Charitable giving is the essence of Christmas and does not have to put us further into debt

Little girl wearing a Santa hat playing violin

Pictured: Violin Project in Trinidad made possible by the Rotary Club of Westmount, Quebec and Fiddleheads.


We live in times of plenty: Plenty of money. Plenty of possessions. And for many of us, plenty of debt!

My family has felt saturated with the amount of "things" to want and buy, particularly during holidays and birthdays. We thank our friends and relatives for the giving of gifts but feel that much of it is unnecessary as we have everything we need to prosper and feel content.

This this year my family has tried a few new family projects, all with the intentions to redirect spending towards people who are in more desperate need of receiving.

Our first idea was to eliminate excess toys during our child's 7th birthday. When the invites went out our kiddo was allowed to invite as many friends as she liked. We had 18 kids over for cake and games! It was nuts!

The catch: friends were asked to only bring food for the our local food bank. No toys.

A huge trunk load of food was delivered by the kids! My daughter had a great time with all her buddies and the kids felt very proud knowing they were helping out other kids. As a parent I was happy to see less toys as only relatives provided presents, but it was still plenty and our daughter didn't feel she missed out on anything.

Finally, my daughter received a card from a food bank thanking her for the generosity of her and her friends. She was so pleased to know they had made a difference and she is already asking what we can do to help next year with the SPCA.

My violin students and I hold a recital each Christmas. Last year we started accepting donations of food and cash at the door for the Salvation Army Food Bank. Over $100 was raised and several bags of food collected. Again, this is a classic example of kids helping kids. We have the goal this year to double the cash donations to $200 and bring in even more non-perishable goods for both food banks in this year's recital.

Through my shop I sponsor and support many charitable organizations that are working to put violins in the hands of children and people in need. Programs across Canada (especially the territories), the USA and in developing nations have benefitted from Fiddleheads' involvement of donations and pricing at cost. It nearly makes me tear up to think of how violin and fiddle music has enriched these people's lives.

My family has tried a few ideas over the past few Christmases to make gift giving simpler and more appropriate for our budgets and needs. Some relatives are broke and cannot afford $50 per person. Others, like my family, are trying to reduce the amount of things we take into our home.

Past projects involved pooling our money for larger gifts and choosing one person to buy from. These were nice solutions, but some of us felt there were better ways to direct our spending and energy and to help the less fortunate in our world.

Thus, this year we are again pooling our money. Whatever the individual can afford or was intending to spend on gifts. But instead of spending it on our family we are putting the money into charitable giving. Groups such as World Vision and Plan Canada, the group though which we sponsor a child in Guatamala, have gift options for caring people who want to support projects in education, agriculture and human rights.

For as little as $10 an individual can assist a project ranging from buying a cow so a family has milk for the babies, providing a classroom with books and pencils or creating a safe water source for the entire village. For more money a family can fully equip a mobile hospital or earthquake refugee camp and save lives.

We are still getting together as a family on Christmas, but instead of opening gifts we are having a fun morning of deciding how to spend our money, knowing our family will make a difference for others.

This, to me, is the true spirit of Christmas: giving to those who need it the most. The children learn the important lesson of giving and will encourage their schools to follow suit. Grandparents who have houses full of "stuff" will be relieved they aren't taking home more things to take up space. This kind of buying is also better for our environment as it means less packaging and waste.

The best part in promoting this sort of giving is that it is not further out of pocket of what we would typically spend. We are simply redirecting the money towards a better venue. And it is charitable giving which is tax-deductible!

These ideas are simple suggestions which I hope may inspire more charitable giving in your family. Try variations on the theme by asking your workplace to accept toy, coat or food donations at the Christmas party rather than a secret-Santa exchange. Donate a violin you're not playing anymore to a school program or ask your local school music department what they could use (there's always need there).

You may like to vary your giving from local to international groups so you are helping a wide scope of people. I hope you can continue to support small businesses, many of which rely on Christmas sales to survive.

Just remember you don't have to be Oprah to make a difference. A 6-year-old Canadian boy learned in school that people were dying as a result of unclean water and decided to make a difference. He collected $70 from pop cans and started a fund to help. Thus "Ryan's Well," a grass-roots foundation which has raised over $1,000,000, was born.

Start small and see where it leads you. Soon this ripple effect can turn the world around.

Merry Christmas!