‘Giving away Christmas’ brings family biggest gift

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There are five children running around the home of Christina and Kevin Magnaghi, ranging from preteen to preschooler.

This year those kids won’t get Christmas presents. In fact, there haven’t been gifts under the tree for a few years now, and they like it that way — mostly — their parents say.

The Walla Walla family has lived here forever, and is deeply rooted in the Christian faith. With immediate and extended family hither and yon on both sides, their Christmases once mirrored convention, Christina said.

“We used to be like everyone else, lots of presents under the tree, stockings from Santa. My parents would give gifts, the godparents would give gifts … There would be tons of stuff under the tree.”

Not that the Magnaghis ever went completely crazy. There are five children, after all, and they live on Kevin’s income as a district manager in the Union-Bulletin circulation department and from his hauling business. Their home-schooled kiddos are more attracted to simple pleasures such as puzzles and dress-up clothes, Christina said. “And we could get those at thrift stores or on eBay.”

The seasonal focus, always, was Jesus.

Thus, the ground was fertile when Christina read about one family’s determination to keep a spiritual light shining on the holiday.

“Part of their tradition was to wrap up baby Jesus in a box and discuss why we have Christmas,” she explained.

It came at the perfect moment. Christina and Kevin wanted the same understanding for their offspring, and the couple decided to move that way gradually, not changing tradition overnight.

“I didn’t want to do that to the kids,” she said.

Too, the Magnaghis had recently moved to a bigger house better suited for the growing family, meaning a higher house payment. That made it easier to limit how much they spent on gifts.

That Christmas, each child got two presents and a filled stocking — a marked change from when Santa’s bag overflowed onto their living room floor.

The next year, it was down to one Christmas present and then it was zero.

“The kids and I sat down with a Compassion International catalog and looked at what, specifically, we wanted to use our money for,” Christina said. “You can buy a goat for a family, you can buy chickens, you can pay to dig a well. It gives you all these ideas of what you can get for families in need everywhere.”

Compassion International is a Christian child-development organization working to free children from poverty through church programs and advocacy efforts. The organization began when the Rev. Everett Swanson encountered the bitter poverty of Korean War orphans in 1952. On his return to the United States, Swanson established a program that allowed people to provide food, shelter, education, medical care and Christian training for Korean orphans. Now the organization works in 26 countries, according to its website, www.compassion.com.

Among other catalog choices, a shopper can purchase a newborn care package for $34, textbooks for $40, a bicycle for $100, help replace items lost to disaster for $40 or rescue a child from a dangerous situation for $1,045.

The Magnaghi children each picked out one cause, such as a backpack with a soccer ball and a water bottle equipped with a filter to create clean drinking water. Another chose a farm animal for a family that would use it for income and milk. Christina sat the baby on her lap and “helped” him pick out a new well for a village for $30.

She told her parents about the plan.

“They were totally on board and said, ‘Tell us what you want us to do.’ So my parents started helping us give Christmas away,” Christina said.

“This year they are ‘adopting’ a child from Uganda through Kisses from Katie (Amazima) Ministries. They’ll pay for tuition, school supplies and school uniforms.”

Last year, the family focused attention on local needs, giving their Christmas budget to causes such as Christian Aid Center, Blue Mountain Action Council Food Bank and Catholic Charities.

Her children still get a stocking, filled with traditional loot like crayons, candy and small toys, Christina said. “Pretty much dollar-store stuff.”

They also don’t hold back on Christmas dinner, making sure favorite dishes are on the table and inviting others who have no place else to be, she said. “It’s full-bore.”

Reaction from others over the concept has been overwhelmingly positive for the most part, Christina said.

“Our friends think it is amazing, they love it. And some have taken to giving Christmas away. Not everyone understands it, and that’s fine, we’re doing what works for our family on our faith and why we celebrate Christmas.”

And not every Magnaghi child is a huge fan of the idea, she conceded with a laugh. Still, her kids have never been comparison shoppers, checking their haul against their friends’ loot. Meaning not getting gifts on Christmas Day carries less of a sting at their house.

Besides, everyone has a birthday and that’s when Kevin and Christina pile it on — to a certain extent, of course. Five kids and all.

“It’s not like we are anti-consumerism. We like having nice things,” Christina pointed out. “At Christmas I want to think about Jesus coming down to Earth. But on the day you were born? Yes, let’s shower you with gifts, let’s celebrate your birth, too.”

Sheila Hagar can be reached at 509-526-8322 or sheilahagar@wwub.com.

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