December, a month when we get so much from others, is a great time to focus more on the gift of giving to others and spreading peace.
Christmas is coming!
In our house, the countdown is on in a couple of different locations around the house. We’ve got a countdown to Christmas written on the fridge memo board and we have a Christmas House countdown where each day, beginning with December 1, you open a window of the wooden house which has a tiny treat inside. You eat the treat, and wait for the next day when you do it again. At our house, each day has three M&Ms inside: one for each kid. Every year they await the day we decorate our living room and the Christmas House comes out of its box and goes onto the hutch next to our Nativity scene.
This year though, there’s an added twist to our countdown house. Just before the start of the month, a friend of mine, Gina, sent me a link she thought my kids would enjoy. The link, to 100 Days of Real Food, contained 25 business card-sized messages which each fit nicely, one per day, in the windows of our Christmas House, along with our three M&Ms. I read through the messages which gave daily Random Acts of Kindness (RAKs) and I loved the idea of including them in our countdown to Christmas. The RAKs gave ideas about sending a note to someone you haven’t seen in a while, or helping a parent/teacher/friend/sibling, and things of that nature.
What I liked most about this new idea was that it encouraged the kids to think about other people every day over the next month. I think overall we do a good job of raising our kids to think of other people, but this month-long activity would really put the focus on good deeds as the kids anticipate the arrival of Christmas.
I decided to write them a letter explaining to them this new twist that would be appearing in the Christmas House on the first day and every day throughout the month, and leave it for them propped up in front of the house for that first morning. I told them that there was no pressure here, that whichever of the RAKs they could accomplish would be one more nice thing than they might have normally thought to do on any given day and would brighten someone else’s day. I did not take away the treats, as I didn’t feel the need to erase one tradition in order to add in another. I placed an empty vase behind the house, and a post-it note sized note pad next to it. I asked them to fill out a piece of paper each time they accomplished one of the RAKs and throw it into the vase.
This was not to keep score, or to track who is doing RAKs and who isn’t. There will be no comparisons in the end. It was strictly a visual for them: at the end of the month they will be able to “see” what a difference they’ve made in other people’s lives through the season of Advent as they watch the vase go from empty to full.
Now that it’s begun and we’re a week in, I find it interesting to hear them talk about how this or that RAK is one they already do frequently or one they’ve recently done for someone, or to hear them thinking about ways to accomplish that day’s RAK. It’s just nice to hear them talking about putting other people before themselves. It’s also neat to find other things we’ve done throughout the day and note that they’re also RAKs even though they weren’t necessarily the suggested ones in the window that day. This weekend for example, they made pillowcases for Kids Conquer Cancer at their sewing class, we bought a toy doll for a three year old girl who lives in a local shelter for our church’s giving tree, we bought pajamas for a school pajama drive, and we donated money to a charity for foster teens by attending a local fashion show for which their ticket prices went towards Christmas gifts for the teens. Having regular opportunities to talk about these actions reminds them that they truly do a lot of “good deeds” as the days go by.
Last week, Nelson Mandela passed away. At 95 years old, he was one of the worlds most prominent examples of a peacemaker; someone who dedicated his lifetime to being a truly good, peaceful person. As we sat in church this past Sunday morning, our pastor spoke about Mandela and his calling. He talked about what a leader Mandela was, what a role model he was for living a truly peaceful life. The pastor reminded us that we are all called to something bigger than just our own daily lives and responsibilities; although clearly we’re not all called to do such a huge job as Mandela, each thing we do makes a difference in the world.
Since the Newton CT. shootings at Sandy Hook last year, there are many people who chose last year and are choosing this year, to do 26 RAKs in December to honor the 26 victims of that shooting. I loved that idea as well. What a wonderful way to honor the victims of such a violent tragedy, by working to spread peace to others.
I feel like our 25 days of giving to others is an example of the little things we do in our lives that make a difference in the world, no matter how small. I’d never dare to even compare myself or my family to Nelson Mandela, but I do believe that we make a difference. I know we do. We are helping to spread goodness and peacefulness to others. We’re focusing on it a lot during Advent, as we prepare for Christmas, but it’s something we’ve built our family morals and values on as well, and we focus on it year-round.
I’m enjoying watching our vase fill with RAKs as the days go by, and I’m sure that this new type of countdown will be something we will add to our Advent traditions again next year. I’m certainly thankful for my friend Gina, that she came across this and thought to send it our way.
No matter what you celebrate or how you do it, I hope that your holiday season is peaceful and wonderful!