Spread Kindness and Cheer this Christmas

Part 2 of an interview with Allison Hottinger and Lisa Kalberer,

Creators of The Giving Manger

Read part 1 of the interview here.

The Giving Manger tells the story of a family who shifts the focus of their Christmas. Young Anne and Ben always look forward to Christmas. Each year their dad makes a special wooden toy for them, but he tells them this year will be different. They are starting a new tradition, and there will be more gifts this year, starting December 1. The kids misunderstand, thinking they will be getting more gifts, but instead, the gifts are given by them to others. Initially disappointed, the children quickly change their attitudes when they see the joy that doing kind things and giving to others brings.

Throughout the Christmas season, Anne and Ben do acts of kindness for others, placing a piece of straw in the manger their father made for them, and on Christmas, they place the baby Jesus in a full bed of straw.

Once your family reads the story together, it’s time to place the empty manger in a prominent spot in the house. In the days leading up to Christmas, family members place a piece of straw in the manger each time they perform a kind deed or act of service. Filling the manger will become a fun, interactive project for the entire family, prompting even young children to look for ways to love and serve others.

Q: W
hen you started this tradition with your own family, were the kids hesitant at first like Anne and Ben in the book? Do you see that kids catch on quickly to this concept? 

The story is special to us because we saw a shift in our own families when it came to giving and receiving. Kids catch on quick because it is such a simple concept.

It’s amazing to see how quickly kids are excited to give! It’s the little things; put your brother’s shoes away, draw a picture for grandma, help empty the dishwasher, leave a candy cane and a note for the mail man.

The kids love to place that piece of straw in the manger and see it fill up! And having it displayed in your home is a constant reminder to GIVE all Christmas season! We have families tell us they don’t want to put the manger away when Christmas is over because they love seeing their kids so focused on thinking of and helping others!

Q: Does every act of service have to be big? Can some of the activities be little things around the house?

Little things count! Service to others does not have to be a big production. We always say that the kids can put a piece of straw in the manger for things like putting their brother’s shoes away, cleaning up the living room, helping a sibling make a bed, or holding the door open. Celebrating simple and small acts of kindness is how we end up with adults who give big! 

Q: For the sake of inspiration, what are some of your favorite acts of kindness that you’ve done as a family?

There are so many we love, but one specific one stands out. Last year we heard about a sweet elderly man named Jack who lost his wife of 65 years. We rallied our Instagram followers and were able to fill his mailbox with over 500 letters to show him love during the holiday season. It is such a simple act of kindness, but those written words can lift anyone.

So, our favorite is: draw a picture or write a note to someone. It could be left on a sibling’s pillow, dropped in the mail for a grandparent, delivered to a nursing home, or handed to a teacher! As a parent I love leaving notes for my kids on their bathroom mirror or in their lunchboxes or backpacks! 

Some other ideas for the Christmas season include:

  • Drop off flowers to someone. How fun is it to have a poinsettia dropped off on your doorstep and have no idea who it’s from? And the kids love to drop the flowers, ring the doorbell and RUN!
  • Set up a free hot cocoa stand! Who doesn’t love hot cocoa and a daring little face wishing you a Merry Christmas?
  • Drop off a surprise dinner to someone. It could just be a take-out pizza or maybe you grab the kids and cook together— either way there is nothing better than seeing the joy on someone’s face when you deliver a meal! 
  • See how many times you can hold the door open for someone today. Our kids love this challenge and so does everyone who is on the receiving end of this kindness! 

On our website, we also have a list of ideas you can download for free.

Q: The Christmas season, like everything in 2020, is going to be different for a lot of people this year. Can you share a few ideas of ways to serve the elderly especially given restrictions for social distancing?

We have a VERY special service project that has been created specifically to bless the elderly in nursing homes! It's estimated that 60% of nursing home residents never have visitors. That’s before they had to lockdown due to COVID and limit visitors. A simple letter or coloring picture can bring so much joy and make them feel "hugged" even if we can't be there to hug them. 

On our website, you can simply download our kit, color one of the coloring pages or write a letter, and mail it to Three Wishes for Ruby’s Residents (the address is included in the download). 

If you would like to do something close to home, call some of the nursing homes in your area and see what needs they have. You can collect small gifts such as socks, hand lotion, or chocolate from neighbors or your church and wrap them up with a letter or coloring sheet attached. Anything you do will make the residents feel special and will be greatly appreciated.

Learn more at www.thegivingmanger.com and on Facebook (@thegivingmanger) and Instagram (@thegivingmanger).