Meaningful Christmas Gifts

By Nancy Twigg

Filling a shoebox with goodies and sending it to a child who would otherwise have nothing for Christmas - it's a simple concept, but one that has enriched the lives of impoverished children all around the world. Every year, through Samaritan's Purse Operation Christmas Child program, people from wealthier nations have the opportunity to help children all over the world by simply filling shoeboxes with small gifts and treats.

The first time my family participated in Operation Christmas Child was in 2004. Our daughter Lydia was almost four years of age, and we felt it was time for her to learn about Christmas giving rather than just Christmas receiving. With some degree of apprehension, I explained what we were going to do and then took her to the local dollar store to select items for our shoebox. I was a little worried she would get a case of the "gimmes" and want to buy everything for herself. On the contrary, she had great fun picking out things for "the little child who is poor." We enjoyed the experience so much that we have participated every year since then.

As we collected items for our shoebox last year, a novel thought occurred to me. The concept of giving shoeboxes for Christmas has other practical applications. Here are a few that came to mind:

Scaling back Christmas gift giving

Whether you need to scale back for financial reasons, or simply want to scale back because you think it's gotten out of hand, limiting gift giving to one shoebox per person is a great way to go. Obviously if all gifts must fit in one shoebox, it will limit not only how many items but what kinds of items can be given. You can still give more expensive items if you want (gift cards, jewelry, cash, etc.), but knowing that each person will only receive one shoebox controls expectations.

Clutter-free gift giving

As Lydia and I put together our shoebox, I noticed that we included many consumable items-items that would either get eaten up or used up. Most grandparents and older people have more than enough of everything they need. They have little room for trinkets and gadgets, but appreciate practical items that won't create clutter in their homes. A shoebox filled with consumable items-food items, toiletries, stationery, health and beauty products-would be a thoughtful gift idea for practically any senior adult on your list for practically any gift-giving occasion.

Long distance gift giving

Don't you hate the expense of mailing large boxes of gifts to long-distance friends and relatives? Limiting the size of packages to a shoebox would definitely help control shipping costs. This rule would also make shipping easier, as almost everyone has plenty of empty shoeboxes and brown paper bags around the house for wrapping up the boxes. What if you have several shoeboxes to send to one family? No problem. Just put your shoeboxes in one larger box for mailing.

Good for other needy people, too

Children in foreign countries aren't the only ones who could benefit from receiving a shoebox of goodies. We have many people right here in North America who need a loving touch. Why couldn't a church or charitable organization start a Christmas shoebox program for inner city families, the homeless, people in nursing homes, or shut-ins? And why limit it to Christmas? These people need ministry all year long. Shoeboxes filled with practical items and special treats could be just the way to do good deeds for people who are often overlooked.

An educational experience for kids

One last idea. This year I plan to give my daughter a Christmas shoebox, too. I believe it will be educational for her to experience a little of how it must feel for the children who receive shoeboxes from Samaritan's Purse. Of course, the effect is not exactly the same. Unlike most of the Operation Christmas Child children, she knows she will receive other presents. However, I hope the excitement she feels as she opens her box will make an indelible impression and help her to be more empathetic toward those who have so little.

So you see, giving shoeboxes for Christmas is a smart idea. It works for Operation Christmas Child and it can work in a variety of situations for your family, too. By the way, if you'd like more information on how your family can participate in Operation Christmas Child, visit A similar program exists which sends shoeboxes of goodies to military personnel deployed overseas. Learn more about Operation Shoebox at

Nancy Twigg is the author of the newly revised and expanded book, Celebrate Simply: Your Guide to Simpler, More Meaningful Holidays and Special Occasions (Kregel Publications, October 2006). Learn more about it at

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