- Courtesy Kelly Burch
- Each year, my extended family works together to buy presents and food for a family in need, rather than purchasing gifts for each other.
- This lets us enjoy Christmas shopping without feeling like we’re being frivolous.
- It also helps us save money, because we’re purchasing fewer gifts.
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Each year my mother, sister, and I go Christmas shopping together. We have our list, and we usually need to check it twice, because we’re never quite sure who we’re shopping for.
That’s because for the last five years, we’ve shopped for strangers. Rather than buying gifts for each other, my family (my husband, mom, and three siblings) “adopt” a family in need, buying them gifts and necessities to make their season brighter.
Gift-giving with meaning
My family has never been huge on gifts. As children, we loved when Santa would come, of course, but we never went overboard buying gifts for each other. Instead, the siblings would draw names and everyone would buy (and receive) one present.
As adults, even one gift felt a bit silly. We had everything we needed and the means to purchase things we wanted, so why go through the song and dance of purchasing for each other?
One year I had my brother in the swap, and he asked that I donate to charity in his name. That planted a seed of giving to our community, rather than giving to each other.
Making a donation online was a bit anticlimactic, however. I didn’t get the thrill of finding the “perfect” gift. The next year, I saw an ad looking for groups to “adopt” homeless families for the holidays. This would let us be more active in giving to the community. My family was immediately on board.
Finding joy in gift-giving
Each year since, we’ve “adopted” a family through various community organizations. We get a wishlist of wants and needs from the family, and get to experience the fun of Christmas shopping.
But rather than feeling like we are giving into consumerism, we feel like we’re making an actual difference for people in need.
The first year, the family we selected had two young boys. Among their requested items were socks, underwear, and jeans. We were meant to pick one item off the list, but my husband was so saddened by the idea of kids without their basic needs met that he filled a cart to the brim with clothes and toys. The idea of those boys opening a plethora of gifts on Christmas morning kept us smiling all season.
The financial benefit
Sometimes, it’s tempting to go overboard shopping for people in need. That first year, my husband and I spent about $500 on the family (in addition to what my siblings and mom spent). Still, we had the money, and we felt good about spending it on kids who needed clothes.
Since then we’ve been more disciplined with our Christmas budget, especially since we now shop for our own children as well. We usually pick gifts for one or two “adopted” family members, while my siblings and mother take care of the rest. That saves us lots of money because we’re buying fewer gifts.
More importantly, we feel better about spending the money because we’re making a real difference in people’s lives, rather than buying a sibling a kitchen gadget that they may or may not need or use.
Incorporating the kids
When my family started this tradition, my daughter was only 6 months old, so she had no expectation of Christmas presents. Now, she’s 5, my nephew is 2.5, and my second daughter is 15 months. They all know about, and want, presents.
Our family still does limited gifts for the kids. However, we’ve also made an effort to incorporate the children into our charity gift-giving. We request a family that has children of similar ages to ours. That way, it’s easy for our kids to help pick presents.
Last year I explained to my older daughter that other children don’t have as many toys as she does, and we’re helping their parents to provide them with a memorable Christmas. She hasn’t asked too many questions, but as all three kids grow, our family wants them to experience the joy of giving to others.
How to get involved
If your family (or friend group, work place, etc.) is interested in “adopting” a family for the holidays, it’s important to act early. Most charities ask for volunteers to notify them by mid-November so they can plan accordingly. Christmas contributions are usually due by mid-December to give the family time to prepare for the holiday.
We’ve found programs through a homeless shelter, a local community service group, and a visiting nurses’ association. There are also less formal gift-giving programs available through banks, schools, and other community organizations that host a “giving tree” where you select one present off the tree to buy (which is great for people or groups with a limited budget).
This year will mark the fifth Christmas that my family has shopped for people in need. “Adopting” a family allows us to focus on the holiday values that resonate with us, like community, charity, and family, while setting aside the things we don’t value, like mindless consumerism.
This Christmas, as we sip drinks and watch our kids open their presents, we’ll smile at the fact that a nearby family is having a brighter Christmas than they otherwise would have, because of our help.