I remember that it happened in 3rd grade. I was standing in line after recess, waiting to go back into the school building. Three or four students behind me there was a 6th grader. He was talking to the kid in front of him and he said, "There's no such thing as Santa Claus. Your parents are the ones who put the presents under the Christmas tree."
My heart sank. I thought, "Could this be possible? Would my parents do this?" When I got home I finally got up the nerve to ask my mom if it was true. I didn't want to ask. I didn't want to know the answer. I think I already pretty much knew the answer. I really wanted to there to be a Santa Claus.
Of course, my mother told me the truth, but she also made sure that I understood that Christmas wasn't really about Santa Claus. It wasn't really about getting gifts. It wasn't about the lights or the Christmas tree or the decorations. She told me that it was about the birth of Jesus and about the joy of giving. Teaching me about the joy of giving was probably the best present she could have given me.
While there is great joy in giving, children need to have experiences that will help them develop a giving nature and feel joy in that giving. Here are some ideas that can help with that:
1. Give your child a pocketful of quarters. Every time you pass a bell ringer have the child put a quarter in the bucket. Make sure you explain that the money is used to feed hungry families, rebuild homes hit by disasters, fund charities, and operate thrift stores, among other things.
2. Find an "Angel Tree." Often times these trees will be at local businesses or at malls. Have your child select a name from the tree, then help them choose a present to purchase and deliver.
3. Select a charity such as The Heifer Project or St. Jude's Children's Hospital. Have your child make a donation to them in honor of one of his or her friends or family members.
4. Make a few dozen cookies with your child and then deliver them to a care center, children's ward in a hospital, homeless shelter, or battered women's shelter.
5. Collect some canned food items and help your child deliver them to the local food bank.
6. Have your child and some of his or her friends decorate Christmas cards and write messages to soldiers serving oversees.
7. Help your child sponsor another child through Save the Children, World Vision, or other similar program.
8. When writing your Christmas cards, have your child add his or her own message. Even a simple "Merry Christmas" can be a gift to the person getting the card.
9. Join a group with your child and try some Christmas caroling. It's old-fashioned, but I always found it moving to see the joy on people's faces upon hearing a traditional carol.
10. The above ideas will help your child find pleasure in giving. To help the child develop an even deeper appreciation for giving, have them do jobs around the house to earn the money they use in their gifting. By using their own money, the will have a sense of ownership and the experience can be made even more special for the child.
Remember that while Christmas is a Christian holiday, anyone can experience the joy of giving and helping others.