Marvelous Money: 3 Ways We’re Living Generously This Christmas

7 December 2023

Writing about your own generosity is a tricky thing, isn’t it?

On the one hand, there’s the very real fear that you’ll come across as prideful, a show-off. Or that you’ll needlessly make others feel bad about their efforts – which might represent a real sacrifice – or feel shame about the gap between your generosity and theirs.

So why risk it?

Of course, there’s also this, just one chapter later – also from the mouth of Jesus:

Giving in public = bad? Giving in secret = good? If only it were so easy :) The Christian faith is not interested in being simple; it’s interested in being true. In the end, the motivation of the heart is what categorizes the same act as either a treasure or a disgrace in the eyes of God, which can make it confusing to know when to share. However – as long as I can feel reasonably confident that I’m sharing to reflect the light and love of God and not to be praised by men blog readers, I want to do so.

Also, we hear a lot about Christians behaving badly. But there are many, many, many more stories of light that go untold – stories of quiet, unsung acts of selflessness, compassion, and generosity. We need those stories, too, to remind us about the beauty, grace, and truth of a life spent imitating Jesus (imperfectly, always, but earnestly, too).

Finally, on a practical note, I like hearing about the positive things others are doing! It inspires me to be better, to do more, to stretch my conception of what I think I’m capable of and comfortable with – and it gives me ideas for how to do so! It reminds me that people everywhere are doing their best to make people feel loved and the world a better place. It buoys my hope and optimism about my fellow man and the world we inhabit together.

So — with that lengthy introduction, I submit to you three ways we’re trying to live generously this Christmas season – written with humility and love!

We’re giving generously to our kids’ teachers.

Currently, Annie and Shep each have two preschool teachers, while June has her second-grade teacher, her math teacher, and a student teacher. In past years, we have given physical gifts to preschool teachers, like fresh wreaths, snap totes, and Cultivate goodies. I love all of these ideas and may return to them!

This year and last, however, we’ve moved to giving gift cards (accompanied by handwritten notes). Last year we gave each preschool teacher a $15 gift card to a local ice cream shop. This year, we’re giving them $50 gift cards to a local gift shop I love, and the director (who is also a teacher in Shep’s classroom) a $100 gift card to our favorite local restaurant. It’s been a challenging year in their school, and we want her and her husband to enjoy a fun dinner out.

For June’s main teacher, we’ll do a $75* gift card to either a local garden store or the same local restaurant – I haven’t decided yet! (I always try to choose based on their hobbies – last year, we gave her first-grade teacher, an avid runner, a gift card to Fleet Feet.)

*I had planned to do $100, the same as our preschool director, but our district put a $75 cap on gifts this year.

For her math teacher, we chose a 3-month subscription to the Book of the Month Club, and her student teacher will get a Cultivate tumbler stuffed with crinkle paper and a $50 coffee shop gift card.

Again: I include the dollar amounts not to show off (blerg), but to gently encourage. Last year, $15 for five preschool teachers felt like a stretch. My understanding is that even the smallest gift card is appreciated, and if $5 per teacher is what’s possible, it will be gratefully received.

This year, we can do more, so we are. When I think about what it would cost to send our three children to private school (I did the math right here), $100 per teacher feels like a drop in the bucket. Excellent teachers are the lifeblood of our schools and I’ll do almost anything to help them feel appreciated.

We’re giving generously to our pastor.

Moving on to our next category of challenging jobs :) Full-time ministry – whew! It is not for the faint of heart, for the pastor or for his or her family. They (joyfully!) sacrifice so much for the people in their care, and last year, John and I felt compelled to share one of our very favorite traditions with our pastor and his wife.

We wrote them a note explaining our end-of-year celebration dinner – what it is and what it has meant to our relationship over the last many years – and included a $100 gift card to a local restaurant in the envelope. We wanted to make it easy for them to start their own tradition, if they wanted to. We’ll do the same thing this year. Sowing into their marriage feels like sowing directly into God’s Kingdom, and we’re grateful to do it.

We’re giving generously to our garbage and recycling guys.

