion that Marla discussed on her site - Nellie's (local help for women and children in crisis) has a great way to reach kids in need by shopping right from their Christmas list so that the gifts appear under their tree. Just exactly what they want. And, she points out, it makes their parent look like the hero. How wonderful.

crazymumma said...

Funky spacing or not girl, what a great message you send. And all such good suggestions for giving. Our children's school asks for the donation of a twoonie to the Stephen Lewis Foundation in lieu of Seasonal gifts to the teachers. As well, another idea that I thought was great, are donations towards 'live' gifts, chicken goat, cow. I am not sure of the name of the organization, I will try and find it....
Something that I have to remind myself as well, is that the need exists year round, not just in the holiday season.
Beautifully written Sandra and thanks for the mention.

something blue said...

I love the gifts that keep on giving! I'm looking forward to making someone's holiday's a little brighter.

Mouse said...

Ikea is donating $1 from every plush toy purchase until Dec 24th to Save the Children and UNICEF. I'm taking Scooter there this weekend and picking out several that we can drop off at a collection point for SickKids and for the local charity our building is collecting for. This way our donations actually do double duty (and we can have the fun of an Ikea shopping trip without adding more crap to our apartment).

Lisa b said...

Thanks for the great suggestions. Time for me to get shopping!

Amber said...

Well said. Every year, we always adopt a child for gifts and take part in a Christmas dinner package to be delivered to those in need.

My best Christmas ever was when I was a missionary in Switzerland and the only thing we did the entire week was service.

jen said...

what a great message, and a way for everyone to do something tangible.

Haley-O said...

Great ideas, Sandra. :) I think the charity gifts are wonderful.

mamatulip said...

Great suggestions, Sandra. Thanks for this post. :)

Mommy off the Record said...

I love the ideas you have for getting your son involved in giving. And I also love the idea of giving kids presents like "adopting" an animal. And the teacher present idea is awesome too. I could go on and on....Great post!