Let me start with some background. My family is Indian (as in from India, not Native Americans). My parents moved here in the early 70’s with my older brother (who was just a baby) to build a better life. They didn’t do Christmas the first few years here – it wasn’t a part of their history.
But soon enough, my brother was old enough to see that his friends all celebrated Christmas, so my parents started participating. They put up a tree, bought presents, the whole deal. By the time I came along, Christmas was a firmly established tradition in my family. My parents were torn. They wanted us to understand what they believed to be the true spirit of Christmas, but they didn’t want to rob us of the magic of Santa. So they continued with the tree and presents and Santa until both of us were old enough to lose our belief in Santa.
That’s when they introduced what has become our traditional Christmas. Rather than buying gifts for each other, we give to a charity (or multiple charities). You see, we’re a lucky family. We’ve always been pretty financially secure. We aren’t rich, but we’ve always had enough to provide for our needs, and most of our wants. My parents wanted us to know how lucky we were, and to understand that not everyone was as lucky.
At first, it was a little strange for me and my brother. We wanted that mountain of presents, just like all of our friends. But two things changed that. First, my parents always managed to sneak a little something under the tree for us. Second, they took us to deliver the gifts to a needy family one year. That experience changed everything. Seeing that I could make someone else so happy made it all worth it.
So, every year on Thanksgiving, we pick a charity. It gets comical – we fight over whose charity will “win”. But by the end of the day, we have decided on one, and that is who we shop for. We’ll buy presents, or simply give money – whatever is appropriate. It’s a far better use of our time and money than each of us spending $50 or $100 on each other. Instead of opening gifts, we spend our day just being together. We watch movies, we play games, and we just hang out and talk to each other.
I’m grateful to my parents for so many things, but this one tops the list. They taught me the importance of giving. They taught me that being privileged was just that – a privilege. It’s not a right. It’s not a given. My parents taught me that helping someone else can feel even better than tearing open that wrapping paper.
Santa is alive and well in my family. Every year, he brings us the chance to help others. And that’s a gift that money can’t buy.
[Here’s the link to all of the 31 Days of Thanksgiving posts.]