Be The Change: How to Turn a Sad Christmas Into a Happy Christmas

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Bread for Life

FED UP! I was.

With the notion of “Black Friday” shopping.

Frustrated and angry only moments into Christmas morning over the inane packaging seemingly designed to keep my little children from playing with the enclosed toys my husband and I tried to liberate from the twist tie jungle box they came in.

Disappointed in myself for forgetting to stock up on AA, AAA, C, and D batteries to sink into the aforementioned toys.

At first I thought I would contact the aunts and uncles, grand parents and family friends and politely ask them to stop sending us plastic junk, disguised as toys, that my children would play with for about five minutes, then never more, never more.  But ultimately I decided this would hurt feelings and that really the presents were an expression of love and it is the thought, not the object, that counts.

I vowed to “Be The Change” in my gift-giving world.

So, now, presents from The Croft Family come from one or more of  these three categories:  Our hands. Our home. Our hearts.
In a good tomato growing and harvest season, I have produced some tasty salsas and marinaras that I preserve, label decoratively and include in a garden themed gift basket.

When the pears, apples and Oregon blackberries are glorious, it’s jams, butters, chutneys and other jewel colored jars of joy.

Last season my little daughter learned how to knit and together she and I crafted hats and scarves with one-of-a-kind features that best suited the loved one who received the warmth and coziness.

Beautiful beaded jewelry.

Four years ago I discovered and fell in love with the Bead for Life organization:

“Around the world over a billion people survive on about a dollar a day.  By supporting BeadforLife, you are partnering with a woman in extreme poverty and providing her the opportunity to change her life.  Money in her hands will go directly into feeding her family, getting needed medical care, paying for school fees, and saving to build a home and start a business.”

I buy these beautiful beaded necklaces, bracelets and earrings that are made from recycled paper by Ugandan women who are working their way out of poverty.  In 2010 BeadforLife launched the Shea project, and nearly 800 women in northern Uganda create Shea butter soap with African Lemongrass and Lavender and Peppermint Lip Balm from the Shea nuts, known as “women’s gold”.

This year everyone receives the soap and lip balm in their packages with the jewelry.

Talk about “Women Dreaming.”  Yes to THIS, I say!

Cookies from my home and my hands.

Additionally, I spend many heavenly hours with my children baking cookies.  This week we chose Italy as our festive confectionary inspiration, with the cookie that pairs perfectly with the bottle of my husband’s Pinot Noir, which we also include in the gift pack.

Biscotti three ways:  Double dark chocolate cookie, dipped in dark chocolate and sprinkled with crushed candy canes, (the boy loved smashing the candy).  Dried cranberry and orange zest cookie dipped in white chocolate, and Jackson Pollack-style dark chocolate drizzled atop, and real Vermont maple syrup and walnut cookie with nuts from our house, (no, not just me and the kiddies) with a maple, brown sugar icing.

Biscotti three ways.

Finally, from the heart, too, Bryan and I included a brilliant story of love of life and love of love, by giving the excellent book, “Gabby, A Story of Courage and Hope”, by Gabrielle Giffords and Mark Kelly.

Ribbon curl boy and gift wrap girl

My little daughter did a lovely job wrapping the gifts, my son mastered the art of ribbon curls, I packed everything carefully into the shipping boxes, loaded up the mini-van yesterday and shipped some love to our families from our hearts, our hands and our home…

May your gift giving days be Merry and Bright.



  • Marie A.

    Our tradition is to make our own photo books and give them to each other. Our oldest daughter taught us all how to use blurb ( a few years back and we went from cutting and pasting to printing our books. We have a great time and I look forward to the different books I get. I know the girls help my husband with his, but his are very special to me.

    • Marie,

      Thank you for sharing this wonderful idea/gift of love!

      I am going to study, thanks to your comment.

      Happy, Happy holidays!



  • Lynn Fincher

    We make our gifts too. I love this tradition. It makes the holidays so much more special!

  • I love this idea. This year I wasn’t going to get a tree. Last year I got a rosemary tree and decorated it. I just loved it all year. We’ve enjoyed so many dishes made with fresh rosemary that I thought it was such a better way to spend 20 bucks.

    Then this week my best friend moved into her new place with her daughter and after losing her husband (her daughter’s dad and my other best friend) to cancer and my heart changed. They’ve moved 5,000 miles and now live 3 minutes from me and suddenly when hanging around them I remember how my mother helped me survive the holidays after my dad died.

    I remembered the sadness and loneliness I felt over having to spend the rest of my life without enjoying a single Christmas with my dad. This re-occurring theme of sadness would come up year after year, but my mother continued on with her Christmas traditions just like she had always done. Sometimes I would think, “Do we really HAVE to do this?” as she’d drag me shopping for a tree at a tree farm and stop to pick up some walnuts for all her cooking.

    Just like you, she would bake for everyone for the holidays. It would bug me right up to about Christmas eve when I’d come home late and she’d be asleep, but she would have left all the Christmas lights on both outside and inside the house … and suddenly I would feel comforted … like everything was going to be okay after all. Sticking with her Christmas traditions gave me hope. It wasn’t about any gifts. It was about feeling her love.

    After having my friend and her daughter over for dinner Saturday I decided to purchase a small tree so that they might see the hope for a better future. My son had been telling me that a tree doesn’t matter and my ex husband always says, “trees are a waste!”
    Catherine's Christmas tree
    But I went ahead and followed my old tradition of prepping the tree, getting the stand, bringing out the ornament boxes.

    I had to change some things around to get a stand high enough so that you could see the small tree for Christmas.

    As I began decorating, suddenly my son wanted to sit in the living room and chat with me.

    I began to tell him stories of the ornaments … ones he made in school, ones I got when I was married to his dad, and the ones from my mom from those first hard years after my dad died.

    Christmas music played in the background and my ex husband shows up to see his son.

    The next thing I know he is opening wine and joining us in the living room. Suddenly the Christmas spirit was alive in my home and I marveled at how putting up this small Christmas tree changed Christmas. It didn’t matter that there weren’t any gifts under it.

    Later my neighbor across the street flashed her Christmas lights at me and I forgot how much she always enjoyed looking out at the tree in our window. I forgot how lights in the cold of winter can give comfort to passing strangers and neighbors alike.

    This morning my son thanked me for getting a tree. Trust me, it’s a big deal when a teenager stops to take the time to say thank you.

    And the gift we will be giving this holiday season is helping a dear friend and her daughter make it after losing everything. It’s shifted our holiday focus. It’s lovely how giving from the heart brings so much hope. I can see you are this beacon of hope to your family. Such lovely Christmas traditions and now I am going to have to check out Bread for Life!

    Merry Christmas.