This Passed-Down Holiday Tradition From My Childhood Has Been The Greatest Gift

Christmas Wreath in Window
PHOTO: GETTY IMAGES

With so many traditions speckling the days leading up until Christmas, it’s a wonder we make it there in one piece. There’s the making of pomanders, the Christmas pageant, Nutcracker performances, and White Elephant gift exchanges. The decorating, the cooking, the feasting, and fellowship. There’s the list-making, shopping, wrapping, and last-minute errands. All this and it’s no wonder our Novembers and Decembers rarely see a silent night among them. But, during even this busiest of holiday seasons, my family’s tradition of finding ways to give back is one thing I’ll never give up.

Volunteering Is The Greatest Gift

Volunteering during the holidays was a core memory of my childhood. My earliest remembrance is the time we went from house to house delivering presents, including a brand new bike at one (imagine my envy). As we got older, the volunteering opportunities broadened. We served a holiday meal at a shelter, prepared another one for a local charity house, and, on one particularly cold Florida night, worked at a food bank. The thought of being able to have a very small hand in providing a warm meal during this season, particularly when our normally balmy coastal temperatures plummeted, was such a comforting thought for me that it almost felt selfish.

Coming from large families on both Mom and Dad’s sides meant that holidays were typically a spectacle, but the best kind. Cousins running every which way, sideboards overflowing with food, and an avalanche of presents that extended from under the tree consuming half the square footage of the living room (and that was on a pared-down year). While this kind of Christmas Eve revelry was certainly a treat, it was our own little family’s tradition of holiday volunteering that proved the most lasting memory. We slowed down together, and we were brought together by the giving of our time to others.

As I hunt for ways to share this tradition with my own little family, I am still haunted by the feeling that it’s all a bit selfish on my part. Maybe it’s misunderstood that doing good requires a sacrifice because this certainly doesn’t feel like one—and I venture to guess most who find ways to give back would say the same. Not to sound dramatic but, I guess I wish it felt harder to do, and with less of a payoff regarding what I receive in return.

Passing Along the Tradition

Regardless of my personal feelings, I continue to capitalize on the joy this tradition brings to my life by finding new ways for my own little family to get involved. For now, our two children mostly sit at the counter while I make large batches of green bean casserole for our church’s mobile food pantry to bring downtown. We talk about why we help others as I let them pour the green beans into the aluminum casserole pans. While we chat about small ways we can be a light to others, it never fails to bring to mind what a light this holiday tradition has been for me through the years. Maybe one year I will find myself feeling those sacrificial feelings that seem to be missing, and perhaps the joy of today is what will keep me going. But for now, I’ll continue to indulge myself through the work, no matter how small, and never fail to remind my children that this passed-down tradition from Mimi and Papa is the greatest Christmas gift I’ve ever received.