My daughter, Rooney, has a sweet little book in her bedroom about Saint Nicholas of Myra. It tells the story of the fourth-century Christian bishop who inspired the Christmas gift-giving character of Santa Claus. We read it here and there all year long, but it carries a special meaning for our family this holiday season.
Born in Patara, a land that is part of present-day Turkey, circa 280 A.D., Saint Nicholas was left with a large sum of money when his parents passed away, and he used it to help the poor.
After his own death in 344, the legend of his generosity grew. Saint Nicholas transformed into the fabled character of Santa Claus, the beloved old man who brings presents to children around the world on Christmas Eve. Over the years, while advertising and culture have popularized the image of the jolly, red-suited sleigh operator, many influences have made Santa what he is today.
It’s surprising how easy it can be to get caught up in the commercialization of Christmas and lose sight of what is truly important. I’m guilty of working tirelessly to try and set the right tone and atmosphere for my family during the holiday, without thinking beyond what lies inside and what hangs outside the four walls of our home. We end up devoting a lot of time and energy into placing decorations, preparing events, preserving traditions, and planning meaningful experiences for the people closest to us — all the while missing the real blessing that comes from thinking like the original Saint Nick. If we aren’t careful, our attention can quickly switch to a focus on what we want, leaving little room for thinking of others and what they need.
The giver of every good and perfect gift has called upon us to mimic his giving, by grace, through faith, and this is not of ourselves.—Saint Nicholas
This year, our family decided to take a few intentional steps back to realign our hearts with the true meaning of Christmas and the spirit of the legendary gift-giver. We wanted to make some changes this holiday season to awaken the joy that comes with generosity. It was time to decide, as a family, how we could ask “What can we give?” instead of “What can we get?”
So, Santa is going to look a little different in our house this Christmas season. In August, we called a family meeting, and the three of us sat together in our living room. Snuggling up together with blankets on the couch in the middle of summer had us all giggling, but it gave us the opportunity to talk through ideas for how to change our perspective this Christmas from getting to giving, from receiving gifts to revealing God’s love by first noticing the needs of others and then doing something to meet these needs.
My daughter ran into her bedroom to grab the most recent letter we had received from Dilcia, the mother of our sponsored child, Andrea Victoria.
We read her letter again together and prayed for a few minutes about families around the world who are trying to climb out of poverty. What could we do to send a message — one that says we care that you need something, and we’re going to do something about it?
Out of that meeting, we identified three simple steps that would help our family flip the focus this Christmas.
- Encourage each other to notice the needs: Our sponsored child, Andrea Victoria, lives in Honduras. Her father is a farm laborer, and her mother works to keep the home and raise Andrea, her two brothers, and her three sisters. From the letters back and forth that our families have shared and from what we have read about their community, we know Andrea’s papa struggles to provide enough food for the family. We took turns flipping through the World Vision Gift Catalog. We talked about how food like milk and eggs are regular purchases in our home, but that’s not the case for many families around the world.
- Empower one another by learning about how your gift will impact others: With a little research, we learned that a goat can give up to a gallon of fresh milk every day. Our family talks often about why it is so important to maintain a healthy diet and nutrition plan, and my daughter lit up at the thought of a family in poverty getting the benefit of a steady source of calcium, protein, and nutrients we know they need. We dug a little deeper and learned that chickens are another awesome gift. They provide a consistent supply of eggs, are easy to raise, and will naturally multiply, allowing future generations of kids and families to be positively impacted. The gift of an animal, while it seems so simple, is a way to turn one act of generosity into additional blessings. It was beautiful to watch my little girl light up as we talked about how gifts like these can also provide hunger relief, farming assistance, and other essentials to families living in poverty.
- Emphasize the greatest gift God ever gave to the world: Jesus. St. Nicholas of Myra said, “The giver of every good and perfect gift has called upon us to mimic his giving, by grace, through faith, and this is not of ourselves.” When our Father sent his Son to be born on earth, it was his good and perfect gift to us. The most incredible blessing the world has ever known is two-fold: We are able to receive this gift, and we are able to share this gift with others. That’s what Christmas is all about. Let’s share the love and gift of God’s Son with others by meeting the needs of his children around the world. One act of generosity can light up a life. This Christmas, let’s shine God’s light by seeing the needs of the world and taking action.
Erin Weidemann is a member of World Vision’s Speakers Bureau and the founder and CEO of Bible Belles. She lives in Encinitas, California, with her husband, Brent, and their daughter, Rooney. Learn more about Erin at erinweidemann.com.