published Sunday, December 25th, 2011

Christmas spirit should last all year

Earlier this month, Secret Santa's elves handed out $100 bills to needy people throughout the Kansas City area. Here, an anonymous donor put 43 $100 bills in a Salvation Army kettle. A group of women eating together were surprised to find that their lunch had been paid for by someone else.

Almost like magic, the calendar turns to December and people become nicer, smile more often, let others break in line and think about the needs of others before their own.

Nursing homes, hospitals, children's homes and other community agencies are inundated with requests to bring goodies/gifts to the residents or to perform or volunteer.

Why do we hear these stories over and over again every December? Are we more acutely aware of the needs of others at the year's end? Does it make us feel good to give? Perhaps the answer to both questions is yes.

The Mayor of Kansas City said he was surprised how good it made him feel to be part of the Secret Santa mission. There's something about seeing the surprise on people's faces when they receive an unexpected gift that warms the heart.

Many of us have experienced the benefit of giving and know what a true gift it is for the soul. It makes us feel better about ourselves and the world in which we live.

In his song, "Let It Be Christmas," country singer Alan Jackson sings, "Let every heart sing the story of hope and joy and peace. Let anger and fear and hate disappear. Let there be love that lasts through the year."

What would happen if we really took that to heart? Why can't we take the spirit of the Christmas season into every month of the year?

Here's a challenge for you and your family. Over the next week, sit down as a family and discuss how it felt to give to others during this season. Start a "gratitude journal" and write down the themes you shared. Over the next 12 months, make it a point to do something unexpected for someone or for a group of people. Here are a few suggestions:

* Find an elderly neighbor who could use some help with yard work.

* If you or your children are musically inclined, ask permission to perform at a nursing home.

* Choose and support a charity monthly starting in January.

* Make time in your schedule to volunteer.

* Give anonymously to someone in need.

* Go through your closet, garage or children's toy chest, and pass on what you have outgrown or don't need any more.

* Make sure you continue to write down how it made you feel to give of yourself to others.

Perhaps we can make the world a better place with more joy and peace and less hate and fear by focusing on the needs of others.

Let's not limit giving to just the holidays, but nurture a spirit of giving throughout the year.

Merry Christmas!

Email Julie Baumgardner at julieb@firstthings.org.

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