Teaching kids about giving at Christmas

By Brittany Carlson

I love the Dr. Seuss story “How the Grinch Stole Christmas.” My favorite moment is when the Grinch suddenly realizes, with wonder, that “Maybe Christmas doesn’t come from a store.  Maybe Christmas…perhaps…means a little bit more!”

It’s this exact realization that I want to teach my son this Christmas.

This Christmas, my oldest son, Adam, who is nearly 3, is able to start understanding and participating in our Christmas traditions and asking questions about what we do at Christmas. His interest in making cookies, wrapping presents and the person of Santa Claus have made me think about what I’m really teaching him about my favorite holiday. Am I making it all about the fun and gifts? Am I getting caught up in the details, showing him that Christmas is a stressful ordeal? Or am I teaching him that Christmas is about more than presents under the tree?

 I want him to think about giving, not just getting, and about sharing what we have with others. Thankfully, I have a few ideas that I can’t wait to try with him, including Christmas caroling around the neighborhood.

My family started the neighborhood tradition of singing Christmas carols while my sisters and I were young. We would walk from house to house, knocking on doors and singing Silent Night, We Three Kings, O Holy Night and other Christmas songs to our neighbors, using little paper caroling books my mom procured from a local church. After singing, we handed each family a bag of homemade cookies or Dad’s famous peanut brittle.

When we started this tradition, I think the other families were a bit surprised to see us all, my father included, singing on their doorstep. As years went by and we continued the tradition, they began to ask my parents when we were going to come caroling so they could plan to be home that night! I can still remember the looks on their faces while we sang: looks of joy, and peace, perhaps shedding a tear or two. It made us feel so good to share the joy we had in Jesus with our neighbors, even in such a small way.

This year, I’m going to go to a few houses with Adam and James* (my 6-month-old) to sing carols and hand out cookies. I can’t wait to see the look on Adam’s face when he gets to give someone else a treat.

The concept of giving is something I’ve really been trying to reinforce this season, especially since I know he will have many gifts of his own to open on Christmas day, being the only grandchild on either side old enough to open a gift. I’ve been asking him to help me wrap gifts to get him in the mindset of giving. He has helped me choose which gifts go to which person, and I plan to have him hand them out on Christmas.

But really, what I want him to experience for himself is the joy that comes from being thoughtful and kind. I think a perfect way to do this is to do something for someone outside of friends and family, and some of the moms in my neighborhood have come up with a great idea to do this. They plan to take their toddlers to a nursing home to hand out cards and spend time with the seniors living there, and I can’t wait to join them with Adam and James.

Ultimately, as my boys grow up, I want to teach both them about giving the kind of love they want to receive, the kind of love God showed us when he sent his son Jesus to be born in a stable. I want to show them that the best gift they can give to others is themselves, in time, thoughtfulness and talents. I want to show them that they can make this world a brighter place by thinking about others, not just themselves, and I think Christmas is a wonderful time to put that lesson into practice. 

After all, the first gift of Christmas wasn’t a thing, but a person: “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given … . And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” (Isa. 9:6)

 The truth is, without doing these things myself, I would soon forget to slow down and soak in God’s peace and joy during the Christmas season. In trying to teach my boys, I am reminding myself of what is really important: that Christmas indeed does not come from a store, but from a child born Bethlehem who showed us how to love.  

Jesus is the real reason we celebrate, the true source of peace and joy, and we have a chance to share this with others. If I can give my sons a true gift this Christmas, it would be the understanding that God’s love is the best gift they will ever receive, and the knowledge of how truly precious they are to Him. 


*Names changed to protect privacy


Brittany Carlson is a lifelong lover of words and all things chocolate. She is an Army wife and now has two sons, Adam (2.5) and James (4 months). She has written for several Army community newspapers, including the Stuttgart Citizen (Germany), Fort Leonard Wood Guidon (Missouri) and Fort Belvoir Eagle (Virginia). Brittany holds a Master of Arts in Journalism from the University of Missouri-Columbia. She and her family live in upstate NY.