Several years ago I set a timeline for myself to be finished with Christmas shopping by December 1. While the changing wishes of children make this difficult, I have adhered to this timeline for everyone else on my list ever since. This strategy takes the pressure off an already busy season—and sprinkles my hunting and gathering out across several months—making the experience more enjoyable and budget friendly.
I am not a Black Friday shopper, so Thanksgiving weekend tends to be my space for wrapping the gifts and setting them out (even before we have a tree). This year, as I wrapped dozens of items one of my foster daughters watched with great interest. LuLu* became obsessed with gathering and wrapping gifts as well.
She did not ask me for a penny. Instead, she scoured her earthly treasures (which fit almost entirely into a large plastic tub under her bed) and found items she deemed appropriate for each member of our family—and her biological siblings. With great seriousness, and even greater pride, LuLu wrapped for what felt like three straight days.
She wouldn’t let me see much of what she was doing, but I did glance in a couple of times to find her boxing up a tired pink balloon, partially used chapstick, handwritten notes and countless kids’ meal toys. As a 7 year old foster kid, LuLu doesn’t own much, but she was generous with what she did possess.
A week before Christmas, a friend of mine who has invested time and love in tutoring the girls offered to take them shopping at the dollar store. Liz really wanted to girls to experience the joy of giving. Again, with great gusto and palpable excitement LuLu embraced the opportunity. She stood two inches taller as she arrived back home with her bags and announced that she was going to get to take candy canes to her whole 2nd grade class the next day.
It occurred to me that in a world full of treat bags and party favors, she had likely never had the opportunity to be the kid that was doing the giving. Generosity made her feel powerful. She was no longer just the recipient of charity, LuLu was able to feel the joy of giving—and it agreed with her.
Christmas Eve she begged me to let her go ahead and hand out some gifts. I made her wait. Christmas morning, while thrilled with her own haul, her true excitement was over the small packages she was anxious to give. As she started handing them out I could not help but notice the twinkle in her eye. She delivered gift after gift that would hold no real value in the world, but were an absolute treasure in my living room.
My other children delivered heartfelt gifts as well--I particularly enjoyed the card from R that had two arcade tokens taped to it, announcing that he and I were going on a date to the arcade "just the two of us." When the flurry of paper and boxes and bows had been cleared I surveyed the gifts from the hands of the children in my home--art projects from school (thank you teachers), an eclectic assortment of plastic bobble heads, partially used hand lotion, a teddy bear with a homemade tunic, an eraser in the shape of a $50 bill, a tarnished bracelet, a handmade snowflake, Christmas stickers and a clear plastic centipede "that glows in the dark!"
And while I loved the nicer gifts from brand name stores, these are the gifts I will remember. The true meaning of Christmas summed up in an eclectic pile of plastic and paper--giving what you have, enthusiastically, from the heart. This is Christmas and a lesson worth remembering all year long.
*LuLu is a nickname.
*LuLu is a nickname.