Giving Gifts at Christmas: How to Show Kids the Joy of Giving

(And have a blast doing it!)
giving gifts at Christmas

‘Tis the season of “stuff”. The tradition of giving gifts at Christmas easily devolves into giving stuff, getting stuff, and finding places for more new stuff. Does this Christmas tradition really teach your kids about the joy of giving? 

Obviously, you and I both know Christmas isn’t supposed to be about stuff. But that’s what the world will hand your kids. Especially if you aren’t intentional.

How did we get here? 

Christmas is for celebrating the birth of Jesus, not for celebrating stuff. We all know this, but why is it so hard to navigate? 

Maybe it’s because the tradition of giving gifts is complicated. It seems reasonable to be inspired by the Magi or the benevolence of the historical St. Nicholas. In this light, we can justify gift-giving by remembering that Christmas is a birthday party! A celebration of Jesus coming into the world and into our lives. As the Magi gave gifts, we give gifts. As St. Nicholas gave gifts, we give gifts. Or is it that simple? 

Biblically, in the discussion of Jesus’ birth, there is no indication that the date of his birth became a sacred holiday. The Bible, and other historical records from that time period, also never mention exchanging gifts. The only gift-giving of significance mentioned in the New Testament was about either the gifts people gave to God, gifts to support fellow believers suffering in poverty, or the spiritual gifts God gave to people in order to further God’s work on earth. It seems evident that the tradition of gift-giving didn’t come from the early followers of Jesus

So here are some quick thoughts about how you might reclaim more of the biblical expression of Jesus’ birth.

Help kids want to be generous to those in need!

Since Christmas is now a mainstay in our culture, let’s talk about gift-giving in ways that honor Jesus – beginning with HIM as the recipient of the gifts. What would happen if you sat your family down and began a gift giving conversation this way: 

“Did you know that Jesus has such deep compassion for the poor, that when we bless someone that doesn’t have enough basic things like food or clothing, that we bless Jesus?”

Matthew 25:35,36; 40  I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.’ …‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’ 

“As we think about gifts together this year I’m wondering what kind of gifts we could give that would make Jesus really excited?” 

If your kids don’t seem to quite grasp the concept of how difficult life is for some children, here are three ideas for activities to make this practical and help them understand: 

  1. Have a meal of only rice and beans, common foods in many parts of the developing world; and then ask kids if they would want to have that for most of their meals. In some of the poorest countries, those who cannot afford meat rely on a wide variety of fried insects for protein. A little tongue in cheek question might spark some lively conversation, “What would be your favorite bug to eat?” 
  2. Ask your kids what toys they think children in other parts of the world have. Check out this article to see what children in various parts of the world say is their favorite toy.
  3. Take a water walk. Fill containers/gallon jugs, water bottles (for smaller kids), and carry them around your neighborhood or to a local stream or lake. The average distance a child or woman walks to get water is about 3½ miles (6km). Knowing this, you could suggest your family carry the water 1 to 4 miles. You could even mix a little dirt in the water. Then discuss what life would be like if you had to do that every day, no matter what the weather was. Additionally, discuss the problems you would have if the water you carried was dirty and had germs that made you sick. 

These activities and questions may put conversations about Legos or technology in a whole new light. Generosity is often a natural response from your kids if you help them better understand the life of a child in poverty. See also this free ebook for teaching kids about poverty based on the value of every person to God.

Giving gifts at Christmas that transform lives

More and more families now honor loved ones by giving gifts at Christmas to charity in the loved one’s name. I remember well the homemade model “orange grove” given to me by my nephews. It represented a donation made in our name to World Vision to buy orange trees in an African village. 

I remember the translated Bible passage from John 3:16 printed and pasted in a card I gave to commemorate the gift I gave in my daughter’s name to Wycliffe Bible Translators. We then read about the work Wycliffe does around the world to translate God’s word. There was real joy in giving a Christmas present that would change lives.

Advertisers with unprecedented knowledge about what makes you tick will attempt to lure you into impulse purchases of all kinds. To advertisers, the joy of giving equates to the joy of buying. See if you can confound the Facebook and Google algorithms by searching not for stuff to buy, but for organizations to support. Invite your kids to do it with you. 

You can do some digging and find organizations that parallel the interests of your children. If your child loves to cook or is concerned about world hunger, you could give to and/or volunteer at a food packing organization or a charity that fights world hunger. (Please note that there is growing concern about giving charity animals, however.) If your child loves reading or learning, you could give a gift of supporting kids in getting an education. Your young athlete may enjoy a gift to a sports-based charity. For hockey players, there’s even a ministry for that. Kids that love arts and crafts could give to an organization that retails artisan products. If you have a young entrepreneur in your family, they might be excited about micro-loan organizations. The possibilities are endless. 

Reframe the purpose of traditional gift giving

More and more families now honor loved ones at Christmas by giving gifts to a charity in the loved one’s name. I remember well the homemade model “orange grove” given to me by my nephews. It represented a donation made in our name to World Vision to buy orange trees in an African village. 

I remember the translated Bible passage from John 3:16 printed and pasted in a card I gave to commemorate the gift I gave in my daughter’s name to Wycliffe Bible Translators. We then read about the work Wycliffe does around the world to translate God’s word. There was real joy in giving a Christmas present that would change lives.

Advertisers with unprecedented knowledge about what makes you tick will attempt to lure you into impulse purchases of all kinds. To advertisers, the joy of giving equates to the joy of buying. See if you can confound the Facebook and Google algorithms by searching for organizations to support rather than things to buy. Invite your kids to do it with you. 

Do some digging and find organizations that parallel the interests of your children. 

The possibilities are endless! 

Involve your kids in the joy of year-end giving

One of our favorite year-end activities of all time was the day I went to the bank and withdrew $3000 in $10 bills (yes – 300 of them!) and spread them on the dining room table for our pre-high school children to marvel at. 

As their eyes bulged we told them, “This is money we have planned to give away by the end of this year. What are your ideas for giving the money away?” We spent the next hours talking about charities we’d found online and everyone made the case for theirs. 

When it was clear we didn’t have enough money to go to all the charities we picked, the kids all chipped in sizable amounts of their own money. Not only did they learn how we gave away our money, but they learned to give away some of theirs as well!

Not only that, but it was fun! Giving was fun. Together as a family we bonded and enjoyed each other as we planned how we could be more generous in the year to come. I think they each internalized a genuine joy of giving that year.

There are lots of ways to make the holidays memorable. Think through how you can inspire your kids to make the season a little more others-centered. Christmas is a great opportunity to foster a lifelong habit of generosity. 

What are your family’s favorite others-focused gifts? Share your ideas and stories in the comments!


Sign up below to receive a weekly dose of encouragement straight to your inbox:

Related Posts

Default image
Jim and Lynne Jackson
Articles: 206
Donate
Log In