A couple of years ago our extended family decided to scale back on Christmas gifts. The plan was to exchange homemade gifts instead of purchasing more items. I think we were partially inspired by Marie Kondo and her book, The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up. I loved this concept and my family members created thoughtful, unique gifts.
Unfortunately, I am a procrastinator. This meant that my gifts were often incomplete, unnecessary, and sadly, sometimes unidentifiable. Because I have the kindest nieces they politely thanked me for 3 inch circles of mediocre knitting meant to be boot toppers. My attempt at mittens made from sweaters resulted in enormous blobs that could have doubled as potholders.
But last November, when our entire family was feeling despair over the future of our country, our daughter, Amelia and niece, Annie were discussing how to move forward. As many people did, they decided that they needed to be a force in the world that was creating a positive difference. So it was decided that instead of tangible gifts we would give random acts of kindness.
I merrily embarked on this adventure with no idea that I would be receiving a most unexpected gift. My acts of kindness were small but I got an inordinate surge of delight each time I did one.
I wrote little notes in cards to random strangers, added a scratch lottery ticket and a penny, and left them on the windshields of cars at the hospital, post office, school, and grocery store-places I thought people may be feeling stressed or harried as the holidays approached.
I felt a tad apprehensive as I somewhat furtively dashed to a car but I was hopeful that perhaps this random act of kindness brightened someone’s day.
Feeling worried about our environment and potential changes with the new administration, I decided to reduce the number of Christmas lights that I put up outside. Half of the lights on our inside tree mysteriously were extinguished, as well, inadvertently further reducing our environmental impact.
I am devoted to using reusable grocery bags so I picked out a bag at Trader Joe’s and told the clerk that I wanted to buy it and asked him to give it to the next person who didn’t have a reusable bag. He in turn gave me the gift of not charging me for the bag and happily agreed to pass it on to someone in need.
On our Christmas morning run we came across a disgusting Bud Light cardboard box filled with trash and an empty beer bottle. I picked it up, ran home, and put it in the garbage. Besides feeling a bit self-conscious about running with a cardboard box, I was repulsed by Mike’s suggestion that I was advertising Bud Light –never! But it was worth the potential humiliation to clean up a small part of the earth.
When I was at our local greenhouse purchasing a poinsettia for a gift I bought an extra one and asked the clerk to give it to the next customer. At first the young man waiting on me was a bit confused but after a moment’s contemplation he seemed to really embrace the idea and enthusiastically said, “Yeah! I can do that!” I left with the impression that involving him in the process had also sparked some excitement in him, as well.
We donated food to our school district’s backpack program which sends food home on weekends and holidays when food-insecure children do not have access to school breakfasts and lunches.
I had plans to be in Boston a couple of days before Christmas so packed up a few gift bags with socks, hand warmers, a Dunkin Donuts gift card, and some homemade cookies. The gentlemen sitting on the sidewalk had signs wishing passersby Merry Christmas. I felt like Santa and almost burst into tears as I walked down the street wishing them “Merry Christmas” and leaving them with a little bag of goodies.
As we gathered at Christmas other family members shared the similar deeds they had done during the season. Knowing that we had added to our normal actions as decent people and taken the extra steps to spread a little more goodness felt wonderful.
We’ve been mindful of continuing this philosophy throughout the year. Small actions such as paying for coffee for the person behind us and letting a waiting car move ahead of us in traffic are so easy but set the tone for civility and good will.
On this Giving Tuesday I urge you to consider adding some random acts of kindness into your holiday routine and delighting in the joy it undoubtedly will bring to you as well as to others.