Adopting a family for Christmas

With the organization Holiday Helpers, you can adopt another family's wish list and make their Christmas one to remember.

KarmaBrown Karma's daughter preps some presents for another family. Photo: Karma Brown

It’s less than one month to Christmas, and I’m standing in front of a huge doll display trying to choose one for the two- and five-year-old girls on my list. It should be easy; my six-year-old daughter is something of a doll aficionado so I’ve bought plenty. But the dilemma—and why I’m still doll-less 15 minutes later—is that I don’t know these girls.

This Christmas, we’ve adopted a Toronto-area family’s wish list through a local organization called Holiday Helpers. Every dollar we would have spent on gifts for one another, family, and friends, will go towards making this family’s Christmas one to remember.

Most have been supportive, and our families are donating to local charities rather than give us gifts. Certainly putting the brakes on the gift train has complications, and logistically it requires juggling for gift draws, grandparent spoiling, and the like. But a few have implied we’re Christmas killjoys—that a less present-laden tree and shunning gift festivities feels a tad Bah Humbug.

I couldn’t disagree more.

If there’s anyone to blame (thank) for what we’re doing this year it’s Oprah. Years ago she did a pay-it-forward show, where audience members received $1,000 and one week to spend it on someone else. Two sisters turned $2,000 into $200,000 for a local shelter. Another turned $1,000 into $75,000 for a deserving family. I was inspired and determined to make a change.


We decided one of our daughter’s Christmas gifts would be $100 she could spend helping others. Over the past years she’s donated to local food banks and bought mosquito nets for Africa. And along with the money, it’s generated valuable family discussion about need versus want.

But the charitable gift didn’t solve a bigger issue: we blinked, and Christmas turned into PresentPalooza. Our daughter’s eyes would glaze over mid-gift opening due to overwhelm. The appreciative “thank you” came out fast and furious, lost in the noise of ripping wrapping paper. We needed a change, even if it meant putting a kink in well-established traditions.

Our daughter is on board—we chose gifts and wrapped them as a family. She seems to understand the importance of what we’re doing and why. Granted, she was relieved to hear Santa would still visit—after all, some traditions must stay put.

We hope this becomes a holiday tradition, and that when we look back over the years of creating a memorable Christmas for others, we’ll see we received far more than we ever gave.


A former Torontonian (who sought escape from the concrete jungle), Karma Brown now lives nearby in the ‘burbs with her husband, daughter, and labradoodle. When not crafting copy or mulling plot lines, she is typically running, hanging out with her family, making a mess in the kitchen, and checking items off her bucket list.

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