Give and let live
Updated: Dec 20, 2019
It's no secret that I dislike Christmas. I've always been pretty open about it. Even as a child, I cant remember ever loving it. My parents got divorced when I was young, and as a single mom raising two kids on her own, my mom always had to work on Christmas day. Usually my bother and I spent the day alone until she was home from work and it was time to go for dinner at our friend's house. This dinner though - this was the part of Christmas I looked forward to. Year after year, these friends of ours opened their home and included our little family in their annual Christmas dinner – which was and is still the best meal I’ve ever had. The menu never changed because it was perfect and I looked forward to it all year long. The evening was always so simple – family (plus us) gathered around the fireplace in their living room, enjoying the night and the spirit of the season. This kindness - these friends welcoming us in on this special day year after year - was not lost on me as a child, or a teenager, or as an adult. I always felt so welcome, so comfortable and so grateful.
Christmas dinner was a few hours of perfection amidst an otherwise chaotic and stressful time of year.
The stress and the chaos is what I hate about Christmas. Once I had children of my own, I was hopeful and I thought maybe, just maybe I'd start to love Christmas. But every year when I feel the season approaching I get this pit in my stomach. This feeling of “here it comes, that time of year where I feel like I can’t quite keep up.” I always feel like the simplicity of what Christmas is supposed to be is lost in the shuffle of sending out Christmas cards (I haven’t in 3 years), buying gifts, making sure I’m not forgetting people (and I ALWAYS forget someone), planning meals, buying the matching PJs, decorating the house, putting up the tree, etc. etc. etc. And every year I find myself saying “this isn’t what Christmas is supposed to be about…yet here I am, doing the things, getting all stressed, and continuing to just hate this whole holiday.”
But this year, I found a new tradition that I think just might turn my Christmas frown upside down. I discovered The Giving Manger on instagram (@thegivingmanger) a few months ago and clicked “add to cart” about 30 seconds later. The concept is simple: for every act of service, good deed, or kind thing you do, you put a piece of straw in the manger. By Christmas day, the manger should be full of straw and ready for the baby Jesus to lie in. Your good deeds fill the manger with straw and fill your hearts with the spirit of the Christmas season, reminding you and your family that really it's all about giving. And love. And kindness. And all that good stuff.
The package comes with a book that explains the story of how the Giving Manger came to be, a tiny wood manger, a small wooden Jesus, and a bundle of straw. Super simple. Yet so impactful. The girls jumped right in and started asking what they could do to fill up the manger, and the instagram page has tons of great suggestions for acts of service: everything from helping out around the house, to baking something for a neighbor, volunteering, leaving encouraging little notes for those in need, etc.
Here’s what we’ve done so far:
We started simple and thought "what could we do for someone in our own family?" It was a cold, rainy day and as we pulled in the driveway after school we noticed the trash barrels that needed to be dragged all the way back up the very long driveway into the garage (this is usually Dad's job because it's a long, cold walk). We knew he’d appreciate not having to trudge through the rain in his nice suit after work. He was very grateful and the girls were so proud to see his reaction when he got home.
I heard through my Facebook mom’s page that there was a family in need in our community. The mom has two little ones and she’s struggling to buy groceries and even diapers, so we went shopping and filled up four bags with groceries, a gift card, and some of Rosie’s old baby clothes, books, puzzles, etc. that we thought they could use.
Belle saw me working hard to make dinner and put away the dishes one night, so she cleaned up the living room without even being asked.
I paid for someone’s coffee in line behind me at Starbucks.
Belle’s school hosted a Christmas shopping event recently where the students could shop for a handful of family members and then surprise them on Christmas morning with the gifts they chose. She was so proud of her choices and she put real thought into what each person on her list might like (I’m not sure why she thinks her grandfather needs a Rudolph snap bracelet, but she was so excited that she found it just for him) and doing the shopping all on her own showed her how fun giving can be.
I’ve had a pile of clothes in my closet just waiting to be donated for months now, but I never know where to bring them. Whenever I drive past the Goodwill bins, they’re always so filled to the gills and I just wonder if the clothes actually really get to the people who need them? And then I discovered ThredUp. Not only is it online consignment, but instead of selling your clothes, you can choose to donate whatever money they earn to the charity of your choice. They have a handful of charities to choose from and they make the process super simple. They send you a bag with a pre-paid return label and all you do is fill it up with clothes, shoes, handbags, accessories, (even kids clothes), and then you mail it back. They sell the clothes if they’re in good condition and the ones they don’t sell are disposed of in an eco-friendly way. Whatever money they make from the sale of the clothes goes directly to the charity you selected when you signed up. AMAZING. We filled up two huge bags.
So far, we have a decent little pile of straw in our manger and every day Rosie walks over to it and says, “momma, I fold Jesus peas?” (fold = hold, peas = please). She just wants to hold the sweet little doll and they both get so excited when they know they’ve done something worthy of putting a piece of straw in the manger.
The Giving Manger is really just a simple little tool kit, but it's exactly what we all needed to keep us on track this season – to help us remember the real reason for Christmas and to focus on giving whatever we can, whenever we can. It’s a new tradition that I know we’ll carry on for years to come. And someday, when it’s become more of a habit and less of something we have to focus on doing, we won’t need the symbol of the actual straw and the manger to remind us to do good. But I’ll still pull it out year after year and remember Rosie’s sweet little voice saying “Momma, I fold Jesus, peas?”