ShearerAs we venture away from the autumn holiday called Thanksgiving and embark on a festive journey through the winter holidays it’s important to keep in mind the true spirit of the giving season.

I have celebrated Christmas every December for as long as I can remember. While waking up to a beautiful assortment of gifts is absolutely joyful, I think the nature of giving, and therefore the expectation of receiving, is the very reason why Christmas has become such a consumer holiday, silencing the importance of generosity, selflessness and care.

Winter is a beautiful time, especially around the holidays when everyone comes together — even if not in a literal sense — to make homes, neighborhoods and cities places of spirit and joy. Children are happy, love twinkles like lights on a Christmas tree and passion dances like the flame of a candle on a menorah.

It’s truly amazing, watching everyone put forth effort to make each holiday season better than the last. So if it’s so easy to work together, can’t we help more than just ourselves?

Every year, my family sponsors several children through the Family Giving Tree nonprofit organization.

The Portland branch of this organization sets up hundreds of Christmas trees throughout the city in offices, shopping complexes and community centers. On each tree hang a variety of festive tags with the names and winter wishes of a local child, and by taking a tag you can sponsor a child.

Making a child’s winter wishes come true is about so much more than purchasing a gift for them. It’s about teaching a child who thinks fate wants them to be unhappy that there are people in the world who care about others. It’s about showing how much of a difference a small act of kindness can make in someone’s life.

The most rewarding experience I can imagine is one where you get to interact with and get to know the people you’re helping.

It’s truly moving to see the happiness of a parent whose child will finally get to open gifts on Christmas morning, or the tearful thanks of that man you always see carrying his life on his back when you offer him a hot meal and a friend.

The spirit of giving is such a wonderful thing that emanates deep inside all of us. We pass by many people who we’ll never know, whose lives we’ll never understand.

To know that something as simple as holding the door open or smiling politely can change a stranger’s entire day makes me think about all the things we do subconsciously that impact others.

Every word matters, every action affects someone else and every smile makes the world just that much more beautiful. There are so many things that can be done to make the holiday season wonderful.

Portland alone is home many charities that regard winter as their primary season for fundraising and volunteering — the Giving Tree and the Christmas Family Adoption Foundation are popular. There are endless opportunities for each and every person to put a smile on a child’s face or to provide a struggling family with delicious meals and a warm home. This holiday season I encourage everyone to perform an act of kindness and keep in mind the true meaning of holiday spirit.

Laura Shearer is a senior at Wilsonville High School. She is contributing a regular column to the Spokesman this school year.

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