Top photo: Joan Wahl plans on buying the gift of a planted garden in the name of her son’s family this year from the MCC Christmas Giving guide. In remote Indigenous communities in Bolivia, importing fresh vegetables and fruit is costly. MCC and community leaders such as Pura Fabarillo Velez are helping families plant their own gardens and capture rain to water them. MCC photo/Matthew Sawatzky.
There are a lot of things Joan Wahl loves about the Christmas season. But there’s one thing she gets excited about more than almost anything. More than the scent of a freshly cut pine tree, a fresh layer of picturesque Alberta snow, even more than a new lineup of cheesy holiday movies—she loves the Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) Christmas Giving guide.
Christmas has never been about just giving and receiving presents for her. She’d looked for different ways she could imbue her holiday gifts with a bigger sense of meaning, with a reflection about what the birth of Jesus really means to her. And then one year, she found the perfect way to do it.
Somewhat out of the blue, she received her first guide in the mail in early November a few years ago. She’d heard about the work MCC was doing around Alberta but hadn’t heard about the guide before. When she opened it and saw that it was full of opportunities to send tangible gifts of relief and love to people across the world, she knew she wanted to make it part of her Christmas.
“I thought that this was such a great way to show my grandkids that giving is more important than receiving,” says Wahl, an 80-year-old Edmonton resident. “They’ll get all sorts of great gifts for Christmas, and this was a way I thought I could show that there are people all around the world who don’t have it as good. And that if we can help them in some way, we should.”
What she particularly loves about the MCC Christmas Giving guide is that she can tailor the gifts she makes in her family members’ names specifically to that person.
“Last year, my eight-year-old granddaughter was all into bugs and things like that. So I bought the gift of worms in her name and it let me talk to her about why worms can help people who are trying to grow their own food because they don’t have enough to eat.”
This year, she’s excited about giving the gift of planting a garden in the name of her son’s family.
I thought that this was such a great way to show my grandkids that giving is more important than receiving."
- Joan Wahl
“My son, his wife and their girls built garden boxes and planted a vegetable garden this year,” says Wahl. “And they brought me bags of carrots, potatoes and beets. It’s exciting that I can give them a gift that they’ll be able to relate to so much. I really want them to have an understanding of the challenges many people around the world live in.”
This year’s guide includes gifts such as a brood of chicks, one year of school for displaced students, solar lanterns and latrines. Every gift in the guide is both a potential connection point between family members and a way to love people in need around the world. MCC also has a helpful, free generosity resource to connect that message with younger members of your family.
There’s no doubt that this year Wahl, and most of the world, is feeling the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on the holiday season. With Christmas plans looking very different this year, she says, having the giving guide feels more important than ever.
“Seeing my family and being with them was always what Christmas was to me,” she says. “And this year, it won’t be like past years. But we still have so much, so it’s important to give to others.”