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Giving, not getting

There’s a lot to love about the holidays: the lights, the concerts, the music, the cookie decorating... and the list goes on. However, are your students too focused on the "gimme" elements of the holiday season?

This season is also an ideal time to instil the spirit of giving in children.

Share the story of "The little coat": Handmade gift of love.

Ways to start instilling the giving spirit

Introduce the idea of giving to others by first acknowledging what your students are already doing. Perhaps they smile to someone on the street, say a friendly word to a friend and send a heartfelt letter or email to a grandparent—discuss how these are all acts of giving. Illustrate how the last time your students cleaned out their own toy box or closet was a way to give to those in need. Spotlight the things your students already do and invite them to look at giving in a new light.

How is giving received?

Often, children will go through the motions of helping others (e.g. volunteering, donating) without fully understanding why they are doing it. Take the time to spotlight how the giving process was received.

We all benefit when children learn to give to others. Charitable involvement has been shown to help raise self-esteem, develop social skills, foster an introduction to the greater world and encourage kids to appreciate their own lifestyle. From donating presents and collecting food, every contribution makes a difference—to your child, to your community and to the world.

Giving activities

  • Holiday wishes and hugs!: Plan special holiday visits to local nursing facilities. Have the students rehearse a holiday song or two, some poems, and maybe a skit—and then perform them in front of a grateful audience. At the end of the performance, the students wander into the audience to hand out candy canes, holiday wishes, and hugs!
  • Positive presents: Instead of exchanging gifts, have your students exchange compliments! Type all of the students' names on a sheet of paper. Two lines accompany each name, and print enough copies so that each student has one. Give the students a day to come up with a positive comment about each person on the list, then collect the papers, compile the comments, and type up one page for each student, listing all the positive things the student's peers said about him or her. Comments might include sentiments such as, "You always have a smile".
  • Food for thought: Food drives are a great way to contribute to the community. Collecting food for people more needy than themselves is an important reminder that members of every community need to help those who are less fortunate than themselves.
  • Toy campaign: Plan a classroom or school-wide toy drive for a local 'Toys for Tots' campaign or for another local organization.
  • Parent appreciation journal: This makes a great hand-made gift for the adults in their lives. As the holiday break approaches, provide a different writing prompt each day. Prompts might include "My favorite memory of a holiday past," "A funny thing happened in our family," "What I love most about my parents," or "A lesson my parents (or my mom or my dad, or grandparent) taught me." Gather all of the students' journal entries into a gift book to wrap and give over the holidays!
  • Mitten tree: Set up a holiday tree near the entrance to your classroom or school. Invite the students and their families to donate a pair of new mittens or gloves for children who might be in need of warm clothing this holiday season. Turn the mittens over to the organization that cares for needy children in your community.
  • To market, to market!: Christmas trees spring up in shopping malls even before Remembrance Day. TV ads scream out, "buy, buy, buy!". Teach them about the true meaning of the season by emphasizing the giving over the getting. Have the students work together in small groups to create a presentation or a commercial that makes a case for donating to charitable organizations or to those in need. They must convince the general public about the importance of giving rather than receiving. They can present their "commercials" to their classmates, and they may wish to make a video of their commercials and share them with others or upload them to You Tube.

Wrap-up (to stay in the Holiday spirit!)

Discuss how it felt to give and how it may have felt for those who received their gifts. What was the reaction to the giving? Discuss how simply our personal actions can positively affect others. Remind your students of the story of "The Little Coat: Handmade Gift of Love” and help them make a connection between their generous actions and the positive impact on people, as Canadian soldiers brightened Sussie’s Christmas with a winter coat.

"The little coat", a hand made gift of love

It was 1941, in the small town of Olds, Alberta. The fate of young 15 year-old Bob Elliott was sealed—he would lie about his age, be recruited by the Canadian Army and follow his brothers to war. By 1944, Bob was helping to defend the Allied line in Holland. The Netherlands was under German occupation, and the young Canadian was shocked by the aggression of war, and the misery, poverty, fear and suffering of the civilian population.

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Sussie Cretier was a 10-year-old Dutch girl living in the Netherlands at that time. Her father, Willem, was a mechanic involved in the Dutch Resistance and had been passing information to the Allies. Unfortunately, the Germans discovered him in the winter of 1944. Sussie and her brothers didn’t understand their father’s role in the war, but they were old enough to recognize the fear on their mother’s face as they watched the Germans hunt for their father. Her family was also hiding a young Jewish girl, which put their family in even more danger. They had to flee or risk being executed. The family fortunately escaped to Alphen, with only the clothes on their backs.

The family befriended many of the Canadian soldiers stationed there, including the 19-year-old Albertan, Bob Elliott. Sussie became enamoured with the Canadian soldiers who had come to defend her country. She bonded with soldiers of the Fort Garry Horse regiment. They gave her a beret covered with their regimental badges, and also sewed military stripes on the sleeves of a ragged old coat. Bob, and his fellow soldiers, found her presence (along with her singing and laughter) a welcome remedy to the difficult reality they faced.

In exchange for her joyful company, the Canadians often sent Sussie home with chocolate and chewing gum—treats at the time, since her family (like most of the population) lived in poor conditions, and were hungry and cold.

Sussie's coat.
Photo: CWM 20060093-001 © Canadian War Museum

For Christmas, the soldiers made a special gift for Sussie. They had a double-breasted winter coat sewn for her from a grey army blanket. The soldiers plucked buttons from their own jackets to adorn the gift. They also found her a new pair of shoes, a sweater, a scarf and trousers. She opened her gift on a cold Christmas morning, and when she saw it, she excitedly shed her old worn-out coat to proudly don this new military jacket, a symbol of the devotion and loyalty of her Canadian friends.

When the war ended, everyone returned to their respective homes, and life began anew. Bob returned to Canada, but kept in touch with the Cretier family over the years. In 1981, he paid them a visit. Upon reuniting, Sussie and Bob fell in love and were soon married!

Bob brought Sussie home to Edmonton, where they lived. They shared their time between Canada and Holland, and the little Dutch girl became a proud Canadian citizen.

The couple later donated the coat to the Canadian War Museum. It represents a story of friendship and love that spans decades, and the enduring bond forged between Canada and the Netherlands during the Second World War. After enduring the years of occupation and persecution during the war, the little coat became a touching reminder of hope for Sussie, and of the Canadian soldiers who liberated Holland.

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