For so many of our students, the winter holidays are all about the gifts. I get it. It was for me too when I was young (and maybe still is... just a little). But as a parent and a teacher, I would love it if children would at least be aware of a deeper meaning of the holidays. This is a great activity to point out one of the true meanings of the holiday season.
First, I start off by having students make their gift lists. You can use fancy paper or a form, but I just use notebook paper. I guarantee that each student will have a list of many toys, movies, games, electronics, and maybe even a book or two.
Then I read The Giving Tree
by Shel Silverstein and talk about its theme... how the tree was willing to give everything it had to the boy, but the boy was never willing to give anything back. We talk about the ethics (one of the principles in Depth and Complexity teaching) of this, and I always accept all answers.
After reading and discussing, I hand back the holiday lists and give students the opportunity to change them... most usually want a new piece of paper to start all over. The change in the lists completely moves me to tears every time. I have had students whose lists went from: "DSi, bike, skateboard, remote controlled car, etc." to "a job for my daddy, clothes for my sister, etc." I give them the choice of sharing because sometimes those second lists can get very personal. A couple of times, those lists have even helped identify a student who needed financial help when no one at the school even knew.
If there is time, as an extension activity I have students reflect on the difference in the lists and why they changed. They can even place a value judgment on which list they think is better.
Every time I do this activity, it shows me and my students one of the true meanings of the holidays... GIVING. And there is no better feeling than that!