Every year, my extended family does a secret santa gift exchange for our holiday get-together. We started doing this about four years ago, after years and years of the more traditional, “buy at least something (or somethings) for everyone” practice. Although it’s hard to ignore the initial pleasure of getting “more” gifts that comes with that manner of giving, I think we all reached a point where the act of gift giving for the holidays had become more of a burden than a joy, a warped divergence from the true intention behind giving in itself, which should, on the contrary, be happy and rewarding for both parties. We decided that, rather than stress out about having to think of, find, and purchase something for everyone, we would instead focus our intentions on finding one, meaningful and special gift for only one person, secret santa style. So for the past few years, we’ve ceremoniously put names in a hat and drawn one by one the person who we give to that season. When we finally get together for the holidays and to exchange gifts, we are able to focus more on simply spending time in each other’s presence than on an extravagant unwrapping event revolving around piles of wrapping paper, bows, and tape.
Although there are less presents under the tree, I’ve found that there is no less joy or appreciation amongst us. If anything, it is increased. Now, the one present we do get is thoroughly thought out, chosen with intention, and designed to hold meaning for its recipient. The result is one that re-sparks the true intention of giving and receiving, which is to tap into human compassion and facilitate connection. What matters more than the gift itself is the thought that went into it. The recipient feels cared for and loved, and the giver feels happy that they have caused that feeling. It is a win-win situation.
This year, as in the past few, my family is again participating in a secret santa amongst ourselves. Only, this time, we’ve made a little tweak. It’s still a gift exchange, but a gift exchange of a different kind: one that brings us even further to that satisfactory, self-affirming feeling associated with intentioned gift-giving. This year, instead of saying “this is my gift to you,” we are saying “my gift to you is a gift to someone else.” In other words, we are doing a secret santa exchange of donations and charity. The basic premise doesn’t change: pick a name from the hat, and that is your recipient. However, the gifting itself is of a different nature. You can either donate to an organization on behalf of your recipient, or purchase a gift from an organization that benefits their cause.
Maybe you draw your Grandfather. What does Grandpa really like? Is he passionate about anything? What does he care about the most? Maybe Grandpa is a sports fanatic. So, in secret santa charity style, perhaps you find a non-profit that supports sports education for underprivileged kids, or one that donates equipment to children without the luxury of being able to buy their own. What do you do? You make a donation to the organization, in his name. The maybe you purchase an organization T-shirt or promotional product. On gift exchange night, you hand grandpa a card. A brochure about the organization. His souvenir to remind him that you, in is name, did some good. Your gift to him was that you made him a part of something bigger than himself, something that he cared about.
Fair game this year for our secret santa is also the plethora of options for Buy One Give One organizations, companies which will give the equivalent of your product purchase for yourself to someone in need. There are over a hundred of these organizations, whose mission is to do an act or give an item for every product purchased for personal use. One such group that you’ve probably heard of is TOMS shoes, the comfy canvas slip-ons that are universally loved. For every shoe pair purchased, TOMS will donate a new pair of shoes to an African child in need. Hence, buy one, give one. The Be Good clothing company will make 12 gallons of water in a rural area safe to drink for every purchase of their product made. Buy a handmade bamboo pen from Humble Pen, and they will in turn donate 2 pencils, one reading book, one notebook, and one meal to a child in need. The list goes on and on. Although not as directly labeled as “donation,” a purchase of one such item like this is just as impactful as money to a group. The product itself also serves as a great reminder of the good that you’ve done, holding with it an altruistic feeling that arises whenever it is in use.
The feeling that comes with service is even greater than the one that comes with the most basic act of giving. Service is special because it brings one out of their own personal bubble, and lets one touch others around them. Whether directly within a one’s community or through other methods to places farther away, nationally, or internationally, one can help out someone or something other than themselves. Getting a new toy or trinket of course is exciting, but a charitable gift gives a different kind of excitement. It is the kind of gift that warms you up from the inside out, the kind that says: “I can make a difference. I have made a difference.” It is hard to beat that feeling. It is one that lasts much longer than the euphoria of a new material item, and so much more impactful.
There is a reason that, as humans, we give, and why giving has gotten incorporated into so many aspects of our lives. It is as much fulfilling to ourselves as it is to the recipient. Every religion stresses, teaches of, and honors giving. Many holidays have an aspect of gift exchanging in them. We congratulate others and show them our love by giving gifts. Charity is no different. And the combination of the two is powerful.
There are so many ways to combine charity with gift giving, ways that you may not even know about, yet are incredibly easy and rewarding. The most obvious, of course, is direct donation. A check to an organization providing resources for them to continue to do the good that they have dedicated themselves to. Then there is donation through purchase. Buying an organization’s promotional product, of which the proceeds will benefit them, is easy. More and more, companies have also popped up that will donate a portion of their proceeds to a stated cause, or to the people who created and manufactured the product. There are also the buy one give one groups, which have developed their unique system that combines personal purchase with matched charitable giving.
Whatever the manner, the bottom line is this: this “new” kind of gift giving is one that benefits something greater than yourself, yet yourself as well. It keeps the holidays from going overboard, and simplifies them down to their basic essence: spending time with others, being deeply thoughtful, and having kind intentions. Try it out! See the reactions you receive. Guaranteed, no one will be wanting a gift receipt on kindness.