My blogging friend Kristi Brooke is putting together a collection of Christmas traditions (and if you email her your Christmas traditions she'll include you on the email list), which made me thing about one of my favorite traditions that my parents started.
To say that my family was on a tight budget when I was little, would be an understatement. My parents had three little girls when my dad graduated with his masters degree and made a change of plans and decided to go on to get his PHD. I don’t really remember thinking we were poor, but we learned at an early age that if you really wanted something for Christmas you better ask Santa and Grandma and Grandpa. I know my parents were grateful for any help they received along the way.
They added a fourth child to the family right after my dad graduated with his PHD and started teaching at a small University in Tennessee. Things were still tight, but the first Christmas my dad was out of school, my parents decided that they wanted to do what they could to help another family have a Merry Christmas. They held a family home evening and laid out their plan and explained that there was another family in the ward in great need and we could help them have a Merry Christmas, but it would mean that we would have to have a smaller Christmas and we would each have to give a little up. They held a vote and said it had to be unanimous and of course it was. I was six at the time, my older sister was eight and my younger sister was four and I can’t believe they trusted us to keep the secret, but they told us all about the new family in church and we didn’t tell a soul.
Twenty years later, I couldn’t tell you what I got for Christmas that year, but I can tell you all about what we did for that family. They had a boy and a girl and the girl was in my primary class. I remember shopping for her with my mother, watching my mom make her a dress, picking out new shoes for each of them, and putting together the bags of food for a Christmas dinner. I think the bishop and his wife went with us to make the delivery on Christmas Eve because their home was hard to find. I was totally shocked at the site of their house; it was a shack, a hodgepodge of scrap wood with the windows boarded up to keep the heat in and graffiti painted over it.
Most of all I remember how I felt the next Sunday when the family arrived in their new church clothes, the little boy playing with one of the cars that we picked out for him. It was the first time I’d ever seen the little girl wearing a dress and I realized that it was because she didn’t own a dress before, a thought that hadn’t occurred earlier to my six-year-old mind.
Every year since then, my parents hold a family home evening around the beginning of December and each member of the family votes on whether they want to have a smaller Christmas in order to help another family, and every Christmas the vote is unanimous. Some years it’s a family we know and some years it’s completely anonymous. Some years we do it on own our and some years we combine our efforts with another family depending on our adopted family’s needs. The constant factor is that every year it kept my family focused the true meaning of Christmas instead of the commercial side of things, and I will always appreciate my parents for that lesson.
This is a tradition that I want to continue with my own family. Larry and I aren't quite to the point where we can adopt a whole family, but we're doing what we can. This year we got the ward involved in Salvation Army's Cheer Toy Drive. They sent us tags to hand out to ward members with specific toy requests from kids and it lists their gender and age. It's been so fun to see their requests for things like a princess barbie or a basketball. One of the ones Larry and I ended up with was a request from an 11 year-old girl for a pottery wheel workshop, which we had to look up online to find out it's a real toy that's available at Michael's craft stores. Since we're in a married student ward I was a little worried about signing up because I know everyone is on a tight budget but so many people have been excited to help. We'll be collecting some of the toys at our ward activity tomorrow, and I can't wait to see them pile up!