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So we’re in the throes of the giving and receiving holiday:  what am I going to get, did I think of everyone, did I spend enough or too much, yada, yada.


You probably know by now that I love to feel good and I’m sticking to it.  What makes me feel wonderful and alive and clear and joyous, especially at this time of year, is giving.  Giving with absolutely zero thought of what I might be rewarded with in return.  Surprise giving is super fun and easy.

This year one of the things I loved doing was preparing a 25 day advent gift surprise for my kids, sending them a big box of individually wrapped goodies and special things, one for each day from December 1 – 25.  Since our family has given up gift giving completely over the last handful of years, this was a total surprise to them and it was fun for me because I got to use my imagination and revel in the fun they would have.  The best part of it for me was knowing that I would not receive any sort of present in return.  It’s just so much more fun to give!

Giving anonymously is also so gratifying, because it delivers the extreme pleasure of knowing the recipient will feel like there is a real Santa, wondering who gave them this gift and lapsing into the fantasy that gifts just drop out of sleds in the sky, right through the chimney.  I try to do as much of this as I can.  One of my favorite memories when my kids were in their early teens was this:  we all got wrapped up in this anonymous gift giving fantasy and chose two families for whom we made and shopped for unique gifts for each member.  We wrapped each gift in old timey Santa-like wrapping and put each family’s bundle of gifts in a big, handmade red velour Santa sack and tied each off with a big red satin bow.  We could hardly wait to secretly drop the bags off on their respective front porches in the middle of the night on Christmas Eve!  Honestly, I think we had more fun with this than the recipient families did because it was SO much fun.  In other years, sometimes we just choose dogs in the ‘hood to deliver anonymous dog toys to!

Gift box wrapped in gold paper
Photo courtesy of weddingmusings


I gladly gave up the wondering about what I would get several years ago- when I realized that I could have whatever, whenever (yes, we’re on a budget.  It’s a state of mind.).  Why wait until Christmas?  It felt forced and ridiculous to stockpile wishes for a single day of gluttony rather than feeling worthy any old day of the year.  And that’s when I really felt the burn to give.  GIVE.

I was just talking with a friend today about our desire to volunteer and help in virtually any capacity in a hands-on way.  I don’t want to donate to a telethon or send a few dollars a month to ‘adopt’ a child in Africa.  It’s just not the same.  And yet it is virtually impossible to find volunteer opportunities to which I can bring my children (who love to volunteer).

There were a couple of years that we chose a child or two’s lists from a community giving holiday tree and had a wonderful time shopping for the items on their list.  We’d imagine what they looked like and how much excitement or warmth (or both!) our purchases would bring them.

I was recently inspired by a friend’s Facebook post that she had bought a gift card at the register and asked the cashier to apply it to the purchase of the person behind her in line.  She was inspired to pay forward an act of kindness previously done unto her.  I thought, I can do that!  Then I started thinking about other ways of giving directly but anonymously.  It was refreshing to think that everyone delights in random acts of kindness and that I didn’t have to seek out organizations or people who meet a specific level of need.  Generosity feels amazing and is contagious.  It really gives us the much-needed perspective that we always have enough to share.  Have you seen The Long Way Down?  I am reminded of African families in their dirt floor huts out in the bush eagerly sharing their bits of food with Ewan McGregor and Charley Boorman.  No matter who you are, it feels good to give and share.

But one question often eats at me around the holidays – why not all year?  When I was young, little unexpected gifts showed up often in my shoes- whenever.  It was so magical.  My mother seemed just as amazed as I but I now suspect she was the anonymous giver… and loved every minute of it.

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5 Comments Post a comment
  1. nadja #

    Yes ❤

    December 23, 2011
  2. archana #

    I loved your stories Barb. My kids are upto naughty acts of kindness this year too. We’re babysitting our neighbor’s cat for a week while they’re out of town during the holidays. They want to leave ‘mysterious ‘presents for the family under their tree, especially for Emit who “..must feel so lonely right now”. They’re also working on mystery gifts for their friends. All their idea.They’re also sorting through their things they want to donate. But most of all they’re excited to send a gift to a young boy we’ve ‘adopted’ in Africa for about 3 years now through an organization. We send $25 every month.Not a whole lot but provides Jacob’s family with their basic needs and some of the needs of the local community. The kids (without any prompting from me) sent $15 of their hard earned lemonade stand money to Jacob in the summer. They always ask what we’re sending Jacob for Christmas. Few months ago they (Jacob and Neelabh) drew each other pictures of two little boys holding hands. Neelabh wants to know how we can save more to sponsor more kids who need help. I sometimes wondered how grateful my son was for everything he has but his generosity and compassion alone speak for his depth of feeling.

    I’m so grateful to all the volunteers and all the donors and all the organizations that make the world a little less hungrier. Giving in any form is a joy. I know a friend who started giving because so many people said it feels good and then she got addicted to it when she saw how much joy there was in bringing joy to others.

    Cheers to all the hearts that give- in any way, and in any form!

    December 23, 2011
    • Gosh, I hope we are all givers. If we’re not, it’s not because it is not natural for us, only because we are in too much pain. Here’s to giving, giving and then giving some more.

      December 28, 2011
  3. mbh #

    When I was about 12, my family was poor, on food stamps and receiving free lunches at school. My mom carefully saved $200 to spend $50 on each of us four kids. We found an amazing sale at Cox’s and my mom bought me a Boliva watch, on sale for $50, half off. I helped my mom pick it out and I was soooo excited. She found equally good deals on my siblings’ presents. She bagged all the gifts and put them in her closet to wait for Christmas.

    On Christmas Eve, my mom went to her closet to wrap our gifts. They were gone! She didn’t know if they were stolen or if she had thrown them out in a cleaning frenzy. It didn’t matter. Those gifts my mom worked so hard to buy (and I anticipated so much) were gone. And, of course, Mom had no more money to get anything.

    I remember Mom sitting my sisters and me down and explaining what happened and that this Christmas we were going to celebrate Christmas for what it is really about – relationships, family and fun. We all made a commitment at that moment to enjoy Christmas day with games, play and laughter. It was probably my favorite Christmas ever. From that day, the space of gratitude for family and fun has always been for me the true spirit of Christmas.

    I do love the idea of giving gifts when the spirit moves me and I have done it often. However, I really, really like the idea of doing it anonymously. Anonymous giving relieves the receiver of any idea of reciprocation (even if it is not desired or expected.) It allows them to fully delight in the gift. I look forward to doing that more this year.

    December 24, 2011
    • I am touched by your family’s ability to turn tragedy into opportunity. Beautiful. I feel like this perspective helps us to see the whole world and our daily lives differently as well.

      December 29, 2011

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