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How to Start a Charitable Holiday Tradition

By Maridel Reyes

  • PUBLISHED December 09
  • |
  • 3 MINUTE READ

When she was growing up in Houston, Janet Alvarez’s family back in Colombia had a yearly tradition: They donated goods to families in need during this Christmas season. “There’s a high rate of poverty in Colombia,” the Philadelphia-based financial expert explains. “My family is middle class, and every year they would donate items during the holidays to the less fortunate. They still do it every year—with great gusto and pride.” 

And when her son was born, Alvarez knew philanthropy was a practice she wanted to continue. “Our charitable traditions began about 10 years ago, around the time our financial situation stabilized enough to feel giving back would be a priority,” she says. “We were thankful for what we had and reflected on meaningful ways to demonstrate it.” 

Giving Back
Every year, Alvarez, her husband and their son create care boxes for a few families through local charities. She takes her 2 1/2–year-old son shopping at a few stores, and they browse online for the items, which usually include gender-neutral toys like blocks, school supplies, winter clothing and other everyday necessities. “He’s a good barometer for what kids will enjoy,” she adds. “If he finds it interesting, it’ll go in the cart.” 

Once all the presents are gathered, they place all of the items in a large box and wrap it together. As a family, they take the gift box to a donation site. 
This year’s holiday care package is especially poignant: The family is donating a high chair and playset that their son has outgrown. “It’s bittersweet and really powerful,” Alvarez says. “It ensures that kids have these necessities.” 

She has explained the concept of giving back in ways her young child can understand—that it’s about sharing things with others. “We explain that charity is a way for people to feel good during Christmas,” she says. “We receive gifts during Christmas, and other children would enjoy receiving gifts, too. We use the simplest terms. It doesn’t have to feel like activism in any sense or like there’s an underlying motive.” 

The family also picks a charity to give a monetary donation to, usually a nearby children’s hospital or a worldwide aid organization. “These charitable gifts and donations are second nature for us and part of a personal value system that underscores the importance of altruism as a core human virtue,” she says. “We feel good when we give back.” 

Even though it feels like they can never do or give enough, the act of charity is empowering. “The spirit of the holidays is universal,” she says. “Giving broadens our recognition of our place in the world and opens our eyes to what we can do to effect change and be good stewards.”  

Maridel Reyes is a journalist based in New York. Her work has appeared in Forbes, Bloomberg Businessweek, the New York Post, USA Today and The Boston Globe. 

Learn more about how to spend wisely on charitable giving.

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