Once upon a time there was a loving mom who geniusly explained Santa Claus to her children when they started to question the probability of his existence. You see, once she recognized that they were old enough to start realizing that Santa Claus isn’t real she took them out to lunch (I love that one-on-one time). She then took the time and effort to praise him or her as she reminded them of some of the good deeds that they did that year. Then, she told them that there isn’t one Santa Claus in a red coat that drives a sleigh with a team of flying reindeer, but there are millions of Santas in the world. Santas are people that give and serve others anonymously and without expectations of getting in return. The mom and the child then schemed about someone they could give to secretly that year. It apparently made wonderful memories for both the mom and the child and taught them important life lessons.¹
Christmas is About Giving
I love Christmas. I love the holiday music, the sparkling lights, and the anticipation of presents on Christmas morning. I love having homemade gnocchi on Christmas Eve and the Christmas parties with my family. But most of all, I love the peaceful and joyful Christmas spirit. I know that the holidays can also be a stressful and chaotic time, but giving small and large acts of service brings that peace and joy to me personally.
We definitely learn the lesson of giving to others from Scrooge in Charles Dicken’s classic Christmas story A Christmas Carol. Scrooge learns that it is better to give and honor Christmas than to hoard money and be concerned about only himself. Being wealthy (or being too invested in consumerism) doesn’t make us happy, but serving and giving to others does.
Research Shows That Giving Brings Happiness
This is not just a cozy, cliche lesson that Charles Dickens was trying to teach us more than 170 years ago; science also tells us these lessons do increase happiness. Jill Suttie and Jason Marsh outline various research studies in the Greater Good Magazine at UC Berkeley and explain 5 ways that giving to others really does bring happiness .²
First, they explain that research shows that giving simply helps us feel happier, whether it’s when we spend money on others instead of ourselves or perform acts of service several weeks in a row. Additionally, giving to charities actually activates the pleasure portions in our brain. How cool is that?!
Secondly, giving is healthy for us. Serving others has many health benefits ranging from lower blood pressure (and perhaps lower stress) to living longer to helping cope with chronic diseases. Maybe Marley would not have died as young in A Christmas Carol if he had learned earlier in his life to give his money to help the poor like Scrooge did by the end of the book.
Next, giving promotes a culture of connection, warmth, and more giving. To me, this is the essence of what we term the “Christmas spirit.” We feel closer to people when we give to them. We also feel more empathy when we give to others. I certainly know this is true for me. I sometimes feel unsure and wary when I’m meeting others who are different than me, but always leave with a full heart after trying to serve them.
Fourth, giving is closely tied to gratitude, and gratitude has numerous benefits as well. Read Family Ninja’s post about Gratitude for Fleas to learn more about the research regarding gratitude. I wonder if part of the Christmas spirit comes as a leftover of Thanksgiving? We are already in the mindset of trying to be more grateful.
Lastly, the authors talk about how giving is contagious. When we give to others, we can inspire others to become Santas, too!
Give in a Way That Makes Sense to You
So, amidst all the chaos of Christmas, remember to give. Find small or large ways- it really doesn’t matter. The ideas are endless! Think of heartfelt, homemade gifts to give to your family members. Have a smile and a “Merry Christmas” ready to someone who could use some cheer. Donate large or small amounts to charities or other people who are in need. Drop off Secret Santa gifts to a family in your neighborhood or community. What child (or adult for that matter) doesn’t love doorbell ditching? Volunteer at a food bank. Pass out hot chocolate to cold volunteers. Send cute Christmas cards or go caroling to people in a hospital. I absolutely love the #lighttheworld campaign because there are so many ideas on how to light the world through giving. They even have giving/charity centered vending machines in some parts of the world!
If you are feeling stuck or like trying to serve others is just too difficult, try to remember these simple tips from Jenny Santi, a philanthropy advisor and author of The Giving Way to Happiness: Stories & Science Behind the Life-Changing Power of Giving.
Use Passions and Interests
First, try to serve with something you’re passionate about. Maybe you have a deep desire to help the homeless and serve in a food bank during Christmastime. Or, maybe you have a passion for the joy music brings and you carol to patients in the hospital. Maybe you have a passion for children’s literature and increasing literacy and you decide to help out in a book drive. Whatever it is, go with what interests you.
Second, remember that you can give more than money. Your time is perhaps even more valuable than giving money, for that shows where your heart lies.
Look for Transparency
Next, Jenny Santi gives the practical advice of donating to a cause that is transparent about where its money goes. You’ll probably feel a lot better about donating to a cause when you know exactly how you served instead of the money getting lost in overhead. But, I’m not discounting large charities by any means.
The Right Fit
Lastly, Jenny Santi gives the advice to not feel guilt-tripped into giving, getting lost and overwhelmed, or only giving as a reaction to your friend or colleague asking for a donation. Instead, find a fit that’s right for you. Like she mentioned above, use your talents, your time, your interests, and your feelings to guide you in how you want to give.
Make Service a Family Tradition
Like the mother mentioned in the story at the beginning, make giving during Christmastime a tradition. I think you’ll find it’s one of the best traditions you can have as a family. Every year my husband and I try to pick a way that we give back to the community. Last year we helped a refugee family in our community. We ventured a bit out of our comfort zone, but I can say that it was a great experience and I’m grateful for the reminder of what Christmas is truly about. As my daughter gets older, I am eager to have her participate in our yearly tradition and learn the value of giving service.
Give to Christ this Christmas
As a Christian, I believe that Christ was the ultimate example of giving, and His sacrifice was the greatest gift to mankind. It is because of Him that we celebrate Christmas. And so, every Christmas I also try to think of a “gift” that I can give to Christ. Every year it helps me remember His ultimate gift, His sacrifice, and the true meaning of Christmas. Last year my “gift” was to focus on being more like Mary instead of Martha in the scriptural story in Luke and focusing on what matters most. I can honestly say that it made a great difference in my life and brought me closer to my Savior.
¹Itkowitz, C. (2016, December 19). The story behind the beautiful way this mom told her sons the truth about Santa. The Washington Post. Retrieved from https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/inspired-life/wp/2016/12/19/the-story-behind-the-beautiful-way-this-mom-told-her-sons-the-truth-about-santa/?utm_term=.00ced4c78b20
²Suttie, J. & Marsh, J. (2010, December 13). 5 ways giving is good for you. Greater Good Magazine. Retrieved from: https://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/5_ways_giving_is_good_for_you
³Santi, J. The secret to happiness is helping others. Time Magazine. Retrieved from http://time.com/collection/guide-to-happiness/4070299/secret-to-happiness/#