Voices

Q&A: Melissa Joan Hart, actor, director, and producer

Actor Melissa Joan Hart with the bracelet she designed for the World Vision Gift Catalog.

Melissa Joan Hart is accustomed to wearing many proverbial hats. But the actor, director, producer, and mom doesn’t let full or demanding schedules take away what’s most important in her life, especially at Christmas. “We try to make sure that Jesus is represented in all elements of our Christmas,” she explains. “It can be tricky, but if you have the Christmas story, you’re reading it often, you’re going to church, you’re keeping Christ at the center of it all, you can really remember the reason for the season.”

With her strong faith in God at the heart of her family, Melissa loves using the holidays to find creative ways to give back, both to her loved ones and to people in need around the world. It’s part of why she designed a handcrafted bracelet for the World Vision Gift Catalog this season. Proceeds from her bracelet and the other celebrity-designed, handcrafted gifts in the Gift Catalog go through the World Vision Fund to empower kids and families around the world to lift themselves out of poverty.

Melissa sat down with World Vision recently to share how partnering with World Vision helps her display her values to her kids, how she stays grounded in Jesus during the holidays, and more.

How has the World Vision Gift Catalog become part of your Christmas traditions?

I think it’s more important than ever to partner with World Vision this year because of what the whole world has been through. The bracelet that I’m featuring in the Gift Catalog this year is made by women artisans in India. India was hit so hard by the pandemic. This helps them out so they can creatively support their families and then, the donation will go to help World Vision’s other endeavors around the world and in the U.S. — and you can give someone a really pretty gift like the bracelet!

The World Vision Gift Catalog is the first thing I sit down with around Christmastime, right after I send out my cards. I start to circle things and write people’s names and make little notes about who I can give this and that in honor of.

You can help families in such amazing and powerful ways. I’ve given goats in honor of co-stars of mine before. If you really want to incorporate the Jesus aspect into your giving, you can give nativity animals to a family in need.

Why does your handcrafted gift make a great gift? What are you hoping people think about when they wear this bracelet?

I love my handcrafted gift because, first of all, it represents artisans in India who are coming out of a terrible time from the pandemic, and it represents what’s important at Christmas. I love that it has a heart (just like my last name!) and it says faith, hope, and love. We need these three things so much, especially around the holidays.

Sometimes when you give a goat or something else in the Gift Catalog, it’s amazing for the kids and families who get that item, but you’re not giving your loved one a physical gift. But with the handcrafted gifts, you can give something physical that they can keep and remember. The handcrafted gifts can help people choose joy this season, because you get to give someone a gift and, at the same time, that donation equips World Vision to help people in need.

What are some of your other favorite family holiday traditions?

Some are pretty simple, like baking. And one of my favorites is from when I was a little girl: We used to sit at the top of the stairs and Mom and Dad had to go check for Santa. And once they gave us the all-clear, then it was like, “Run down the stairs and go find your presents!”

To me, that anticipation was the best part of Christmas, so I do the same thing with my children. Last year was special, in a way, because it was very simple. It was just our family. We woke up on Christmas morning, we opened our presents. We just hung out together, we cooked together, we ate a nice simple meal together.

What are you looking forward to this year that perhaps you missed last year?

There’s a new gratitude this year, after last year’s challenges with not being able to get together. I’m looking forward to the simplicity of having grandparents come over, or aunts and uncles or neighbors, and bringing the neighbors food, which I wanted to do last year and couldn’t. In those ways, we’re so much more appreciative of the time we get to spend together, which is the important part.

How does your faith influence how you approach the Christmas season?

I love to find ways to give back and to remember that Jesus is the reason for the season. We have so many gifts of our own, so how can we share those with others who are suffering during this time?

We try to find little ways and big ways to do that. I’ve done this “24 days of giving” before, where every day you do something — whether it’s just a nice note on someone’s car or a hug or telling someone they’re beautiful, like a stranger on the street, or something like serving a meal at a homeless shelter. It’s about finding little ways to give back and make sure you do a gift every day.

I think one of my gifts is that I love to give gifts. I love to find the perfect gift for someone, whether it’s a birthday or a holiday or Christmas. And a lot of the time that means giving back in some way. It’s getting my children involved, or saying hi to a neighbor who’s lonely, or donating to charity or doing the Christmas boxes at church, or giving a goat through World Vision. That’s going to help other families but it’s also a wonderful gift to give in honor of someone who doesn’t need more stuff in their closet. It’s a great way to incorporate more of Jesus’ love in your gift-giving.

It sounds like your faith is a way you stay grounded on what matters most during the holiday season — tell us what that looks like, with how busy and hectic the seasons can be?

