On giving… and getting

by luciditewriting

Last year, my family decided to rethink our holiday gift-giving practices. Instead of hitting the crowded, soul-sucking mall or staying up late and scouring the Internet for the “perfect” gift  (or the “well, this will have to do” gift) to tuck under my parents’ billowy Christmas tree, we decided to donate the amount of our choosing to charities that meant something to the other family members. Looking back, it seemed like a no-brainer. We had homes, jobs, food, clothing, healthcare, access to education, the arts, media, travel opportunities and many people in our community did not have these things.

I remember anxiously awaiting the matching funds day sponsored by GiveMN (it’s Nov. 16 this year if you’re interested). I woke up early, made a cappuccino, and snuggled onto the couch with Michael and my laptop. We gave to our favorite organizations right away (a gift to each other), and then began “shopping” around for charities for my mom, dad and sister. My mom had requested that we give to two organizations that are near and dear to her heart, Empty Bowls and ResourceWest (formerly the Hopkins-Minnetonka Family Resource Center). When I hit “submit” and saw that my dollars had been matched by local corporations, a shot of holiday warmth ran up my spine.

The night of our family Christmas celebration, the tree (bedecked with festive trinkets my sister and I had made over the years– think glittery styrofoam and velvet-covered tuna cans– and ornaments my dad had lovingly selected for us each year when we were kids) sparkled in the corner and the smell of “burritos” (an admittedly Midwestern rendition–my sister’s and my favorite childhood meal) emanated from the kitchen. Unencumbered by materialist tokens, we were able to focus on our priorities, interests and passions for an entire evening.

This is not meant to be a “hey, check us out, we’re do-gooders” kind of post. To be honest, there is a very selfish component to philanthropy. The charge I got  from knowing that my dollars were going someplace good, someplace important stayed with me for months. Knowing that my family members had put in so much thought as to where their money should go made me proud, really proud. These intangibles, these emotional-chemical responses are what really “made” my holiday season last year.

In the middle of our burrito dinner, my mom announced that she had a surprise. “Oh great,” I thought. “She got us presents anyways and now we’re going to look like idiots because we didn’t get her anything.” After dinner, she told us to bundle up and get in the car. I was giddy as Annie, Michael and I crammed into the back of Mom’s Prius. Annie giggled uncontrollably as Michael tried (unsuccessfully) to harmonize to holiday songs on the radio. Mom danced a bit in her seat and Dad smiled at us in the rear-view mirror. We were all so “in the moment” that I forgot to wonder about our destination. As we pulled into a residential area and rounded the bend, Mom squealed “There, you guys, look!” It was a tall, old tree completely covered — trunk to twig– with thousands of strands of white lights. “Magical!” We all got out of the car, linked arms, and stared up at the glittering tree as tiny snowflakes brushed our cheeks. Magical, indeed.