So the younger son asks me what I want for Christmas. Its a good question without a very good answer at least one thats not bo-ring, Dad.
I could tell him I want what I know Im getting, the warmth of a holiday with family. But that means little to a 9-year-old whos fortunate enough to have scant understanding of life in struggling and broken homes.
I could give him the standard monologue about wanting him to know why we celebrate this holiday. But thats a message already delivered in our home, enough so that we at least sometimes find the right balance of appreciating whats under the tree and in the manger.
Or maybe I could drop some real weight on him and tell him I dont really want anything. I could explain that I like stuff as much as the next guy, but the stuff I like best on Christmas isnt whats wrapped and ribboned, and it isnt the stuff the household could afford at any point of the year. Its the stuff I cant get for myself.
Yes, I know. Bo-ring. Its hard, isnt it, parents? Hard to explain whats important, especially when so many of us adults lose track of it so easily. And so often, this is the time of year we start searching again for it, for meaning, for something that connects us to something greater. Its interesting where we find it on this day not only in our faith or in our family, but in places we wouldnt expect.
Doug Lebda understands this. Hes the founder and CEO of LendingTree in Charlotte, and last week he embarked upon the annual contemplation of his companys holiday employee gifts.
It had been a great year at LendingTree, with a rising stock price and strong growth, all of which had been reflected in the performance bonuses Doug had already handed out. So in an email Wednesday, he explained that he was doing something different for the gift.
Each of the companys 150 employees would get an envelope with $200 in cash, he said, but he wanted them to give that envelope to someone who needed the cash more. It was their choice, but it would be better if it went to a person, one-to-one, not an organization.
By Friday, before the money had even been handed out to employees, the stories started coming in. One employee said his envelope would go to a wonderful young man who mentors others through a Christian group, has two jobs, and cant afford the gas to see his family in Ohio for Christmas. Another employee said she is thinking of taking the $200 to Walgreens, where shes seen elderly people struggling to pay for the expensive medication they need. One said the money will go to one of his wifes students, who admitted recently that he and his family live under a bridge.
The employees, said Doug, are more excited than hes seen them in the companys 15 years. He thinks he knows why. Its that personal connection, he said Friday morning, before heading off to HR to hand out the envelopes.
By then, Id already come up with what I wanted from my son for Christmas. Its simple, I told him. Do something nice for someone. His choice. Family, friend or teacher. Big gesture or small. Thats what you want? he said. Yes.
He came back, two days later, with this: Theres a girl in his third-grade class whos wanted to play sports with the boys at recess, but the boys havent been so hot on the idea. So this day, he asked her if she wanted to play soccer, and he brought her over to the boys game and included her. She was good, by the way. And she was really happy, my son says. And so was he. A connection. A gift.