Whether you celebrate a religious holiday or not, the winter season often involves some form of gift-giving. Perhaps that’s within your immediate or extended family, coworkers, or friends. Whether you have your own children or not, people often give gifts to kids. After all, who loves the holiday spirit and surprise of tearing through wrapping paper more than young ones who still believe in Santa? As sweet as that is, if there’s any time to reframe the Santa-gift-drop-off facade, it’s amid a pandemic with massive job loss. Why? Because while “Santa” leaves plenty of presents for some kids—who are often told it’s a reward for good behavior—countless low-income families can’t afford the same magic for their own little ones.
One possible solution? Make sure Santa leaves the least expensive gifts. Or encourage your kids to regift what Santa drops off to those in need. Let’s dig into why below.
Life is already changing for many, many kids as the nation faces the ongoing novel coronavirus pandemic. Perhaps they’re doing virtual learning or homeschooling for the first time. One, or both, parents or guardians may have experienced changes in employment. Families might be facing eviction or housing loss. Food insecurity is a growing issue. It’s totally normal to want to lean into some holiday cheer and celebrations as a reprieve from a lot of collective grief, trepidation, and anxiety. But the last thing low-income families need is a sense of guilt or self-blame if the kids don’t receive as many gifts as their wealthier peers.
If you’re an adult who leaves gifts for kids, consider making sure the child knows the more expensive or desired gift came from you. There’s no reason Santa can’t leave the holiday socks or body wash in the stocking, after all. You could also let Santa leave only one present, as opposed to many. Another option is to sit down with kids and let them choose which presents (assuming they aren’t already torn into) they want to give to their local homeless shelter or community space. Kids have a lot of capacity for maturity and compassion, and if they’re lucky enough to live in homes not directly affected by the pandemic, this sort of experience can be a great learning experience for them.
If you don’t have kids in your life, or you do but you have the financial means to help more, consider shopping for the holiday wishlist of a family. Depending on where you live, the options for this differ, but many community aid spaces can connect you with a family to shop for. You might, for example, be told the children’s genders and ages, how many people live in the home, or their favorite color or hobby. Sometimes the wishlists come with specific requests, like a toy or a gift card for a certain store. While presents aren’t the end of all the holidays, kids and teenagers can be especially vulnerable to the social ramifications of not “keeping up” with what their peers might receive. Gifts can also be educational, like books or school supplies, or necessities, like new shoes or winter attire.
Lastly, donating holiday meals is also a great move. Thanksgiving meals are popular, but you can donate meals around the Christmas season too. Or, of course, you can pay it forward by donating food or funds to your local shelter or aid group during any season. Just make sure you’re not donating supplies that are already expired or damaged.
Related to food, if you want your kids to participate in a charity that’s a little more relatable to their experience, you might consider donating to cancel school lunch debt. Because yes, we live in a nation where kids and adolescents acquire debt in order to eat a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. These are also opportunities to teach your kids about allyship, and that doing good for others can be done privately and discretely; you don’t need to blast every good deed on social media. The good is in the doing, not the fanfare.
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