Ashley Ha, 4, sprinkling reindeer dust for Santa to find his way to her family’s home.


Everyone loves a good gift. Whether it’s beautifully wrapped, placed inside a gift bag or adorned with a big red bow, presents are undeniable symbols of the holiday season.

As children, many of us can remember making a wish list, waiting up for Santa and his reindeer or sneaking peeks at the presents under the Christmas tree. As a little girl, I was an expert gift snooper with masterful tape peeling and reapplying skills. My family was none the wiser (that is, unless they’re reading this now).

Despite my holiday antics, my parents managed to instill in me and my siblings that the magic of the holidays is the presence of loved ones, not presents from loved ones.

According to the World Happiness Report, despite an overall rise in American household income, which allows for increased consumption, the levels of social happiness, caring, honesty and health have declined. However, myriad studies have found clear links between generosity and well-being.

Now that I have kids of my own, I want them to know the joy of giving – of time and not things, of compliments over commodities and of gratitude rather than gifts. My husband, Ben, and I have taken the kids with us to deliver food to families in need, hold hands with people we’ve never met before and pray blessings over them. Loving our neighbors in real, tangible ways builds community and a powerful sense of connection to others.

Each year, our children’s school participates in a Christmas family project. Each classroom embraces the wish list of a family with special needs and we all sign up to help make their holidays a little brighter, happier and more hopeful. It’s a lesson for us to enjoy the act of giving rather than receiving. For me, it’s a reminder that Christ gave the ultimate gift of His life in exchange for ours.

Giving and receiving gifts can still be meaningful, but the best gifts are the people behind the presents, the friends beside the Christmas tree and the family gathered around your dinner table. Celebrate those gifts today and every day. And, if you can, give back. We make a little magic by giving away what we get.

Merry Christmas and happy new year, everyone! 

Opinions expressed in this column are those of Nina Ha.

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