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The Giving TreeChildren are great givers. Oh, they’re takers at times, too (aren’t we all?), but time and again the children in my life have astonished me with their willingness to give sacrificially. And as we stand on the threshold of Advent, we have some great opportunities to celebrate and encourage that beautiful inclination of their young hearts.

Our family started an Advent tradition last year that we call The Giving Tree. My husband and I had realized that for the first time our kids were old enough to really pay attention to how we do Christmas and what our doing means. We wanted to institute family traditions that were full of truth and meaning. So I scoured the Internet looking for wonderful ideas to steal, and I stumbled across the Giving Tree. We gave it a try, and it quickly became my favorite of all our Christmas doings.

The idea of the Giving Tree is to do a giving project with your family every day during Advent. What I love about it is that it takes children’s huge capacity for compassion, combined with their energy and enthusiasm, and it gives those things a direction. It helps them to recognize everyday opportunities for giving creatively. And by doing it daily for a few weeks, I think it really impresses on them how much they enjoy generosity. It’s like giving Jesus a birthday present every day! And it’s a very hands-on way to help kids understand part of what it means to bear the image of God.

So if you’re interested in trying it, here are a few pointers to get you started. Take as much of it as you will, and adapt it to fit your family. If a project every day of Advent is a bit overwhelming, consider doing the twelve days of Christmas instead. The most important thing (in my opinion) is to let your kids participate in as much of the process as possible.

1. Write down each day’s project on a small piece of paper. Roll them up like scrolls and tie with ribbons.
2. If you’re a planner like me, you might want to number them and make notes on your calendar. For instance, you might want advance notice if you need to have cookies ready to deliver, or you might want to choose particular days of the week for certain projects.
3. If you have an Advent calendar, you can slip a scroll into each day’s compartment. Or you could hang them on a miniature Christmas tree or put them in a beautiful bowl or jar. Open one scroll daily.

Your family doesn’t have to save the rainforest or end world hunger with every project. In fact, I think it’s great if most of them are simple acts of service within your community, so that the kids learn how to give as part of everyday life and in non-monetary ways. Here are some ideas. Take them and run:Giving Tree 2011

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  • Deliver a homemade card and treat to your neighbors, shut-in members of your church, local businesses you patronize, or your pastor.
  • Help Mom or Dad with housework or help your siblings clean their rooms.
  • Surprise a loved one at work with a visit or with a hidden note that they will discover during their day.
  • Write Jesus a poem telling Him why you love Him.
  • Volunteer at a soup kitchen or food bank.
  • Leave an anonymous note of encouragement on the library shelf, a dressing room mirror, or a pack of newborn diapers.
  • Donate items to a coat or toy drive, a food pantry, or a crisis pregnancy center.
  • Leave a small gift in your mailbox for the mail carrier.
  • Cook a meal for your parents.
  • Choose a charitable donation from your favorite ministry’s catalog: Samaritan’s Purse, Compassion International, World Vision, Show Hope, etc.
  • Thank a soldier.
  • Take a gift to your church nursery workers or Bible study teachers.
  • Express your love to one another: Try to out-share or out-serve each other, or write each other notes describing why you love each other.
Packing a box for the food pantry last year

Packing a box for the food pantry last year

I hope your family enjoys this as much as we do. When I pulled out the Advent calendar yesterday, my five-year-old immediately started asking when we would get to start opening “messages.”

Advent starts Sunday! Many bright blessings upon you and yours during the givingest of seasons.

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