Without fail, whether it’s at the grocery store or at a family party, my kids will get asked the same question over and over and over again this time of year.

What do you want for Christmas? 

I know people are just being kind and they really enjoy hearing about the hottest new toys that kids are asking for this year. Yet, each time I hear this question, I cringe. When a child is asked, “What do you want for Christmas?” by everyone they know and see during the holiday season it reinforces that the idea that Christmas is all about the gifts.

In a culture of “getting”, how do we teach our children the importance of giving? When they’re hit with consumerism from all angles, what can we do to show them that Christmas is about much more than gifts under a tree? 

Last Advent my family started a new tradition and, though it’s not a cure-all, it’s a start. MISSIO.org brought a whole new spirit of giving into our family. Actually, MISSIO is much more than a website. It’s an online platform that Pope Francis’ Pontifical Mission Societies launched in 2013 that allows laypeople to connect with missionaries in all parts of the world.

As a family, we decided that we would save money by not going out to eat and cutting back on other treats we would normally buy for ourselves. The money we saved would go towards a MISSIO project. On the last Sunday of Advent, we split our family into teams and began to research the many projects on the MISSIO website. Each team was to find one project to donate to and then explain to the family why they thought their project deserved the money we had saved. 

We spent the afternoon pouring over the stories. There were stories of children who need rides to school, prisoners who needed new uniforms in order to attend Mass, nuns who were asking for internet access, and so many more. We read about people in Taiwan, Ethiopia, Mexico, and South Sudan. We saw the faces of the families who would directly benefit from our donation. Many of the children in the photographs were smiling, yet others looked back with hungry eyes full of sadness.

When we came back together in the evening, each team presented the project of their choice. The older boys wanted to buy soccer balls for children who were left orphans due to the AIDS epidemic. The younger boys wanted to help seminarians with some repairs they needed in their dormitory. Our five-year-old daughter was horrified at the thought of children her age in Africa drinking the same water that the animals bathed in. In the end, we all felt so strongly about each of the projects we had found that we gave to each one of them. 

There was authentic joy in our home that Sunday. We each wanted to give so much more than we were able to. We all stepped outside of the world in which we live and looked at life from the eyes of another. For just a few minutes of the Advent season, not one of us cared about the new iPhone or lego set or American Girl doll. 

I know that my children will continue to have Christmas lists full of toys and electronics that they hope to find under the tree, but I also know that through our experience with MISSIO they’ve gained an awareness of the world in which we live and a deeper appreciation for the gifts that they have been given. Each time we make the effort to form virtue in our children, we can be confident that they grow in some small way towards holiness.

Do me a favor? While you’re out shopping and running errands this Advent, instead of asking kids what they are “getting” for Christmas, let’s make an effort to ask kids who are they are giving to this Christmas. 

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Is your family looking to add in an Advent activity this year? MISSIO is encouraging Catholics to consider giving to #justonemore during this season of giving. Take a look at this list of current projects that are just waiting for your support!

Help a Child in the Pope’s Missions This Christmas