Secret Santa…


It’s one of those holidays where some people give and give (adults), and some get and get (kids). We seriously don’t mind the first part. As Christians, that’s what we are supposed to do, not just for Christmas and not just for our kids. It is the second part that we worry about a little. If left unchecked, this holiday can really breed self-centered people. In a constant effort to mold our little Colombians into fine men and women, we “gave” our kids an opportunity to taste what giving is like.

Beth had a bright idea this year to have every child draw the name of another child and pick a gift for the person they drew. Since we were low on investment capital, Beth insisted that each child spend $5 or less and organized a leaf-raking party at the grandparents’ house to make the money. Each child walked away from that exercise in child labor with a crisp $5 bill in their pocket two weeks ago. So far so good!

The Saturday before Christmas, Beth and I took them all to a shop called “5 Below”. It’s what I’ve started calling a classy Dollar General. Most everything in the joint was $5 or less, but unlike Dollar General, it wasn’t built out of a bankrupted Pizza Inn.

We did have a couple of problems. First, because of a bunch of boring reasons I won’t go into, the kids didn’t have their money. That was pretty straight-forward. We would buy everything and let the kids pay us back. Second, and the more complicated problem, we had 5 children that couldn’t be left unaccompanied that needed to shop independently of one another in the same store without seeing what the other one was getting. There was only two of us. It was sort of like that problem where you have a fox, a chicken, and some grain on one side of a river and a canoe only big enough for yourself and one thing…

To start, we decided to pair kids. If two kids did not draw each others names, they went together. This turned our five groups into three (two pairs and one by himself). Beth really wanted to do a group of three so we could have just two groups for two parents. After me telling her that someone in the group of three would always have someone else in the group and her drawing it out on a pad about five times in the car to prove it to herself, she finally resigned to the fact that it wasn’t going to happen.

Beth kept three kids in the van while I took the first group inside the store. We reminded the kids that they only had $5 and they needed to think about what their person would like. This took a little while to sink in as one of the brothers thought it would be great to get his sister a football with the Dallas Cowboys logo on it. I told him that not only are we a Packers family, but he was getting something for his sister, not himself. I was pleased to see after some coaching, they were able to channel their inner-sibling and start picking out gifts that were more appropriate.

Once the first two found their gifts, I put them in line with $10 and a basket with my hoodie covering the merchandise. I then called Beth, still in the car with the other kids to bring in the second wave. I positioned myself at the front of the store so that I could watch the group in line and stay with the odd-child out.

Fortunately, about the time group one was checking out (last Saturday before Christmas – 20 minute line), the second wave had made their decisions and were ready to get in line. She then took my spot at the front of the store to accompany the odd man out, and monitor line progress while I took the first wave back to the car to drop of presents. We then returned to the store where I then took Beth’s spot at the front of the store.

I then had the first group at the front with me, I was watching the second group in line, with Beth’s sweater over the goods, and Beth began shopping with the last child.

When the second group checked out, I quickly ran over, covered their stuff so that the first group didn’t see, and make the second trip to the car to put the spoils of shopping in the front seat (where I sit) with the others where nobody could see. We then waited in the car for another 30 minutes for the last child to make his decision and return to the car with Beth.

All in all, it took about 90 minutes for this holiday outing. We then got home where Beth wrapped the gifts in white paper. At this point, we no longer cared about the mystery of who was Santa for who, and we allowed each child to color the outside of the packages and write the name of the person it was going to.

You would think that this is where the story ends, but there’s more. It came time to pay us back. I asked for $5 from each of the kids. The two oldest quickly went to their rooms, retrieved the money and returned without any issues. Our middle son came back crying with $2.57 saying he didn’t know what happened to the money he got from leaf-raking. The youngest two said they didn’t know where their money was and didn’t understand why it was important.

I have a feeling this is where most parents would probably have given some grace, and we vacillated on whether to do that or not. After thinking about it, we decided that bill collectors don’t show grace either, and to prepare them for the real world, we told them that they could ask a sibling for money or would have to rake leaves at our house to make up for the money that they lost.

To my amazement and without any instruction or prompting whatsoever from us, the oldest two pooled all their extra money together to help cover the debts of the youngest three. When it was all said and done, they gave, not loaned, each brother and sister $2.50. The middle son was able to clear his debt with seven cents to spare, and the youngest two only had to vacuum the house instead of rake leaves outside.

Let me say, this was a pain in the butt marching kids around a crowded store for 90 minutes and keeping everyone focused, but that’s about right for most things that are worth it. We got lessons in giving, focusing on others, and sacrifice, but we also got lessons on handling money and sharing for free. It was a Christmas miracle!

On Christmas day, there were other toys that they got that were more expensive and more fun, but without fail, this was either the first or second gift that every child opened, curious to see what their brother or sister got them. They were invested, and, for a small sliver of the day, focused on what they had done for someone else more than the other way around. They were more blessed to give than to receive.

At the dinnermesa,


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