This is one I come by honestly – it’s straight from the brain of my mom :) Growing up, she’d always leave a Subway gift card and bag of peanut butter balls on top of our trash and recycling cans in December, and honestly, I thought it was weird – ha!

But I also just thought it was normal, and sure enough, when we moved into our own home a decade ago, I taped a colorful (eye-catching!) thank you note, a Jersey Mike’s gift card (we usually do $20 – enough for two guys in each truck), and a bag of peanut butter balls to the top of each can one Wednesday in December. I can only hope my children will think this is weird and then grow up to do the same thing, too.

Of course, I’d love to hear: big or small, how are you being generous this season? This group always has the best ideas.

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December 7, 2023 8:53 am

This year, we can do more, so we are.” I love this and such a great reminder to give generously within whatever our circumstances! I too delight in giving generously to our teachers. One other way that I’ve done this is to send them a note at the holidays or at any point during the year via email to let them know how much we appreciate them and copying their dean or principal.
I adore how you’ve invested in your pastor’s marriage. What a thoughtful gift that I’m sure is so appreciated! And my mom always put out gift cards for our sanitation workers and for our mailperson so I’ve continued that tradition!
What a treat to have so many people to be grateful for in our lives!

December 7, 2023 9:24 am

As the wife of a former teacher, I can confirm they are appreciative of any gift, even just a card or $5 gift card. They certainly add up! :)
Not sure if you know, but I’d love some information on the logistics of gifting something to the trash/recycling guys. Our trash runs on Friday’s, so when there is a holiday they run on Saturday’s. Long story short they NEVER get out of their vehicle, so my fear is that it will just get thrown away! Basically, how big of a sign do you typically use? :) We love our trash people, when they do run on Saturday’s, Penelope loves to watch them and they always wave to her multiple times, so I’d love to gift them something.

December 7, 2023 1:13 pm
Reply to  Chelsey

Chelsey, I’ve had the same worry myself! (the thought of a giftcard getting dumped: ugh!). With that fear present, I kept my giftcards/thank you notes inside, and when I heard the trucks approaching, I ran outside and hand-delivered them. Fortunately, trash trucks move slowly enough that I was able to do this (even if it took until mid January for me to be home on a day that they came by).

Kelly Strawberry
December 7, 2023 1:22 pm

Love all of these! Food for thought…on a forum i read on this topic one teacher said (very kindly) that they prefer Visa gift cards the most since they can be used for anything, so thats the route I typically go. Thoughts on if you will also give this generously during teacher appreciation week? I thought it through and did a smaller gift for Christmas this year and will do a larger gift in May. Also fun idea- pair the gift card with a Crumbl cookie! They come in cute boxes you can easily tie on a ribbon and use a play on words (eg our class would Crumbl without you!” :)

Carolyn H
December 7, 2023 1:33 pm

Thank you for this! I always want to do things for the people that make our lives and our kids lives better/smoother/possible, but I sometimes get stuck on what to do and then don’t do anything or I’m in a panic rushing around the night before, so I appreciate posts like this.

December 7, 2023 7:18 pm

Today was the first year that my partner and I chose to stretch ourselves by giving as sponsors of a community concert hosted by an indie opera company for which I volunteer. Like what you have reflected on here, it was thrilling to see our names listed next to each other in the program not from an egoistic place but because it was wonderful to model this behavior for folks in the audience and inspire others to realize they don’t have to be a fancy foundation or philanthropist to help bring art to life. (I also think we were the youngest sponsors in the room for this particular art form, lol.) The powerful thing about this kind of giving, for me, was we got share in a collective experience of joy, wonder, and (in the case of this program) utter awe/tears at the brilliance of the musicians and composers. To know I played a tiny part in touching hearts this way this season was so rewarding!

