Season of Giving

By Alex Cohen

I was having a tough time trying to come up with this month’s blog as there is so much to write about this time of year.  I started to write about how Christmas has become such a commercialized holiday and how we have all lost the true spirit of giving – until I received this message on Facebook:

“Hi Alex,

Hope you are well and getting excited for the Holidays.  I was at Sam’s last night for dinner. This lady walked in with 4 kids – 11 and 10-year- old girls.

One of the girls looked a little bewildered and lost but so happy, smiley and content.

I thought it was amazing that this woman was treating her daughter’s three friends for dinner, as it was clear they didn’t have a lot or dine out very often.

I later found out the 11-year-old is partially blind – and will be fully blind by 12.

It brought a tear to my eye and all I could think was, ‘How can I enhance this young girl’s situation? How could I pay it forward?’

I asked if I could anonymously pick up their check.

No! Somebody else had already done that for them – her dad has rolled the dough in the restaurant’s kitchen for the last 18 years.

So I asked the waitress for an envelope. I put some cash inside along with a note that said, ‘Treat your special girl to something special this Christmas.’

You’d want to see the look on that lady’s face. Her year was made.

Thank you for the inspiration.”

When I think about giving, I think about the look on that lady’s face. I think about how that one random act of kindness can change the trajectory of a person’s day – or even life.

I realized a little while ago that, in my home, Christmas and Hanukkah had become only about the quantity and quality of the gifts.  So, last year, I decided that I would only give my children five things they wanted, and that each item had to be under a certain dollar amount.  They would each also receive a small monetary gift so they could buy gifts for family members and special friends.  At first they thought I was crazy.  But when they realized that they were getting exactly what they wanted or needed and were also able to spend their gift money on someone else they cared about, it all worked out.

Here are some ideas on creative giving that may inspire you and the people you’re giving to and receiving gifts from to pay it forward:

  • If you go to Toys “R” Us, pay for one or more of the items for the person in front of you or behind you.
  • If you are in a grocery store and see an elderly person in line, let them go ahead of you, offer to pay for their items or just help carry their bags to the car.
  • At a drive through?  Pay for the order of the person behind you and leave a note with the cashier wishing them a Happy Holiday.
  • Go to your local church, synagogue or family center and adopt a family in need for the holidays.  We did this for many years.  My children came to shop with me and, using the families’ wish lists, we were able to buy what they needed and wanted to make their Christmas a special one.  It was a great thing to do as a family and a wonderful teaching moment.
  • Know someone who is alone for the holidays?  Invite them over for dinner on that special day so they are not alone, and offer a small gift – maybe a candle, a frame, or a small trinket – that they can display in their home.  This way, they can always remember your kindness and hopefully be inspired to open their home to someone who may be in need of company in the future.
  • iStock_000059490236_SmallIf you frequent a diner, coffee shop, or restaurant and have a favorite waiter or waitress, write a note or bring a card telling them why you are grateful for them – throw in a little cash to lighten one of their loads.
  • One year my sister gave me the most thoughtful gift; she decorated a glass mason jar and filled it with long strips of paper that had a reason she cared about me or a special memory from our childhood.  Every time I feel a little down I open it up and read some of them – they always make me smile.  This is a great idea and it becomes a gift that keeps on giving.

I hope this post inspires you to be creative in your gift giving this year and reminds you that a gift that comes from your heart is worth way more than one that comes from obligations of the season.

Never get tired of doing little things for others. Sometimes, those little things occupy the biggest part of their hearts.”

— Unknown