How I Learned That Giving Service is Better Than Getting Gifts

Most children wake up on Christmas morning with presents under the tree and the magic of Christmas floating in the air. I always thought that Christmas magic came from presents or ornaments. I later learned that it comes from serving others. Here is the unconventional way that I learned that giving service is better than getting gifts.

Christmas Morning


Let me take you back to Christmas morning in 2008. I might be showing my age here, but I was 10 years old and my parents had gone ALL OUT for my younger sister and me. With presents galore and wrapping paper flying in all directions, we were so excited to see what we had received.

Once we had opened all of our presents and the thrill of Christmas seemed to subside, my sister and I quickly moved on to asking what we were going to get for our birthday. A little bit of background, my younger sister and I share a birthday and it is December 28th.

My parents were shocked at how ungrateful my sister and I had become, I can only imagine them watching us rip into our gifts without either of us even saying thank you. While it makes me cringe now, I am grateful for the solution that my parents came up with.

Creating A New Holiday

kids in Christmas kitchen

Following that fateful Christmas morning, my parents sat us both down and said that we will no longer be doing presents on Christmas morning. My 10-year old mind was overcome with shock and horror! How could they do this?

They continued by explaining to us that they wanted to create a new “holiday” called Random Day. They basically decided to give us what they would have spent on our Christmas and birthday gifts in cash and we got to choose whether to spend it or save it. We did not know what day we would receive this money, hence “Random Day” because the day was always different.

The reason that they created Random Day was that they decided we were going to spend the entire week leading up to Christmas, including Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, being of service to the people around us. So, from age 10 until now, I have not woken up on Christmas morning with presents under the tree.

Related Link: 10 Christmas Stories to Leave You Feeling All Warm and Fuzzy

Service Projects

The very next Christmas, my parents woke us up on December 24th. As a family, we made an entire Christmas dinner for the inmates and staff at a local jail. I remember how good it felt to deliver meals to people who were grateful for our efforts. That feeling has stayed with me longer than any feeling of opening a present.

As my mom always said, “If Christmas is supposed to be the day we celebrate Jesus’ birthday, then why aren’t we giving HIM gifts. I think that feeding His sheep is exactly the kind of gift He wants for his birthday.”

We continued to feed those within our community who didn’t have anywhere to go for Christmas or couldn’t afford to feed their families. As this attitude of giving service grew within our family each year, we eventually ended up hosting Christmas dinner for hundreds of people. Anyone that came through the door was welcome. We also delivered food to those who were not able to leave their homes.

Honestly, delivering food was my favorite part. It allowed me to see the gratitude on the faces of others that I had personally been lacking as a child. As cheesy as this sounds, it definitely taught me the true meaning of Christmas.

Slowly, my childhood memories of presents on Christmas morning were replaced with making, serving, and delivering food to those who really needed it. This service did not come without its challenges though.

There were many people who assumed things about my family or were rude to us. At first, I was very confused by this but my parents taught me another wonderful lesson here. They would say that “not everyone will accept this food, but that doesn’t mean we won’t offer it to them.”

Gifts Aren’t Bad

christmas gifts wrapped and stacked on each other

I have recently discovered that I love giving gifts. Along with this, I need to learn how to accept gifts from people. Giving and receiving gifts is not a bad thing. What you give someone says a lot about how well you know them.

Gift-giving can be a very meaningful practice. I would venture to say that for the most part, gifts are not used as a way to grow the connection between people.

A lot of people don’t agree with my parents’ tradition of “no gifts for Christmas” and I totally understand that. In this circumstance, I think that it was only with the addition of giving service and the exclusion of gifts that I was able to learn such a valuable lesson.

Related Link: 7 Ideas for a Better Christmas Morning

Lifelong Effects

family frosting cookies for christmas and #LightTheWorld

As I have gotten older my life has evolved. This will be my first Christmas married. Now my husband and I get to decide which traditions we will keep from our respective families. It may take us a few years to figure out what works for us. Overall, this life-long experience will definitely have an effect on the traditions I choose to have in my adult life.

Now, not only during the Christmas season but all the time, I feel most at home when I am giving service. This is solely because of how I was raised. I appreciate my parents and their unwavering ability to teach us how to be more like Christ. I only hope to raise my future children with this same affinity towards giving service.

Would you do something like this? Share in the comments. 

Zoë Holyoak is currently a BYU student, photographer, and writer. Her hobbies include long walks through the ice cream aisle at the grocery store and correcting bad grammar. She is also a proud member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and served a mission for the Church in Portland, Oregon.