Holiday Traditions

Many family foundations and funds have chosen to hold their annual meetings during the Thanksgiving weekend. It is a time when family is together and it makes sense for so many geographically dispersed families to add their philanthropic business to the shared celebration of giving thanks. What goes better than turkey and stuffing if not gratitude and generosity? I get so many calls in advance of these meetings, that I’ve come to think of the Friday after Thanksgiving not as “Black Friday” (as the retailers would have it) but as “Family Foundation Friday!”

After a recent program, a number of participants stayed behind and began to discuss personal and family traditions that are very special to them. One woman spoke with deep pride of the Bar Mitzvah and Bat Mitzvah celebrations in her family and how the tables feature empty baskets instead of centerpieces. Guests bring canned goods to fill the baskets and the honoree ensures they get to a local food bank. Another participant spoke of a family tradition of volunteering together during the holidays. A member of a family of all adults told me how they, having realized they have more than they could ever need, determined not to purchase expensive gifts for one another but instead pool contributions to do something special for one of their grantees.

It is often at this time of year that we remember our family and community traditions and take great pleasure in anticipating this year’s celebrations. “Tradition” is one of those words that can seem rather stodgy – implying something old that must be dusted off at regular, predestined intervals. It’s likely we all carry on one of those kinds of traditions – probably something to do with fruitcake ….. But it was clear to me, in the light of the eyes of those participants that there was nothing outdated or coerced about their giving traditions. They were moved, joyful, eager for the next occasion, and reveling in the fact that the traditions included young people.

The holidays, the end of one year and the beginning of another are perfect for renewing your family’s traditions and maybe starting a new one. One of my favorite traditions began unexpectedly. A few weeks after my nephew and godson, Michael, was born, I was passing one of those angel trees that are often in malls and churches around this time of year. Perhaps you’ve seen them – they have tags with names of children and adults (usually identified by social service agencies) who would like or need something for Christmas. Scanning the tree, I saw a tag for an infant boy about the same age as Michael. Feeling very blessed to have Michael in my family and aware of all we would and could do for him, I pulled the tag off the tree and celebrated Michael by shopping for Damian.

The next year, I specifically looked for a one-year old boy, and so on. When he was five, I started taking Michael with me on these trips. They are wonderful times together; they offer the rare chance to talk about our world: need, generosity, the fairness (or not) of life, his views of things, and even my work. On Christmas morning, Michael and I wonder if our “angel” likes his gifts. This year, Michael and I will set off again and give thanks for eleven-year old Jose who, hoping to get cars and clothes, has unknowingly given us a special gift of our time together.

In future issues of Family Giving News, we want to share your traditions. We would love to hear about the special celebrations: birthdays, anniversaries, Thanksgiving, religious holidays and ceremonies, the New Year, and even the “no occasion” celebrations. We’re always being asked how other philanthropic families instill a sense of generosity and community spirit in their children – these traditions are a great way to do just that. Please email me at We’ll collect them for future issues and to help us respond to those calling us for ideas and inspiration.

My annual National Center tradition is to thank all of you who make our work here possible. Your questions and guidance, your encouragement and financial support, and your commitment to make the world a more healthy, educated, just, beautiful, and peaceful place for all of us—including Michael and Jose—make our efforts on your behalf a genuine privilege and joy.

Peace on Earth, Good Will to All,

– Ginny