To me, the month of December brightens the end of the year like a cheerful hearth fire brightens the dead of winter. I love the rituals, foods, smells and sense of connection that surround the holidays. And, like most kids, I love the gifts.
I believe that we celebrate the sacredness of life when we give each other gifts. It may be just a handkerchief or a tin of cookies or a book, but the message it carries is so much larger. A gift says, "I care about you. You and I are connected in a special way." Giving to others is like giving to ourselves, because it spreads a loving feeling in our personal worlds.
I'm writing this column because I want to encourage you to give to charity this holiday season. The holidays are a time to remember all of our human family, not just those who are close to us. When we share with people we don't know, we draw tighter our web of human connections. This is a gift that comes back to us many times over.
You could say that here in the United States, people get gifts all the time. Our nation is richly blessed. I'm proud to say that we're also compassionate and generous.
As the National Goodwill Ambassador for the Muscular Dystrophy Association, I've had a chance to meet many Americans who freely give their time and money to help others. Did you know that most of the donations given to charity come from middle-income donors, not from foundations or corporations? Miracles are happening every day simply because ordinary people are sharing their gifts with other ordinary people.
Right now, charitable giving in the United States is down from previous years. There are many reasons for this, like the stock market and unemployment. But in tough times people need our help more than ever.
If you imagine that humanity is like a tree, then the gift givers are the roots that help us grow strong branches. They fuel us; they're what keep us alive. Without them, we would slowly wither and die. Your decision to give - or not to give - ultimately affects everyone.
I hope that your holidays this year will be full of the delights of the season, most especially the precious gift of giving!
Mattie J.T. Stepanek, 13, is the best-selling author of five books of "Heartsongs" poetry (Hyperion Press). He recently was honored for his humanitarian work by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Mattie is affected by mitochondrial myopathy, a rare neuromuscular disease. To learn more about Mattie, visit www.mdausa.org/mattie.