It’s tough during Christmastime to really stay focused on what’s important because there is so much going on, with the cookies and the parties and the wrapping and all that. I always try to make sure I get my cards out first, because I want to get them done right after Thanksgiving. And then I try to ease into the season and remember that it’s not about the gifts, it’s not about the perfectly clean house to throw a party. It really is about spending time together.

But it’s difficult to do, so I just take it day by day. I try to remember the reason for the season which, of course, is Jesus Christ coming into the world and his sacrifice for us. We make sure that we don’t miss an Advent week at church or a Bible study during that time, so the busyness doesn’t take away from that.

We make sure we read the Christmas story to our children and put out our nativity, and even our Elf on the Shelf, on Christmas Eve, he bows to Jesus and the nativity before he goes back to the North Pole. Even with all the secular things about Christmas, the secular music can be mixed with the Christian music and the Elf on the Shelf can pray to Jesus. And sometimes, the elves bring little stockings that say “I love Jesus” and things like that.

What first made you interested in working with World Vision?

I have always looked for an organization that will work around the world and in the U.S. in a deep and meaningful way — the kind that doesn’t gloss over a problem. An organization that has levels and layers and someone’s thought deeply about how these programs work and how to really empower people to get out of poverty.

When I went to Zambia with World Vision and saw the work that they do, I was so impressed with the levels of support that they give. It’s not just, “Hey, here’s a well.” They’ve thought about every angle to equip people to take ownership and keep the well working. That’s so important.

I have three sons, so we decided to find three girls to match in age to our boys to sponsor. It worked out really well that we found Liness, Civeness, and Vera, and we got to meet them when we went to Zambia with one of our sons. We were able to buy a chicken at a market for them, and I found out that they would really only have chicken on, maybe, Christmas. So we were able to do that, and to send them bicycles, and send them letters at Easter and at Christmas and their birthdays, and to know that our sponsorship donations are equipping them, their village, their siblings, their parents.

We got to visit their farm and see the work they do just to keep themselves sustained. It was so magical to see these three girls with our son. We can’t wait to bring the other two boys back someday, because they’re all about the same ages and the smiles on their faces when we met them were so magical. I think about them every day, and we have a picture of their family in our home. It was a wonderful trip.

Can you tell us what you’ve been doing during the pandemic?

As a family, we were very focused on school because that was very challenging for us. I was cooking more, I was learning to play piano, I was trying to learn new things that I wouldn’t have had time for otherwise.

We focused on spending more time as a family, watching movie marathons, cooking more together, doing chores together — things that had fallen by the wayside in busy life.

Do your kids like watching your movies?

No, my kids do not watch any of my programs or movies. I force them sometimes to watch my Christmas movies around Christmastime. They pretend not to like them, but I know they do.

Can you tell us about any upcoming projects you’re working on?

I’ve been working a lot on directing the TV show Young Sheldon for CBS. And I’ve been working on some Lifetime Christmas movies.

I produced a movie for Lifetime this year called Christmas in Tune, and it stars Reba McIntyre and John Schneider from Dukes of Hazard. It’s such a fun movie. They’re a divorced couple whose daughter has to bring them back together to perform for the troops during Christmastime. It’s a really fun “falling back in love” movie.

I also starred in one called Mistletoe in Montana, where I’m the owner of a dude ranch. A bachelor comes in with his children to spend Christmas on the ranch, and we ride a lot of horses. It was very exciting and fun and different for me.

I actually got really into this character! There were a lot of things I had to learn, like square dancing, archery, lassoing. Before I left for Montana, I worked a lot on horseback riding lessons, taking horses out on trail rides in the woods and in the natural obstacles, as opposed to in an arena. Learning to lasso was really fun. When I got to Montana, I had to work more on the square dancing and archery.

What does it mean to you to choose joy this Christmas season?

I do think it is a choice. I know a lot of people are suffering around the world at all times, whether it’s because they live in poverty, or they’re hungry, or they’re having a terrible breakup in their family, or they’ve lost someone, or they’re not celebrating with their family that year.

But I try to focus on the center of Christmas — that Jesus came for us. And I find the little joys in things like a good cookie or a hug from a friend or a gift from a neighbor. Finding those little joys, those little wins every day during the Christmas season is so important.

 

This interview has been edited and condensed for length. Elisabeth Rickard of World Vision’s U.S. office contributed to this story. 

Get Melissa’s “These Three Remain” rose gold–toned bracelet with a gift of $100 or more to the World Vision Fund. And on Giving Tuesday, November 30, your gift to the World Vision Fund will be matched, up to $1 million.

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