Behind the Headlines: The social causes in current events. In a unique take on daily news hits, Free The Children founders Craig and Marc Kielburger go behind the headlines to explore how the stories you read are connected to the causes you care about. You'll never read the news in the same way again.
We just saw a cartoon on Facebook of a man posting a "Happy Holidays" sign, and another man looking up and yelling, "I'm sick of all this political correctness! Can we just call it what it is?" In the next panel, the sign has been changed to "Happy Make-Your-Kids-Into-Greedy-Little-Materialistic-Consumption-Addicts Day."
Of course, that's no one's actual intention during this "most wonderful time of the year." But it does represent that eternal Christmas angst for all of us gift-givers: how do we celebrate the spirit of giving without being part of the hyper-consumption that makes us feel uneasy?
One answer has been on prominent display on Vancouver's SkyTrain system this autumn. "Create memories, not garbage" is Metro Vancouver's 2012 low-waste holiday campaign that encourages residents to give hand-made gifts, charitable donations, the gift of time, or locally-produced services like music or art lessons. The latter idea is appealing because it's friendly to both the environment and the local economy.
One opening word of clarification: the following ideas -- culled from the hundreds of parents we've met over the years working with socially involved kids -- apply in most cases equally to adult gift recipients in your lives. After all, 'tis the season when we all become kids again, even if only to justify binging on mom's generous trays of chocolate drops and Nanaimo bars.
Parents tell us it's a balancing act: juggling their fears of creating mini-consumption monsters, with a competing desire to let their children experience the fun of opening gifts from under the tree. Meanwhile, grandparents, aunts and uncles often have other plans, which includes showering the wee-ones in their lives with gifts.
Moms and dads who have found a balance tell us they don't wait for the gifts to come in from relatives: they take charge and coordinate the giving binge well ahead of time, ensuring that doting grannies and gramps, who aren't part of the child's everyday life, know what is needed and what is not.
For example, neither of us played a game of organized baseball beyond age eight, yet kept receiving mitts and bats from thoughtful relatives well into our teens.
The wish list is a great tool to prevent that look in a child's eyes when she unwraps a new pair of corduroys. Some parents just ask relatives to pick from the list and send the money, so the parents can ensure the perfect fit: it'll still be "From Auntie Jane" under the tree and in the child's memory.
For the creative types in your family, parents suggest indicating the child's current preferences: what cartoon character they would want on pajamas, what kinds of books they enjoy, or at minimum their current favourite colour.
Of course, what most relatives (especially grandparents) really want is time. So suggest that they take the kids skating, to a movie, or for a special sleepover (this can count towards your gift, too). Then rally the whole family around one major gift: the ones that your child will get the most use from and remember best, like our treasured Nintendo video game station.
We've also talked to families who have put the brakes on anything purchased, insisting everyone gives home-made presents. And others, who are fans of giving coupons for Christmas and birthdays. Why expect a cash-strapped kid to purchase a present, when she can create a coupon for a "free foot rub" to mom, or a, "I'll make Sunday dinner" coupon to dad? These are priceless when they come from a child.
If you're a sucker for stockings, stuff them with consumables like homemade cookies, and things you would've bought anyway, like funky new socks or a mini shampoos, or movie passes. We've heard numerous times that the great thing about very young children, for whom the boxes are often more fascinating than their contents, is that anything new is exciting.
And if you're hoping to give socially conscious, environmentally-friendly gifts, consider Me to We's line of products, such as Me to We Artisans. These accessories and jewelry are made by mamas in the communities in Kenya and India where Free The Children works. As well as providing a fair wage for the women who make them, half the profits are donated to Free The Children, and the other half go to growing Me to We.
Finally, you can take the attention off the gifts by stressing the family togetherness part of the holiday spirit. Make new Christmas traditions like a board games day, sing-along evening or volunteer excursion. Take turns over your few days off choosing a family activity and meal plan. As your children grow older, those are the moments that will define the excitement of this magical season.
Craig and Marc Kielburger are founders of international charity and educational partner, Free The Children. Its youth empowerment event, We Day, is in eight cities across Canada this year, inspiring more than 100,000 attendees. For more information, visit www.weday.com
We kicked off our holiday kindness campaign by asking our readers for photos of good deeds tagged #kindness2012.
"Couldn't agree more, Cicero! My heart is very thankful today! #wordstoliveby #gratitude" said Instagram user kricketchirps.
"This literally made me smile. #thankful #blessed #love #friends #college #thanksgiving #grateful #cofc #charleston," Instagram user ra_roberts said.
"About to drop off cookies to the fire department! #30DaysOfKindness #holidayspirit #thankful #cookies #ActOfKindness #DayOne," Instagram user _astonishing_ashley_ said.
shan_nglam shared this Instagram photo of a holiday note for US troops.
"I like to perform at least one Random Act of Kindness a week," Johanna Schulman told HuffPost in an email. "And if I run out of ideas, I go to the Massachusetts list of unclaimed property, which is found at our Department of State Treasury. There I find an unusual name of a person who has at least $100 of unclaimed property and get to work. I Google the name until I have found an address for the person (that's why I always start with an unusual name, otherwise it's hard to. Then I print a copy of the page showing the property, circle their name, and send it to them anonymously with a little note. Usually I say 'Enjoy this random act of kindness and pay it forward!' I've attached a picture of todays RAOK! Dara Blendermann, it's your lucky day!"
