The Giving Christmas Tree

Cover: The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein

I was recently thinking back to one of my favorite books as a child (and now), “The Giving Tree” by the incredibly talented and genius author Shel Silverstein. I’d like to think that everyone had the opportunity to have this book on their childhood bookshelves and given its popularity and status as a timeless classic and a “literary wonder”, I think it’s safe to assume that most people know the basic premise of the book is giving. But I believe it is so much more than that and does an excellent job of building a path to grateful living for the young minds that are exposed to its message.

For those few who haven’t read the story, or don’t remember it, I’ll briefly cover the premise and then continue to explain how it relates to gratitude as a whole. The story is a wonderful lesson on generosity, kindness, altruism, selflessness, and compassion. It begins with a tree, who loved a little boy, who used the resources of the tree for his pleasure and entertainment. When the boy grew up and he didn’t need her minor conveniences anymore, she missed him so much that in order to fulfill his more adult needs she gave herself up, piece by piece, until there was nothing left to give. But eventually, the boy was an old man, and what he needed from the tree, and what the tree had left to give, turned out to be perfectly aligned.

And the connection between the tree and humanity as a whole and what the tree represents is a profound measure of how much we give, to those we love and take care of, piece by piece, throughout our lives. And when we give, and those we love are taken care of and happy, we are grateful for that opportunity. And if that gratitude is returned, we are fulfilled and are more than happy to accommodate the people we love as much as we can.
Without that gratitude, we too can become drained, piece by piece, until there is nothing left. When we receive gratitude there is no “keeping score.” We give what we can, as much as we can, with no expectation in return. In the story, the tree never expected anything in return. She just loved the boy so much that she was willing to continue giving until she had nothing left to give, but in the end, just her presence was finally exactly what the boy, now an old man, needed. He was grateful for her, and she was grateful for him.

These thoughts led me to an idea for a lesson for my own kids, and I encourage you to try this at home if you celebrate the holidays with a tree! (If you don’t, you can always use paper and tape, and use that opportunity to get crafty and create a regular tree and apples on the wall!) At our house, we keep a tree up year-round and decorate it for every holiday. For this gratitude lesson, our Christmas tree will represent humanity as a whole. I purchased a large package of red Christmas balls to represent the Giving Tree’s apples, and then other colored Christmas balls to represent my own boys in their favorite colors.

On each red ball, I will have my children write something they are grateful for that someone gave to them. This can be a tangible item they received or acts of kindness or generosity someone has done for them recently. On their own colored balls, they will write something they did for someone else each time. After they have written on a ball, they will then hang it on the tree. We will continue this for the entire month of December and until the new moon on January 13th. (This is when we take down our Christmas decorations and decorate for Valentine’s Day). On the final day, we will count the balls. The goal will be to have the most colored balls, and the child with the most gratitude balls will get an award for being kind, generous, and displaying gratitude! For each red ball on the tree, they will all receive a reward token they can use to cash in for things they want. (We use these in place of an official allowance).

We look forward to the results of our “contest” and I’m sure we’ll make a social media post about them on the Center for Grateful Leadership Facebook page. If you participate in a challenge like this of your own, tell us about it in the comments or on our social media!