Rebekah Murphy
December 7, 2023 10:09 pm

Inspiring post! And to your point there are many hard things in this world that we constantly hear about that it’s so nice to hear stories of love and generosity and Christians who are seeking to be the hands and feet of Jesus

December 8, 2023 4:16 pm

Reading this warmed my heart and put me in the holiday spirit in the best way. My husband is a teacher and he mentions every single gift, whether it be kind note, a consumable item (we got some amazing homemade mustard one year) or something of monetary value. It means so much to teachers to be appreciated in any form, especially when they are being vilified in the media but really just show up to work wanting to make a difference. I can tell you that a $75 gift card from one family would KNOCK HIS SOCKS OFF and it is absolutely amazing that you are doing this :)
A few years ago we jumped on the trend of putting out snacks and drinks for the delivery men and women. I honestly feel this is the most powerful way I’ve been able instill in my children (aged 2.5 and 5) the joy of giving to others. They restock the basket and eagerly check to see what has been taken. The delivery folks usually wave and say thank you, and we’ve even received a thank you note telling us how wonderful it was to be appreciated(!). Honestly I didn’t expect the impact on my family and on the delivery folks to be what it is!

Kristen M
December 9, 2023 12:14 am

Yes to being as generous as able with teachers – we are blessed as a two income family to have ample resources so we go big with the giftcard amounts for my girls’ teachers! We also always do heartfelt notes and this year they’re also making ornaments to go with the gifts.

Ever since 2020 we have done a snack box outside for all our delivery folks – the kids love keeping it stocked and seeing what’s been taken each day when they get home (we get…a lot of deliveries 😅)

A more perhaps unique direction of giving we do is giving money to institutions who we adore visiting around the Triangle area that are free. Dix Park and the NC Art Museum are two examples of places we use a lot and we’d love them to keep growing and thriving for everyone who lives here and for all to continue access them freely!

December 11, 2023 6:16 pm

I love that you wrote about this! Thank you also for sharing the amount. It is definitely helpful and inspiring to see what other people give!
This year, we decided to do small gifts (Amazon gift cards) for our librarians who process our (many!) holds. :)
Thank you again for posting about this! And I love the ideas in the comments, too. :)

December 11, 2023 9:42 pm

Love these ideas so much! I have never thought of giving a personal gift to your pastor but love that.

I too like to give generously to our teachers, especially since they get paid so much less than they should. And you are so right: when you think of what you would be paying with private school, a $50 gift card feels like nothing!

For teachers we always give our Christmas card, a handwritten card from the girls, one thank you note from me (all the cards lol), along with homemade cookies and a gift card to Target. I figure they could use it on groceries, gifts for someone else, or a fun home item for themselves. We also try to give a smaller gift to the principal, assistant principal and extra teachers like art or music. It adds up but we set our budget in January and that helps to plan for our generosity.

I also like to buy store-bought treats to give out when I forget someone, usually found at World Market. This year it’s tins of stroopwafles. We are giving these to our mailman and kids church helpers, etc.. I have not done the trash folks, but mainly because I’m afraid they would trash it! I may have to stalk the front door on trash day to make sure I can hand deliver it. :)

December 11, 2023 10:20 pm

As always, love your thoughtfulness on these topics. And glad you grew up to be weird like me:) I usually buy the biggest bows I can find ($1.00 at CVS or Walmart) and attach it with the gift card and treats to the top of the garbage can. Our garbage folks come awfully early and we aren’t always able to get out to hand deliver to them.

December 12, 2023 4:49 pm

Lots of good ideas here and in the comments! We wish our teachers a healthy new year with a small gift bag of mini hand sanitizer, travel tissues, and a Target gift card. Assembling the items and writing a note to the teacher helps drive the connection to generosity.
At home we do a “toy clean up” over Thanksgiving weekend to choose gently loved items that have been outgrown and are ready for new homes. We divide it up between our local hospital’s thrift shop and things for younger cousins.
I love the idea of supporting institutions that our family uses throughout the year. We donate to our local PBS affiliate (love the PBS Kids streaming channel on Roku) and a local performing arts center.
As our son gets older, I also look forward in including him in the conversations around which larger (national and/or global) organizations our family supports. Hopefully our strong foundation of local and home-based generosity will help translate the concept to a broader application, even if the results are less immediately tangible.