So Thanksgiving is over and Black Friday has come and gone. I know several people who get excited about the deals on Black Friday, or very late on Thanksgiving Day. What do we call that? Does that Thursday have a color? Anyway, I always find it amusing that people actually want to do this. People who review sales flyers after Thanksgiving dinner and strategize about how to get the best deals fascinate me. I guess I just don’t have that gene.
The last thing I want to do on my day off is to get up early (or stay up late the night before) and stand in the cold wind for hours with strangers outside of a store. Running through a store trying to be the first one to grab a gift item is really not my idea of fun. Standing at the checkout is really not entertaining either.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for getting a great deal on anything. I love the thrill of the hunt and finding a great buy as much as the next guy, but when it comes to gift giving, I would much rather give something that really matches the recipient, even if I have to look for a while and spend a little more, because that’s just how I roll. I know people who have their shopping done before the end of November, but I’ve never been one of them. Once in a while I will find a neat gift and buy it way ahead of time, but the chances of me finding it in the weeks before Christmas – if I remember that I even bought it at that point – are extremely slim.
So the economy has tanked and people are really watching their pennies, which makes Christmas shopping a little bit tougher than usual. We can get caught up in the moment and spend anyway, paying dearly for it come January when all the credit card bills come due, or we can do Christmas a little smarter this year. We can pay it forward.
The term comes from a movie about a teacher who gives his students the challenge of coming up with a way to make the world a better place, and a boy who comes up with a unique answer. The boy’s idea is for everyone to do something really nice for a stranger, and ask the beneficiary of the good deed to repay it to others instead of to the original benefactor. It really is a wonderful idea, and I have been doing this ever since I saw the movie. This idea has morphed into a few other ideas, and I’d like to share some of those with you, if you are still wondering what to get some of those people on your Christmas list.
This year, instead of being lazy just getting items on someone’s list, stop and think about what that person really needs. What’s their life like? What are they always complaining about? What are they always wishing for? Can you help with any of that? Last year I had a friend who was super stressed, so I made her a de-stress kit. I purchased all sorts of things that helped me de-stress, like bath salts, tea, a good movie, a good book, crayons and a doodle pad. I threw in a whole lot of other silly things just to make her laugh. She absolutely loved the gift, and was touched by the fact that I took the time to give her something she didn’t know she needed. That made me feel great.
I will warn you, though, it’s not the easy way to choose Christmas gifts. It takes time to stop and think. It’s work, but can be well worth it. Another time I gave a gift of several gifts – although it was for a birthday – where my friend had to open one gift every hour on the hour throughout the day. I think I actually had more fun choosing, wrapping and labeling the gifts for the order they should be opened than she did opening them that day. Of course, they were little gifts, but she got to spend the whole day taking moments to celebrate her birthday and I got a kick out of knowing that I gave her those moments.
You don’t have to stop at your friends and family, though. Look around. Who do you see that needs help? Would someone appreciate a warm meal they didn’t have to make? Could you pay part or all of someone’s energy bill? You don’t need to know anything but a name to do so, and you don’t have to give yours, either.
Every year I like to buy a bunch of those travel-sized items and take them to the Salvation Army Hope Center. I asked, and they said those items are particularly needed. One year I asked before purchasing, and they told me of a young woman with a newborn staying there who needed things for her child. Apparently this was unusual and they didn’t have items for such a small child, so I tried to imagine if I were in her shoes, what I would like to have, and purchased those things. I even bought some fun items for mama and baby, so they could enjoy a laugh or two even though they were spending Christmas at the Hope Center and not at home.
For many years, when my children were growing up, I would call up the radio station sponsoring the Christmas Is For Children program and ask for two children the same age and gender as mine, and purchase the items they requested. When they were old enough to understand, I involved my own children in the process and explained who the gifts were for. Now that they are grown, I will begin the tradition all over again with my grandson, and hopefully, all will continue the tradition of paying it forward.
Actually, I don’t wait for Christmas time to do this stuff. I enjoy doing this all year round. I haven’t done it yet, but I am going to pay for someone’s order at the drive-thru one of these days. Maybe it will be your meal. I also hang onto quarters and randomly drop them into gumball machines around town. When I am walking into a store at Christmas, I try to find a child nearby to hand my donation for the kettle as we walk in. It’s amazing to see the look on their faces when you hand them the money and they light up when they get to throw your money in the pot.
It’s fun trying to find new ways of surprising strangers with happiness. I figure what goes around comes around, and even if it doesn’t, it really doesn’t matter… I still get a big kick out of doing it and have no plans of stopping anytime soon.