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Foster a Spirit of Charity in Your Family

Last November our seven-year-old began talking excitedly about “The Toys ‘R’ Us” book that he needed to get his hands on.  I was a little confused. Toys ‘R’ Us publishes books? He described it, explaining that the photos inside were what would help him build his Christmas list and I realized that this was no book- this was a catalog!  When he got his hands on a copy, he went to work, crafting a list of close to twenty items that he wanted for Christmas this year.

He was proud, but my husband and I were horrified.  Where had we failed to instill a sense of the real meaning of Christmas?  Had we contributed to this materialistic spirit?

We shared our concerns that our family had failed to recognize the importance of storing up our treasure in heaven with our parish deacon who laughed and assured us that a Christmas list a mile long was perfectly normal.  “It’s all the kids are talking about right now!”  He explained.  “You just need to be sure to find opportunities to give as well as receive.  He’ll catch on.”

Our Deacon was right.  We just needed some balance.  So how can families foster a spirit of charity and fight materialism this Advent…. and in the following months?  Here are some ideas:

Shop for children in need.
Angel Trees and other opportunities to donate gifts abound at Christmas time.  While toting children around a toy store is never easy and can feel impossible when they’re already excited about Christmas lists, the act of picking out toys that they would want- for someone else- is a powerful act of self-denial.  Don’t use Amazon prime for this one. Designate a day with your kids where the only gifts they’ll pick out will be for others.

Ask your children if they’ve noticed any people who might be lonely. 
Maybe they’ve noticed folks who never seem to have any family with them at Mass, or a resident at their grandparent’s nursing home who doesn’t ever have cards or pictures on their walls.  Designate a day of making cards for these friends, and deliver them.  If you can’t think of anyone, drop off cards at your Church office for those who bring communion to the sick to share with those they visit.  A handmade card can bring so much joy, especially during a season when many can feel forgotten.

Read stories of generosity
Then, after reading, discuss what the characters must have struggled with when they chose to put others first.  For example, what was Jo thinking when she cut her hair in Little Women?  Why would Charlotte spend her final days making messages in Charlotte’s Web?  How does Sam help Frodo in The Lord of the Rings trilogy?  Discuss the challenges the character faced and how they overcame them.  Then, talk about where your child might face similar challenges and how they can respond with a generous heart.

Cultivate perspective. 
We tend to think more about Catholic Relief Services during Lent, when Rice Bowls are distributed and we toss in the coins we would have spent on a coke, but their work in developing countries is year-round, and pulling up images of the places they serve can help children realize that the cost of a new x-box could feed a family in a developing country for weeks.  Ask children, just because we can buy certain things, does that mean we should?  What is our responsibility to our brothers and sisters who have little?

Holiday advertising means kids see stuff and, consequentially, want stuff.   However, with a little awareness and creativity, families can encourage their children to list not just what they want- but all the ways they can be a blessing to those around them.

by Alison Blanchet

Alison is a Family Honor Presenter based in Florida.

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