Four years ago at Thanksgiving time, my sister-in-law and I had a heart-felt discussion. We talked about how our combined four children (aged 8 to 12 at the time) were getting older and really didn't need anything for Christmas. We had been blessed in more ways than we could count.
While the adults had stopped exchanging gifts years ago, we still continued with the toys and clothes for the cousins. Each of them over that year had been involved with non-profit work through their schools and churches and had expressed an interest in possibly doing something together at Christmas time.
The adults decided to have a group discussion with our children and ask what they would like to do as a family. As the brainstorm wrapped up, we had devised a plan - in lieu of exchanging gifts with the cousins, our two families would adopt a family who was in need of basic items and gifts - we would shop together, collect the items, mark or wrap the gifts and deliver them.
Everyone was on board and excited about starting a new tradition that involved sharing our gifts with others, while doing a Christmas activity as a family. (We did keep the tradition of giving matching Christmas pjs on Thanksgiving night for the cousins to enjoy for the entire holiday season.)
For the first three years, we selected cards from the Saint Henry Church "Angel Tree" - each card supporting a different family with several Nashville-area agencies represented. The children chose a card and the group set a date to embark on the shopping expedition.
As we met that first year at a local superstore, the children were excited to make decisions on the items the family had requested - everything from clothing articles to toys and basic items (like cleaning supplies). Each gift was personally selected with care, as they would have done for one another. They took pride in gathering the gifts that day and helped put them in order for the donation.
On the third weekend of Advent, the cousins all met at Saint Henry Church for Mass (along with their Grandmother, Meems, who made the trip from Memphis to join us). When it was time to bring up the gifts, the four cousins carried the bags carefully and set them on the altar. As they returned to the pew, their smiles were infectious to those around us and spoke silently of the true gift it is to give to others.
This year in November, a representative from the Saint Vincent de Paul Society spoke at mass at Saint Henry about the Christmas Wishes program. My husband suggested we select our family this year through this program as he has been involved with Catholic Charities in recent months.
The children selected our family, reviewed its members and were interested in the three children as their ages were close to theirs. As we met to shop for this family, my daughter said she "imagined" what the two girls were like and tried to select items they both might enjoy. My son and his two boy cousins showed enthusiasm when choosing a cool jacket, socks and even a game headset for the boy of the adopted family.
Upon turning in the gifts for our family this year at the Catholic Charities office, we were overwhelmed by the groups of gifts that lined the hall and were overjoyed to realize we were a part of something much bigger - families reaching out to help those in need in our Nashville community.
As our family unit now realizes, it is us who needs this opportunity most - to be able to celebrate the Christ-child through service to others - it is a gift and a blessing with memories Sam, J, Gil and Victoria will hold dear in their hearts forever.
Merry Christmas! from the Donatos and Armstrongs