Editor's note: When one of her colleagues complained about feeling pressured at Christmastime, MPR reporter Sasha Aslanian shared this letter with him. It is adapted from an e-mail she had sent to her family this year. The colleague told others in the newsroom about the letter, one thing led to another, and here it is.
I hope everyone is enjoying the build-up to the holidays. I'm looking forward to decorating the tree [with my in-laws] this afternoon.
The girls have been busy making gifts, and I've been selecting small items for my 13 nieces and nephews from www.serrv.org (a nonprofit that supports artisans in the developing world). I like that all the items have a story that connects to someplace else in the world the kids can learn about: coin purses from Calcutta, a stamp kit from Nepal, a pig made from palm spines in the Philippines.
I wanted to explain my thinking a little bit so people don't open their tiny bags and say, "God, Sasha's cheap."
It's true that I am thrifty, but I'm also working to live out my Christmases in ways that make me feel uplifted and connected. This includes baking my favorite cookies that Mor [my Norwegian grandmother] used to make, bringing the kids caroling at the retirement home down the street with my church, giving you all the latest batch of family recipes and spending the biggest amounts of cash not on the people closest to me, but on perfect strangers.
When I was a kid, Mor used to say our bedtime prayers with us. One thing she always thanked God for was "a good bed." I thought that was strange. Of course we had beds. Didn't everyone? Seemed silly to mention it. How could I know how differently most kids in the world lived?
Now, when I look at the stack of jeans in my closet or ponder what to do with the leftover egg used to brush the tops of rolls, I think of "The Good Women of China." Xinran writes about a remote village so poor that the best thing a woman could ever hope for was to give birth to a son. Then she would get the unimaginable treat of eating ... one raw egg. The writer tells of a family of daughters; I can't remember if it's four or five daughters who had to share one pair of pants. One girl at a time could go out to play. Her sisters sat lined up on a mattress inside, waiting for their turn in the pants to go out and play.
Kaia [my 10-year-old daughter] is definitely more aware of the world's kids. Last Christmas she asked us to sponsor Eva, a 10-year-old Guatemalan girl whom we now support through Common Hope. For $30 a month (another family also contributes $30), she goes to school and her family gets medical care and other support. The idea is that education will bring a family like Eva's out of poverty. Kaia and Eva exchange letters in Spanish. Eva's pretty smile looks out from a framed photo next to Kaia's bed.
Someone forwarded me this link and I invite you to try it: http://www.globalrichlist.com/. This perspective helps me keep my complaints in check. Another approach is to turn all giving into philanthropy: https://www.tisbest.org/Default.aspx.
I figured the kids would be a little young to get excited about this, but it's something for the adults to consider. No clutter, and we help shape the world we want to live in. The point of Christmas is for us to enjoy family and feel gratitude.
I want you to feel similarly unburdened at Christmas.
Sasha Aslanian is a reporter for MPR News. For readers who want to give presents while keeping clutter to a minimum, she offers her Top Five gift ideas:
"Coffee in bed every day of the year. I asked my husband for this a few years ago and never want anything else.
"Family calendar. Each year my sister-in-law has us submit our best photos of the year for a calendar. These have become our family albums, because who actually prints digital photos anymore?
"Family cookbook. I ask family members to submit traditional favorites so we have them written down somewhere, and new discoveries.]]
"Memberships. This year I got a membership to the Minnesota Historical Society so we can visit all those cool places around the state for free.
"Experiences. This year my dad took my kids on their first big train trip. Dad believes in spending money on experiences, not things.
"And of course, anything handmade, oral histories of family members, etc."