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New Holiday Traditions: Giving Back

By Marcia Lerner

  • PUBLISHED November 28
  • |

Ten years into their marriage, Stephanie Trombino and her husband decided they wanted to change their holiday gift-giving. They already had a pact to give each other only things they would remember for a long time, such as dinner reservations or tickets to shows they would see together. But after a particularly rough year of family health problems, Trombino and her husband tried a new plan: adopting another family’s Christmas list through a local charity. 

They loved the experience and decided to expand. Like a lot of families, Trombino and her siblings, aunts and uncles had gotten into a rhythm of Christmas that felt out of control. According to a Pew Research poll, 36% of people report being stressed out when they think about buying and receiving gifts, and 46% feel stretched thin financially. “We were spending so much on Christmas, the kids are kind of overloaded with presents, and we’re buying things for adults who don’t really need anything,” Trombino says. “We wanted to bring it back to what it’s about: The kids are excited, we’re going to have a big meal together, we get to be together.”  

The family was game to contribute between $40 and $50 per person, so Trombino and her husband volunteered to coordinate the effort, and headed to the Salvation Army. Working with the owners of the store, they agreed to sponsor a family with four children, and were provided with: a list (written by the parents) of the children’s needs, including warm clothes; lists by the children of what they actually wanted (probably not warm clothes); and requests by the charity for canned goods, pantry items, and a gift card for a nearby grocery store, so the family could get the makings of a holiday meal. Everything was to be delivered by Dec.10.  

Trombino’s siblings all have small children (she’s expecting her own first child around Christmas this year), so they were more than happy to have her take care of the logistics. To share the process with her family, Trombino took pictures of everything she bought, printed them out and presented them in a card to her family members, along with a picture of the wish lists.  

For Trombino, the whole process has been intensely gratifying. “Our family is just now coming through a couple of rough years. We are feeling extra grateful to be together, and wanted to do something special that was not all about us.” It’s been illuminating for the younger generation as well. “The littlest ones kind of understand that people don’t have as much as we do,” Trombino says. “And the older kids totally got it.”  

Best of all, the process has brought everyone a little closer. “I’ve been with my husband for 13 years,” Trombino says, “and I’ve never loved him more than when I saw him at Target buying things for this family.”

Marcia Lerner lives in Brooklyn, NY, and writes about finance, health care and children's literature. Her articles and reviews have appeared in The New York Times and Proto magazine as well as many financial websites and magazines.

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