11/07/2013 11:59 EST | Updated 01/23/2014 10:53 EST

Getting a Grip Before the Holiday Chaos

The holiday "changeover" has never been swifter.

As my kids and I clicked around for a scary movie to watch after trick-or-treating last week, we were amazed to encounter three, yes three Christmas commercials. No kidding. "Monster Mash" was still playing in the background, while sleigh bells jingled on TV.

Even my younger son, Gavin, a self-described Christmas fanatic, was annoyed by the intrusion. Not even the beginnings of a proper Halloween tummy ache, and the annual holiday chaos was threatenting to set in.

This week is more peaceful. We haven't watched a whole lot of T.V. Last night, we had nowhere to be, and nothing defrosted for dinner. So we made a fire, and roasted hot dogs in the living room. As we cooked, we talked -- about school, the kids' teachers, their favorite uncle who is living overseas.

And here's the irony: we actually ended up chatting about what to give these people for Christmas. But this wasn't a knee-jerk response to the commercialism of the season, already in full swing. It was more thoughtful than that.

Because I work for the aid and develpment agency World Vision, we've always had the World Vision Gift Catalogue around the house. You might have seen it? You choose a specific gift for a family in a poor community overseas, and give it in honour of someone you love or admire.

My boys have grown up flipping through the catalogue's pages, discussing what their favorite people would like for the Holidays. It's a way to tell that special person that you really "get" them, that you value them for exactly who they are.

It seems we always end up making these gift decisions in November. It's not so much a desire to be ahead of the curve with holiday shopping. It's more about having the space to think and talk about the people in our lives.

It was around Remembrance Day last year that my older son, Derrick, decided what to give our school crossing guard for the Holidays. Our crossing guard, a veteran in his 80s, had given many of his war history books to my son that year. He and Derrick share an interest in the subject, what caused the wars, and how they changed the people involved.

When Derrick saw in the Gift Catalogue that he could honour our crossing guard by helping to restore a child solider in Africa, he was so excited. And I was overjoyed at what this meant for my son. When Derrick looked at this older man, he didn't see just another name on a hastily scribbled shopping list. He saw a person who -- like him -- would be moved to know that a child soldier would have a better life from now on.

Around the fire last night, I got a sense of how important Derrick's music teacher has become in his life over this past year. While we haven't bought for this teacher before, I wondered whether Derrick would notice the Gift Catalogue's gift of musical instruments and teaching for desperately poor children overseas. I think he'll be just as excited as when he spotted the fruit trees, seeds and tools for his grandmother, who practically lives in the garden in summer.

Buying from the Gift Catalogue is much more than a quick and easy way to send personal gifts while helping a poor family. When you involve your children, it's a way to help them look - really look - at the people around them. And to be a part of reaching out and honouring those people in a deeply meaningful way.

Look through the online World Vision Gift Catalogue