What Would Linus Do?

December 10, 2008

Emilia is three, and although this is her third Christmas, it is the first that she fully appreciates in all of its indulgent, commercial glory. Last year, when she had just turned two, it was a delightful but slightly baffling exercise in hooting at lights and puzzling over gifts (why there toy here Mama WHY?) and recoiling in terror from shopping mall Santas. This year – with the influence of Christmas-frenzied preschool cronies and her greater awareness of the holiday-saturated culture in general – she knows exactly what is going on, and it is all visions of sugar plums and fat men bearing gifts and candy canes and gingerbread and Dora Magic House dollhouses and remote-controlled race cars and can I have that Mommy will Santa bring me that Mommy can I have it Mommy CAN I???

She has embraced the holidays with all the desperate enthusiasm of an alcoholic at a whiskey fire sale, and although it is adorable, it also a little bit disconcerting.

We’ve been careful to not hype the holidays as a festival of presents and candy (we’ve been burned by celebratory excesses in candy before, and are concerned to not make the same mistakes twice). We limit her exposure to any medium that broadcasts holiday-fetishizing advertisements (TV commercials? Easy to eliminate. Shop windows and newspaper circulars? Not so easy.) We have made efforts to explain to her what Christmas really is supposed to be about – star in the east, baby in swaddling clothes, three wise men bearing gifts (what were the presents they were bringing Mommy what were they were they toys???), etc, etc – and talk about the importance of giving and of being grateful and of celebrating family and friends and everything that we are so fortunate to already have. But still, after all of this, she remains intoxicated by Christmas™, the Christmas that decks the halls with boughs of holly and Spongebob Squarepants Advent Calendars (a different crustacean for every day of the season!) and that celebrates, above everything else, the getting of stuff.

I have no principled objection to the Santa side of the holidays. I personally am a very great fan of presents. And I have the fondest memories of childhood Christmases spent huddled on the stairs, spying on the Christmas tree, waiting for Santa to appear and deposit bundles of Barbie and Lego and Eazy Bake Ovens beneath its branches. I don’t want to deprive my children of those childish pleasures, nor do I want to teach them that wanting (desiring, coveting) is in itself bad. It is, after all, okay to want things. But I do want them to learn that wanting things for oneself must tempered by – and is most pleasurable in concert with – wanting things for others, and that Christmas is only incidentally about receiving material gifts. I want them to take to heart – when they’re old enough to understand – the spirit (if not the letter) of the Christmas story with its tidings of great joy and message of hope and peace and good will. I want them to understand the lesson learned by Charlie Brown, that shiny pink Christmas trees with mounds of presents are kinda cool, but are really beside the point, and that the best feeling that one can have during the holidays is that heart-ful, love-smothered feeling that one gets when one embraces the spirit of good will and hope and love.

But in order for them to understand those things, I need to make sure that their parents are – that I am – demonstrating them. And as I stroll down the main street of our town, coveting shiny things in shop windows, or wander the virtual byways of the Internet, admiring giveaways and crossing fingers that maybe I’ll win that laptop or that iPhone or that tin of pistachios, or prepare to post such giveaways myself, it has occurred to me that I sometimes get a little bit caught up in the holiday frenzy of want want want and that maybe I should do something that is more in the spirit of walking my talk.

So I asked myself: faced with an overabundance of gifts and giveaways and assorted virtual whatnots, WHAT WOULD LINUS DO? Besides read excerpts from the Gospel of Luke, that is, which, face it, is lovely but not all that interesting once you’ve heard it six bajillion times.

And I came up with this: I’m going to (with the permission of those who send stuff) give away a portion of everything that I receive for online giveaways, by which I mean, I’m going to give it to someone who needs it more than the Internets. Specifically, I’m going to take multiples of toy-type stuff to a toy drive, and with those giveaway or review materials that are not toy drive appropriate, I am going to purchase toys in lieu of those products and Emilia and I will take them, together, to the toy drive so that they can be passed on to other, needier children and families. So that she can see how wonderful it is to give.

And because it is also wonderful to receive, I’m giving away this, to you: an iPod shuffle (green). Just leave a comment below, between now and midnight December 17th. But there’s a What Would Linus Do catch: in your comment, mention a charity or cause that you support, and (because I’m giving the iPod to the Internets, rather than to a charity drive) I’ll make a donation to that charity – a tithe of my ad revenue this month – on behalf of the winning person.

(If you have a blog, and are running giveaways, I invite you to do something similar – set aside one of those giveaways to give to a local family that might appreciate the boost in these difficult times, or take it to a toy drive, or invite your readers to comment to win a donation to a charity of their choice. If you do this, let me know, and I’ll compile the links.)

Linus would approve.

(Oh, hey – you can has buttonz! Feel free to lift the code here and post it to spread the word…

Just copy and paste this code to embed:

Thanks to the ever-awesome Motherbumper for pulling a Linus and making these sweet buttons to share.)

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    { 256 comments }

    Kristen December 17, 2008 at 10:18 pm

    I think what you are doing is AWESOME!!!!!!!!!

    We support Ronald McDonald House Charities. They make a world of difference to those that must travel with their children for medical treatment. I know first hand because my son’s Neurosurgeon is located over 800 miles from home in Chicago. It’s nice to not have to worry about lodging and food when our son is in the hospital. I don’t know what we’d do without them!!

    Any Ronald Mcdonald house will do, but we stay at this one: http://www.rmhccni.org/content.cfm/rmhuofc

    Mel December 17, 2008 at 11:08 pm

    This is a wonderful thing you’re doing, Catherine. I wish my blog was big enough to do the same. I really like what Heifer International does, but I haven’t seen anyone mention National Public Radio. They have had to cut back 7% of their employees this year, and have cancelled two of my family’s favorite programs. From the hilarious Car Talk to the informative All Things Considered, there is something (educational) for everyone.

    Thank you so much for being such a wonderful, giving person and doing this.

    lace December 17, 2008 at 11:08 pm

    One of the greatest programs I’ve come across is the Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library. They provide books to all children in a community from birth-5 years of age. Each month a child receives a brand new hardcover book. It is an amazing program to promote literacy.

    My nieces receive these books every month and some of our favorite books have come from here.

    A community pays for the books and mailings, promotes the program, registers the children and then the Dollywood Foundation takes over and manages the book deliveries. In our community, United Way sponsors the program.

    I’m not sure if you can support the main program or if you have to support the individual programs in the community (i.e. United Way)

    If I were to win, I’d love for the United Way in my community to receive the charity donation specifically to help fund The Imagination Library.

    Major Bedhead December 18, 2008 at 1:57 am

    When I have money to donate, I donate to JDRF because my oldest daughter has had type 1 diabetes for 11 long, finger-poked years and I loathe the disease with every fiber of my being.

    This year, I don’t have much to spare, so I give to the bell-ringers from the Salvation Army. I also donate clothing and household goods there.

    Major Bedhead December 18, 2008 at 1:58 am

    Oh crap. I think I missed the cutoff by an hour. Bugger.

    Patricia in TO December 18, 2008 at 2:43 pm

    SOS Childrens Villages – they create homes for orphans in many countries (including Canada and the US) that mimic families – one “mom” and a bunch of kids live in a house. One of the best ways to help orphans grow up normally! That and MSF are my top charities at the moment.

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