As a small child, my favorite thing about the holidays were the gifts. I was always excited to reveal the surprises under the Christmas tree and I would spend time weeks before writing my wishlist of toys.
Today, it’s a little different. I am growing up some and my perspective of the holidays has started to change. I have discovered that Christmas really isn’t about presents, it’s more about the unity of the season. Although December is the coldest month in the year, I have always associated it with the warmest feelings. People come together, my family refrains from fighting, and my grandma smiles more.
Unfortunately, I am beginning to notice that the holiday season is continuously becoming less about unity and giving, and more and more about receiving material things. I see people that are so concerned about their kid getting the latest toy craze or getting the biggest ham at the market.
Are we missing an opportunity? I think the holidays can be time to intentionally fill the void of poverty and come together to celebrate community.
During my internship at Think Tank, I have been introduced to trainings and materials that help people better understand poverty. Recently, we have had some conversations about the holiday giving program called Adopt a Family.
Now, at first glance, it seems like a pretty good idea, right? I mean, a family in need gets presents and you get to feel good about helping them. What could possibly be bad about that? Well, from the perspective of someone who has been raised by a single mom who has worked her tail off to provide financially for me, I can tell you — this whole Adopt a Family program doesn’t seem like a very good idea to me.
I think many years the holidays caused a great deal of anxiety and stress for my mom. She would worry about how she could afford the expenses of gifts — should she pay rent or buy me the doll I wanted? Time was also a stressor. Many people look forward to the extra time at the holidays — taking a short vacation and being with family. This was not true for my mom. For many years, we didn’t even get to celebrate the holiday on Christmas morning, because she had to work. I used to be really angry that she had to work on Christmas morning. Today, I am grateful for what Mom has taught me about sacrifice and being a hard worker.
I think about if we had the opportunity to be adopted during the holidays. I imagine what it would be like from the perspective of the parent. You have your children, who you would do anything for. The fear of not being able to give them a fulfilling Christmas scares you, and to be quite honest you feel like a bad parent. Along come people who have financial resources and they want to help. Your children are completely aware of the fact that these presents didn’t come from you. You couldn’t do this for your kids, but someone else can, and they get the enjoyment of seeing them open these gifts and smile, all while feeling good about the deed they’ve done.
As a parent in poverty, there are a lot of times that leave you feeling vulnerable, and possibly, like a failing parent. Just imagine having to raise a child and do all of the grueling daily tasks as a parent, but not be able to feel like you’ve worked for anything, because you can’t even give your family the holiday that you think they deserve. Having another family get to do all of the fun parts really isn’t so fun. This is why I think the Adopt a Family strategy doesn’t seem like a very good idea.
So, I’d like you to consider these suggestions:
1: Instead of buying gifts and bringing them directly to the family for them to open, bring the parent(s) shopping with you, or offer assistance less publicly. This can make the entire situation much more personal, and you get a chance to engage with the family rather than simply being someone who can bring them presents, because you have more resources than they do.
2: Take the children shopping for their parents. This would be a great opportunity to teach kids about giving. Although the holidays are in no way just about gifts, this is a good place to start.
3: Invite the family to your holiday dinner! Not everyone is in poverty financially. Actually, there are a lot of people that are in poverty of education, faith, and relationships. Breaking isolation and coming together for food and fellowship can help with this.
This Christmas, I plan to give the gift of community. Will you join me?
by Angel Canter for Think Tank, Inc. — to learn more about Think Tank, please visit thinktank-inc.org