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boy-sad2Dear Nadine,
How can I make the holidays extra memorable for my spirited kids? Happy Holidays! — Yuletide Mom

For my spirited kids, the holidays herald turkey and tree trimming, parties and presents, Christmas Eve service and pictures with Santa. It’s an exciting time! But if you asked my kids what makes it a memorable time, they’ll answer with one voice: the Tennyson cards.

You see, each year, for the past eight years since my eldest turned 3 and a seed of an idea rooted itself in my mind, we have written Christmas cards to the children of the Tennyson Center in Denver, Colorado [www.childabuse.org]. We start writing our cards in November. Then, we turn the holiday music on high, turn the fireplace up higher and huddle around the kitchen table to create our cards.

We write about 100 cards in total and each card includes a seasonal drawing and a small message. We’ve written, “You’re a great kid!” We’ve written, “Thanks for being you!” We’ve written, “Hold fast to your dreams — they will all come true.” But most of all we’ve written, “We care!”

In the years since we started to send cards to the Tennyson kids, we also began to raise money to put into these cards. The proceeds from my workshops are put into the cards, as is the cash that Yasmin earns from selling her homemade earrings, and the funds from dog walking or leaf clearing that my youngest kids undertake. Our annual giving doesn’t add up to a princely sum of money — although I do have a goal that one day it will — but it does add up to a little monetary surprise that the kids of the Tennyson can call their own. And I think that’s important.

You see, the children at the Tennyson center arrive there with very little — usually just the clothes on their back. That’s because these kids are a tiny segment of a great pool of children — more than 6 million each year, according to Child Help — who have been abused, neglected or are at-risk. That they have survived their short lives at home to have made it into the loving embrace of the Tennyson Center is a miracle itself. Not surprisingly, most of the Tennyson kids have never received a simple Christmas card before. And that’s why we want to help.

Reaching out and helping a child in need is always meaningful and never more so than during the holidays, when we are focused on honoring our spiritual traditions. And whether we light Hanukkah candles, celebrate the goodness of life at Kwanzaa, acknowledge the passing of the longest day at the Winter Solstice or rejoice in the birthday of Christ at Christmas, the message is the same. It’s a message of love, of joy, of hope and of wonder. And it’s a call to action: for us to shine like the Hanukkah candles and to reach out with love and light a flame of hope in another’s heart, too.

My husband Todd says, “When I was growing up, Christmas wasn’t about others, it was about me: what I was going to get, who I was going to give to. I never thought about helping others over the holidays. So, when Nadine first suggested we write cards to the Tennyson kids, it was new and different.

“Because we write and draw in every kid’s card, it takes a significant amount of time to get the cards finished. But every year we do them, and I get to really think about every child — about what they’ve been through and the terrible situations they’ve faced. I can’t help but compare my year to theirs, and I am moved to tears. Every child reminds me of my blessings and my responsibility in sharing my own good fortune with others.

“And that’s why I can honestly say that writing the cards has changed the holidays for me. Now, I’m grounded in the true meaning of Christmas — and I know now it’s about the sharing of hope and the giving of unconditional love.”

Starting a holiday giving tradition that the entire family participates in is a wonderful way to honor your faith tradition, unite your family and make a meaningful difference in the life of a person in need. And while your giving doesn’t have to be an extravagant, expensive or time-consuming experience, it can be a life-changing one — mind, body and spirit — for everyone.

So, where do you begin? Start by choosing an organization or recipient that your family would want to help each year.

Second, choose a practical way that your family can help. Perhaps you are a family of singers and can go caroling for a cause. Perhaps your spirited kids love animals and would enjoy making pet treats for a specific animal rescue each year. Perhaps you have a family member in the armed forces and can send Christmas letters to troops overseas this holiday. However you decide to help, make the most of your time working together as a family. As Leo says, “Me and my sisters love making the cards with our mum and dad. We feel like a team and it’s fun, too.”

Finally, set a deadline and celebrate! Put up that advent calendar and figure out a date to complete your holiday giving project and stick to it. That way your project will fit perfectly with your busy holiday schedule. Scarlett says, “We work on the cards in November and send them off the beginning of December. When the kids get their cards, we always high-five and celebrate.”

Take action this festive season and start a family giving tradition that will uplift, unite and inspire you and your spirited kids so that your holiday season will shine bright for you (and for the person you help) this year and for years to come. Happy Holidays!

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Nadine Penny attained her M.A. from the University of Denver in Counseling Psychology. Nadine lives in Minnetonka where she works as a medium, life issues reader and Reiki master. Contact her at nadine.penny@gmail.com and visit www.nadinepenny.com.

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