"I don't have a photo, but today I was at Barnes and Noble with my kids and husband," Gina Lackey Diggs wrote to HuffPost. "When we came out of the store I saw a piece of paper under our windshield wiper. My removed it and saw it was a note that said, 'You are the world's only hope! Never give up! You are my people! Use this for whatever you can!' with a $20 bill inside! It was so awesome and random! I'm in California and don't know if it's because we still have 'Yes on Prop 37' written on our windows or our zombie family stickers or just random, but it was soooooo awesome!!!!"
"We started a fund here called 'The Forgotten Ones' where employees can give 10% of their next paycheck to hourly workers who they knew lost wages during Sandy," Marisa Beck wrote to HuffPost. "We thought this method of giving would be better than a generic one, since we would help the ones we knew personally, and who we knew were enduring hardship during this time. "Our engineers built a website to start documenting these stories and pictures, in the hopes of inspiring others to do the same. <a href="http://www.oo.com/forgottenones" target="_hplink">Please feel free to take a look</a>."
One solution to combat stress during the holidays is this tower of bubble wrap, which circulated on Twitter and is also an act of kindness. Underneath a sign reading "Anti-stress for free" are various bubble wrap sheets labelled 3 mins, 5 mins and 10 mins -- corresponding to how much time the stressed-out person needs. User @regeener sent the <a href="https://twitter.com/regeener/status/271016885473132544" target="_hplink">tweet</a> on November 20 with the original <a href="http://ktshy.tumblr.com/post/36164235847/superpunch2-anti-stress-sheets" target="_hplink">Tumblr</a> photo included.
We found this sweet act of kindness on Facebook, where someone using the account 'Michelle Phillips Key Seminars' shared something nice they did on November 20, two days before Thanksgiving.
A generous act of kindness was shared in a post on <a href="http://www.reddit.com/r/pics/comments/135fgt/random_act_of_kindness_indeed/" target="_hplink">Reddit</a> a few days before Thanksgiving. A note next to a $50 tip left on a restaurant receipt reads: "A random act of love in memory of our son, Joel. He brightened everyone's day. May this brighten yours. Thank you."
"A friend of mine for 12yrs has cooked & wrapped Tgiving plates to pass out in town," @lmcallister tweeted on November 20.
The Boys & Girls Clubs of Hudson County (@BGCHCorg) sent us this photo of their 37th Annual Thanksgiving Dinner at the Jersey City Boys & Girls Club.
Kerri Richardson (@KerriCoach) sent us this photo of a community in Mass. that came together to fill a 16-foot truck with supplies for Hurricane Sandy victims.
On November 20, Stephanie King sent us this photo, which shows shoes that her daughter wants to post on Craigslist to give away as part of <a href="http://www.B2Challenge.com" target="_hplink">B2Challenge</a>.
<a href="https://twitter.com/Uplifting_News" target="_hplink">@Uplifting_News</a> tweeted us this photo of a good deed from a Houston restauranteur who offered to give hungry families $100 toward a Thanksgiving dinner.
"A kindly strange security guard helped me change my flat tire after pulling off the freeway," @lolagil <a href="https://twitter.com/lolagil/status/270691407684059136" target="_hplink">told us on Twitter</a> two days before Thanksgiving. "Thanks again perfect stranger!"
@JayMortonRoss <a href="https://twitter.com/JayMortonRoss/status/271034645536186368/photo/1" target="_hplink">tweeted</a> this photo, which shows a thoughtful note written in response to a lost driver's license.
"I got this on Veterans Day," @Bryant247 <a href="https://twitter.com/Bryant247/status/271023722775863297/photo/1" target="_hplink">told us</a> on Twitter. "Sometimes, little things like this make it all worthwhile."
"Matt, hitchhiker got home to his family for the holiday," <a href="https://twitter.com/SaraTings/status/271311862895894529/photo/1" target="_hplink">@SaraTings told us</a> on Twitter.
"Last night I went to Target to get a Christmas tree on super discount," Stephanie Bayliss told us via email. "Silly me, I thought I'd stand in line for 10 maybe 20 minutes so I opted not to push a cart through the crammed store. The line wrapped throughout the store, weaving back and forth through almost every aisle. After about half an hour the girl behind me tapped me on the shoulder. She had gone outside, tracked down a couple who was finished with their cart, and brought it to me. What a sweetheart! I'm so thankful she did because we were in line for another hour!"
<a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/social/mgonzalez"><img style="float:left;padding-right:6px !important;" src="http://s.huffpost.com/images/profile/user_placeholder.gif" /></a><a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/social/mgonzalez">mgonzalez</a>:<br />My housemate and I left behind bags of microwave popcorn at several Red Box rental stations for people to enjoy with their movie!
<a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/social/mgonzalez"><img style="float:left;padding-right:6px !important;" src="http://s.huffpost.com/images/profile/user_placeholder.gif" /></a><a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/social/mgonzalez">mgonzalez</a>:<br />I paid forward my friend's kind gesture by putting money in someone's expired parking meter.
<a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/social/mgonzalez"><img style="float:left;padding-right:6px !important;" src="http://s.huffpost.com/images/profile/user_placeholder.gif" /></a><a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/social/mgonzalez">mgonzalez</a>:<br />My friend and I celebrated kindness by making an alien piñata, filling it with treats and leaving it on a bench for a lucky person to enjoy!
<a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/social/aMike"><img style="float:left;padding-right:6px !important;" src="http://s.huffpost.com/images/profile/user_placeholder.gif" /></a><a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/social/aMike">aMike</a>:<br />In my family I give presents for them to pass on to others. These take the form of gift cards from organizations like Nothing but Nets, Doctors without Borders, Habitat for Humanity, Project Heifer an many similar organizations.
Follow Craig and Marc Kielburger on Twitter: www.twitter.com/craigkielburger