December 13, 2012

That glorious song of old

At a holiday party on Saturday night, I wandered into the kitchen, where the best conversations always take place. Sure enough, a bunch of my friends were gathered by the stove, chomping on Christmas cookies while they talked. A long-time friend, Warm Smile, was explaining the Secret Santa tradition her extended family — about 30 relatives in all — chooses to do each holiday season instead of traditional gift-giving.

“My sister-in-law takes all of our names and pairs us up. So we get a buddy,” she said. “This year, for example, I’m paired with my nephew.”

The pairings are top secret. No one is supposed to know who your partner is. “But we talk to each other — each pair — and we tell our partners what kind of charitable contribution to make,” she said. 

“So you don’t buy gifts?” asked Christmas Sweater, helping herself to some taco dip.

“Nope,” Warm Smile said. “And the rule is that you can’t just donate money to the Sierra Club or some organization. It has to be a gift of time.”

For instance, an aunt could be paired with a teenage nephew. She could tell him that she worried about families who go hungry. He could respond by agreeing to volunteer in a local soup kitchen or help out with a canned food drive. Then he could tell her that he wanted to do something about the environment. She could agree to volunteer to be on a committee at her church that’s looking to install solar panels on the roof. 

“We talk over options until we figure something out,” she said.

“Does it all remain a secret?” I asked. “I think I’d want to know what everyone was doing.”

 “Oh, we all tell my sister-in-law, and then she publishes a family newsletter. It’s fun to see what everyone did,” Warm Smile said. “It’s really so much rewarding than opening presents.”


Kendra said...

I love this idea. My family and I give charity gifts instead of material presents to each other, but this is even better. Thanks for posting, jo(e)!

beemama said...

Now how do I get my in-laws to go for this? 'Cause it's the best non-material gift giving idea I've ever heard, and I love the pair up aspect. I want to make this happen for our family!!

Cindy said...

Love this idea.

Magpie said...

wow. that is a fabulous idea, on so many levels. huh.

readersguide said...

Yeah, what an amazing idea --

Julie said...

What a beautiful idea. Any tips for making it work in families with widely divergent political views? The things I care most about are, largely, diametrically opposed to the things my relatives care about. I guess finding the common ground is part of the gift.

jo(e) said...

I think this would especially work in a family like that -- each pair has to talk until they come up something they agree on.