by Anne Marie Murphy.
Throughout the many years I’ve spent at Madonna House field houses, I have been encouraged by parents who pass on to their children the practice of giving at Christmastime without expecting to receive something back.
This is a basic tenet of Christianity, and by doing something with their parents, the children learn that giving can be very rewarding.
Even in her elderly years, Catherine Doherty never forgot the example her mother gave her as a child. Her mother would sometimes take her along to help when she went to nurse poor people in their homes.
And when I was a child, my father would take us to our rural area nursing home. It was just a lady’s house where various poor and handicapped people lived together.
We would sing their favourite songs for them at Christmas and Easter time. Though we didn’t have the money to take presents to them, we gave our time and our musical ability.
This Christmas I want to share some stories of ingenious ways parents I’ve met in our MH field houses taught their children how to give to those in need at Christmastime.
The first story is of a family who bought four bikes from a Christmas catalogue. Two pink girl’s bikes and two blue boy’s bikes came to their house unassembled. During an evening in Advent, as a family, they put the bikes together in their home.
Every child had a part to play in the assembly process. The children knew that these were special gifts that they would bring to Madonna House to be anonymously given to children in need.
All the family came to deliver them. We explained how grateful we were for their generosity and time and told them that we would find the perfect home for their gift. We also explained one of Catherine Doherty’s ideas of gift giving to the poor.
We would act as a go-between so that those in need would not be embarrassed to receive from their benefactors (who may actually be in the same school).
Catherine always stressed the dignity of the recipient even as she encouraged the giving.
The fun part for me was to find a time to deliver the bikes to the chosen families when the kids were not home. That way it was the parent’s choice as to whether the gifts came from Santa or Baby Jesus or from a kind family.
Generally we tried to keep our name out of it too. At one house we hid a bike in the trunk of an old car in the yard so that the little girl wouldn’t see it before Christmas morning.
In other MH houses where I was stationed, there were families who went to the supermarket and picked out groceries for a complete Christmas dinner for another family.
In one instance I received the donation from the dad who said that once he was in the situation where he had to beg for milk for his baby. He never forgot how hard it was to ask for charity and was now teaching his sons to think of others in need especially at Christmas and Thanksgiving.
I could tell from their hamper which items the kids had picked out. They were the fun things that they really liked themselves and wanted to be sure that other kids would have, too.
Another time a family decided to give away their beanie baby collection of small stuffed animals. The kids made sure they were all in almost new condition. We had fun arranging this whole menagerie of animals on top of our freezer next to the door of the soup kitchen where the women and children would come in for Christmas dinner.
Each one got to choose whatever animal they liked as their Christmas gift. We had so many animals that even the older ladies could have one, too. It made their Christmas day with us a little more fun.
Whatever a family does, whether it costs a lot or a little or is the gift of your time, it is well worth giving children experiences of giving to those in need. Jesus came to share his life with us, and that is why we share our life with others at Christmas time.
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