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December 2007
Rev. Celeste Shakti Hill

As we enter the holiday season, I was drawn to explore different ways of giving gifts. Over the next two months we will be inundated with advertisements on "stuff" to buy. And although it may be good for our economy to be a consumer, maybe there are other ways of sharing the joys of this holiday season that reflect a deeper connection to who we are, as individuals - and as members of a larger family – our planet family. Happy Holidays!

At Gavin Brown's 4th birthday party, There were 44 guests and an elaborate ice cream cake adorned with a fire truck. But the only gift in sight was a little red Matchbox hook and ladder rig. All the bounty from Gavin's birthday — $240 in checks and cash collected in a red box next to a plastic fire helmet — went to the Cranford Fire Department.
"Thanks, buddy," Lt. Frank Genova said on Sunday when Gavin handed over the loot, after which he took a tour of the pumper truck and tried on a real captain's helmet. With the party proceeds, the birthday boy suggested, the firefighters "can buy new fire trucks, new equipment, and more food."
In part to teach philanthropy and altruism, and in part as a defense against swarms of random plastic objects destined to clutter every square foot of their living space, a number of families are experimenting with gift-free birthday parties, suggesting that guests donate money or specified items to the charity of the child's choice instead.
Annie Knapp of Milford, N.J., collected $675 at her Sweet 16 in April for Heifer International, which provides livestock to poor families. Zachary Greene, who lives in the Chicago suburbs, turned 8 in November surrounded by books that his friends brought for a local reading program. And in Randolph, N.J., 6-year-old Jack Knapp (no relation to Annie) even got his grandparents to lug a 50-pound bag of kibble to his party for the local animal shelter.
Maggie Jones, director of Children for Children, a New York nonprofit, said that in the last year the number of participants in the group's Celebrations program — which encourages "a tradition of giving" around milestones like birthdays, bar or bat mitzvahs and graduations — has more than doubled to 100-plus families. Ms. Jones said that she knew of four private schools in New York City that had made such parties the standard.
Davida Isaacson, a principal with Myerberg Shain & Associates, a fund-raising consulting firm, says that no-gift parties are one prong of a growing movement to involve even the youngest children in philanthropy. Some parents match children's charitable donations dollar for dollar, she said, while others invite them to research causes and help decide which ones to support.
Mrs. Knapp said her children's grandparents "always support whatever cause the kids are into," but also insist on giving them gifts, noting, "Otherwise it would be like a scene from ‘Mommie Dearest.' " As for skeptics, Mrs. Knapp said, "once they come to the party and see how the kids are all so excited, every single parent who expressed any doubt to me has said later, ‘I take it back; it's a beautiful thing you're teaching your kids.' "
By Sylwia Kapuscinski for The New York Times

Here are some holiday ideas from the book "365 Ways to Change your world in just 24 hours" by Karen M. Jones.
Share the Wealth – If you find you have more baked goods, wreaths, or other gift items than you need around the holidays, take the extras to a community center, church, or homeless shelter.
Spread the Light – contact a hospice or nursing home and ask if you can help them decorate for holidays.
Present It with Purpose – Use environmentally friendly wrappings, old fabrics, maps, sheet music, posters, newspapers, magazines, or even colorful junk mail, secured with organic cotton ribbons or hemp twine. Package gifts in reusable bags, or present them in new pillowcases, dishtowels, or baskets.

Some deep connection with the world around us – love, if you will – often makes social action not so much a choice as a burning spiritual need. – Peter Crosby, president and CEO, SeniorNet


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