Thursday, December 15, 2011

Give This Christmas Away

I've been reflecting about Christmas lately and just how completely different December feels here.  There's no junk mail filled with tempting gift ideas shoved into the mail box. We don't have a television, so there are no ads proclaiming the newest 'thing' that we need.
And besides some random attempts by the big department stores to pretty things up with lights and a few Christmas trees, there's not too many other clues that Christmas is just around the corner.  
It also dawned on me that for several of our ZOE children, this will be their first experience of Christmas, ever!  
For the majority of Thai people, who are Buddhists, Christmas is not celebrated but rather the coming of the New Year.  At ZOE though, the excitement is building and the children are looking forward to not just what they can get, but just as much what they can give.  A huge outreach is planned for Christmas Eve where the ZOE families will pack goodie bags in the morning and then go delivering them to the houses in the local community later that day, giving away and sharing God's love.  And Christmas Day is going to be a huge celebration of the what this day signifies within the Christian faith.

Have you heard the song, Give This Christmas Away?  It's one that I really like and I've posted it below if you haven't heard it.
I'm continually challenged to fully grasp what this looks like for our family and how we can act upon it.  
The true meaning of Christmas, and what Jesus' birth means to us, prompts me to ask how can I give back, focussing on the most important gift of all.
I definitely haven't "arrived" in this area, but I would like to share some of the ways that I'm attempting to give this Christmas away and get my children learning how to do it also.  AND I am hoping that you'll join in and add some of your good ideas in the comment box below.  

Okay so these are the easiest ways that I've found so far:
1. Buy an extra pressie.
Choose a tag off one of those Christmas trees set up at your local shops or school that requires you to buy a gift for a child of a particular age/ sex etc.  This year we picked a little boy about Tobi's age who needed a new school bag.  
Result: This can be a great conversation starter for discussing needs verses wants, and a reflection on what other children do or don't have in comparison. 

2. Against the odds.
I wasn't going to buy Christmas cards this year (opting just to email or post out our Christmas letter) however I had the opportunity to purchase some from a friend who, in her spare time, works with an orphaned, HIV girl to teach her card making skills.  My friend was helping to sell the girl's cards for her.  I felt so happy to be able to support her in this small way and I scored some beautiful hand-made cards!
Result: Win-win!

3. Life goes on
As you know there is still so much to do to rebuild the lives of those affected by the recent Bangkok floods so our church gave us a list of everyday grocery items that we could buy to make bags and send to those still requiring relief in certain areas.  I love to shop, so I found it fun searching for the items on the list like sardines in tomato paste {ew} and other practical items like mosquito repellant, oil, rice, fish sauce, noodles, soap, toothpaste, sugar etc.
Photo taken by Tobi!
Result: I bought three lots of everything and left it up to my three children to pack one bag each.  I was able to talk about why we were helping as we packed and Eliana even went and drew some pictures to put in the bags too! 

4. Buy fair trade  
This is talked about often so I won't go into it too much.  When you have the option, make a choice that gives farmers a fair price and help in community development projects.  Over here, I found some Akha Ama coffee beans to give as presents that are produced by local entrepreneurs supporting Akha communities and encouraging farmers to put more efforts in sustainable and organic agriculture. The Akhas belong to an indigenous group living in the highlands of Thailand.   We also buy coffee beans from one of the ZOE staff members here whose grandfather has a coffee planation that Dave has actually been to.  And we have a small range of fair trade chocolate too which makes great "teacher" presents.
Result: Supporting local traders and communities so that they can strengthen and continue to achieve sustainable farming.  

5. Buy handmade. 
At the risk of spoiling the surprise for certain members of my family by disclosing what I have bought them, I found some great items in a little shop over here (similar to the Oxfam shop) that sells handmade items by local hill tribe people.  In buying products from this shop which includes clothes, bed covers, jewelry, silverware, musical instruments, and dolls made by Thailand’s six hill tribes, it helps to support artisans from the hill tribes to earn an income.
Result: Profits from BPP & Hill Tribe go to support hill tribe villages and to the Border Patrol Police school students and their families.

6. Get involved! 
Help out/ support/ attend your local carols.  In our local area, Tobi's school puts on a wonderful carols service every year and everyone from the school community pitches in by baking and supplying hot cocoa etc and the whole event: food, entertainment ... everything is opened up and offered for free to our Thai neighbours that live around the school.
Result: Building relationships, being generous, seeking to live in harmony and strengthen our community.

7. Buy local.
When possible, we like to buy from the person in the street.  This year with one gift idea, we were able to buy most of what we needed from a little Thai lady in a market stall at our local market.  Think about where you buy so that, when possible, your helping the people doing business locally and showing your support.
Result: Strengthening local businesses.

8. Share the load.
It often takes a lot of work to give out and provide for a large number of people (we sure know about that here) but it doesn't seem so hard when lots of people contribute.  The little Christmas stockings filled with candy and hanging on the Christmas tree at ZOE have been filled by several of the volunteer families here. Each family contributes just a little bit, and when we all pool together...
Result: A lovely little treat for the ZOE kids to enjoy over Christmas!

9. Out with the old. 
Go through your children's clothes and toys with them (before Christmas) and assist them with choosing some of their toys to donate to a community group that works with children, to either provide for or sell these items to fund their work.  
Result: A great chance to reflect on how much we have to be thankful for but also to think about not just giving away out of our excess.  Encourage children not to just give away what is broken, dirty, worn or outgrown.  This is very challenging!

10. Invest
It's so easy to get 'stuck' in our Christmas traditions that have become so comfortable and easy.  Have you thought about investing your time on Christmas day into an elderly neighbour with nowhere else to go, a single mother or the family that just migrated away from another country? 
Christmas is a time when you have a great opportunity to connect and share with someone around you and get the chance to make sure no-one is alone.
Despite not being with my family back in Australia during this special time, I am glad that I have such a big family here to join with on Christmas Day.  I am definitely being changed, stretched and challenged and I will continue to keep thinking about this concept some more.  Please share your ideas too so that we can all have a big list to remind us.
Enjoy the song!


Anonymous said...

what about Samaritan's Purse, operation Christmas Child? we pack boxes which go to needy children overseas.

Cross Family said...

Yes, that's right Jen. I haven't seen them in Thailand but I'm sure they're being given out here to needy children, in certain areas. We used to do Operation Christmas Child too back in Oz and it's another great way to get your kids involved. Thanks for your suggestion, Andie:)

Cross Family said...

ALSO: Klong Toey Handicrafts sells products made by the men and women of the slum under fair trade principles and the profits go toward helping improve their quality of life,as well as providing diginity and teaching new skills.

Gary Lewis said...

Again ... so inspiring and challenging. Love the song!

Anonymous said...

Beautifully written! I always love reading your blog Andie! I will be thinking and praying for all of the amazing ZOE kids, especially the new ones, this Christmas season! Hugs to all! Dana

Anonymous said...

Loving all your blogs. Such important reminders and awesome things to keep in check at this very consumeristic time of year.

What you guys are a part of over there is huge!!! Rescuing those little lives and helping provide them with love, security hope for the future and an understanding of how amazing our God is. We pray for ZOE and you guys and the other volunteers that you will all be shown a fresh blessing and true sense of God's love and grace at this very special time of year.

Much love...