Looking for ways for their families to focus on the true meaning of Christmas and the spirit of service, sisters Lisa Kalberer—based in Austin—and Allison Hottinger created The Giving Manger. Inspired by a childhood memory where their neighbor dutifully placed pieces of straw into an empty manger as a representation of service acts, the sisters built upon this reflective tradition and made it a tradition of their own.
Lisa’s family’s first manger was made in their garage. She recalls that, “it instantly changed our whole Christmas. Tons of thoughtful acts of service, big and small, brought true joy into the Christmas season.” Wanting to share their joy, the next year Lisa and her family made more mangers to give to friends as gifts. “They all fell in love with the tradition,” she says.
But something was tugging at Lisa’s heart. It was then that she set to sculpting baby Jesus and writing The Giving Manger book. “We wanted to bring the tradition together in a set that would have everything a family would need to understand the tradition, to get excited to start and to watch their Christmas season change as it becomes more about giving.”
Created to help families teach and practice service, the founders describe service as any act of kindness for another person, big or small, that makes them smile, lift their burden, or build them up. Many of their acts of service, or kind deeds, are done at home: Making a sibling’s bed, playing with a younger sibling, wiping off the table after dinner.
They also encourage the kids to find ways to serve at school: to smile at someone who seems sad; to help the teacher; to make a new friend. And, they try to include family service projects each year. Serving Thanksgiving dinner to the homeless, picking up trash at the beach, doing a canned goods drive on their street for their local food pantry, or making dinner for a neighbor, for example. “Nothing brings us more joy than seeing our own kids come up with ways to serve, and seeing families all over the world doing the same,” says Lisa. “For us, no act of service is better than another. They all matter and make a difference in someone’s life.”
Made to be a simple reminder to give, Lisa and Allison believe that The Giving Manger is for everyone.
“We have single people tell us this tradition has brought meaning and joy to their Christmas. Families with small children, families with teens, even empty nesters. Anyone who is looking to bring Christmas back to Christ and giving. Service brings so much joy to the people you serve and to you.”
This holiday, if you’re looking to give a gift that gives back, The Giving Manger will serve you well.