November 5, 2007 spout

Volunteering as Christmas Present?

When I was a kid, Christmas was my favorite holiday because my entire family (grandparents, parents, siblings, cousins, aunts and uncles) would get together at our lake cabin, chop wood for the fireplace by day and play games at night, culminating in an hours-long gift opening bonanza on Christmas Eve where each of us would watch the opener open a gift, youngest-to-oldest, one at a time. Did we like opening? Sure, but even better was seeing the look at the person’s face when you’d managed to get them just the right thing because you saw them all the time and you knew what they wanted.

Now, I’m building my own family in Oregon, but I still have parents and in-laws and grandparents that need Christmas presents. Do I know what they want and need? No, because I hardly ever see them. Do I get to see their faces when they open the gifts? No, because I’m in Oregon. Does that get me off the hook? No, because when the presents don’t show up in time, one or two have been known to call and complain. So, what’s a remote relative to do?

In the past, I’ve floated the idea of sending donations in their names to various charities, but that seems kind of like a cop out, as there’s no real thought or effort in it. Plus, it’s not every much fun to open.

This year, I thought I’d give an hour of volunteer service and then write a little story about it for them to read around the tree in our absence. I’ll pick an organization that fits their personality. For my step-mom, I might walk dogs at the local Humane Society (she likes dogs). For my Grandmother, I might volunteer to drive some elderly shut-in on her holiday errands (as I do for her when I can when I’m in town). Then, step-mom and Grandma can hear about how the hour went and share it with whoever they’re opening presents with by reading my description out loud. This way, someone gets something they need, I’ve put in the effort to show my loved on that they really are loved and there’s a little something under the tree.

Thoughts? Has anyone done something like this before? Does anyone have any ideas for Portland-area organizations that can help me get my volunteer hours in this holiday season?