Christmas Goats

We have a straw goat under our Christmas tree. In a weird variant of Swedish tradition, or maybe just a total departure from it, my siblings and I grew up with the impression that the goat was supposed to guard the presents. (From whom, we never thought to ask).

This year we’re trying to incorporate a different goat into our traditions. I’ve offered the kids special exorbitant rates for doing extra chores, and they’re putting the money towards a goat from Heifer International. So far, so good–my house is getting a little cleaner than usual, and the kids are enthusiastic about doing something significant. It seems like a good project for not-quite-little-anymore kids who are ready to broaden their horizons from Secret Santa for friends and family.

How have you channeled kids’ and teens’ idealism and energy around the holidays? (I need some ideas for next year, and the year after…)


  1. I bet the goat is guarding the presents from the Krampus!

    This is a great idea!

  2. Steve Evans says:

    We’re doing Krampus.

  3. Great idea! In my house, kid energy gets directed toward obsessing about My Little Ponies and new Scooby Doo episodes on Comcast OnDemand. But ask me again in 5 years.

  4. Good question. I don’t know. My kids have a Santa store at their school and want money to buy stuff, but not enough to actually work for it. So, no money for kids = no buying presents. Kind of makes me sad, but I’m still not going to just give them money.

  5. One Christmas when I was a teenager, the stars aligned and us three kids decided to give up some of our presents to help out a family we knew who was in need. We did the whole guerrilla Santa thing, where you wrap them up, deposit them on their door, ring the doorbell and run like crazy. I really enjoyed that experience. Since then, I’ve always enjoyed coordinating those kinds of things (I did it again with my FHE group when I was a coordinator once).

  6. Speaking of adopting animals, I thought that this was one of the more cute adoption sites I have seen:

  7. Heifer International reminds me of this gem:

    “what I’m saying is, who’s happy over this? You’ve got a fellow who hasn’t got a present because his mate bought him a goat. So there’s a tick. Then you’ve got the person who’s opened it…they go ‘who’s going to look after this.’ Then you’ve got the goat who’s going ‘what am I doing here?'”

    +5 internets to anyone who knows the reference.

    Kudos–I’d like to try something like this myself.

  8. John Mansfield says:

    It’s nice that charitable people keep trying new things to make charity work. This livestock donation idea has a chance since the recipients probably don’t live in tall apartmet buildings, and there are no replicants that would throw the animals off.

  9. Ricky Gervais.

  10. That’s a great idea Kristine. We’ve never done Heifer- do they send a picture of the family, or is there any follow-up. It seems like that would be very motivating for making it a continuing tradition.
    And that was Karl on the Ricky Gervais podcast which I admit to googling although I was reasonably sure it was him. I don’t listen as much as I used to because that high pitched giggle of Ricky’s drives me a little batty.

  11. cwc, yes that gets old.

  12. #10 You might want to read this:

    Heifer works similarly. You donate under the illusion that your money will in fact, buy exactly 1 goat, a flock of chicks, a cow, etc. It doesn’t really work that way. However, I still like the program. We do this with our kids every year. I admit that I’ve been frustrated of late though–Heifer prints beautiful glossy booklets that must cost too much of my donation to appreciate. I am also not a fan of all the photo-shopped perfect dentistry of people in third world countries.

  13. I personally like this program:

    No overhead.

  14. #13
    Why is there no overhead?

  15. Margaret,
    If my understanding is correct, everyone that runs the foundation (with the exception of a couple of employees in Guatemala), are volunteers. They don’t draw a salary. They have other jobs. All donations simply cover the cost of implementing the program to actually feed the children.

  16. mmiles–thanks for the link. I think that will be something my kids will be ready for in a year or two. For right now, the illusion of a goat is a helpful motivator.

  17. Kristine,
    My kids are big fans of Heifer illusions too. They love it.

  18. At first I thought that Heifer International might be that crazy Pentecostal cattle breeder from Mississippi who raises red heifers and sends them to Israel to precipitate the Second Coming:

    I had a lot to say about that, but then I googled your charity and, like Rosanna Rosannadanna, I am left with a feeble “never mind”. Sigh.

  19. “Heifer works similarly. You donate under the illusion that your money will in fact, buy exactly 1 goat, a flock of chicks, a cow, etc. It doesn’t really work that way. However, I still like the program.”

    Right, Heifer clearly spells this out on their website and elsewhere. It would cost far too much to track individual donations for individual animals given to specific areas, and the funds are better used for the actual work. But that doesn’t stop the joy of imagining where the money is going. Each year my husband and I vicariously donate and name an animal through Heifer Int’l. Now we understand that the money is really going into a big bucket that Heifer will distribute as needed. But it’s still fun to think we sent a water buffalo named George to the Philippines for Christmas.

    Another organization that gets our support is Doctors Without Borders (Medecins Sans Frontieres). They do incredibly good things and always rank very high among charities with low administrative costs.

  20. Well,

    My boys would think it was awesome if a goat showed up on Christmas morning

  21. bbell,
    The first year we did it, my kids were looking for their flocks and herds.

  22. Momma would hate a goat showing up on Christmas. I would be so dead…

  23. I just bought some cranberry goat cheese from Costco.
    It’s delicious.

  24. You mean this post has been up for over 24 hours and nobody has made a comment about the goats of Christmas past?

  25. We were saving that one for you, Mark B. :)

  26. Hey, nifty! My kids just each picked out a Heifer gift to get/give/ My daughter got some ducks and my son got part of a goat. They were excited to pick out their animal to give, but the downside is that I just bought it for them as one of their Christmas presents. I LOVE the idea that they earn the money to put towards this. Next year. Next year.

  27. I had a goat when I was a kid. Not a good pet.

  28. One of my mother’s favorite sing-to-us-in-the-car-to-stop-the-bickering songs (and it’s, um, Christmasy because it is colored red and green):

    Bill Grogan’s goat was feeling fine,
    Ate three red shirts from off the line.
    Bill took a stick, gave him a whack,
    And tied him to the railroad track.
    But when the train hove into sight
    That goat grew pale and green from fright.
    He heaved a sigh, as if in pain,
    Coughed up those shirts and flagged the train.

  29. meems, which goat part? Is that too old-time Catholic for us – or would it be if the goat didn’t get donated until its whole body had been purchased by one person over time?

  30. Left Field says:

    “Before Thee Lord, I Bow my Head” is sung to the same tune.

    I once had a bishop named Bill Grogan.

  31. Ardis/Left Field,

    Thank you for adding one to the (longish) list of hymns I can’t sing with a straight face. Awesome.

  32. Actually, that Bill Grogan’s Goat song was in one of the piano books (John Thompson) that brought joy to my young life (ha!) and the tune there was close to, but not exactly, the same as the hymn. Still the meter is a perfect fit, and you should feel free to sing about the goat (or at least think about it) the next time that hymn shows up in your sacrament meeting.

    A fitting punishment for you would be to have to direct the singing of the hymn. :-)

  33. My parents tried owning a goat one time, but it just got into trouble. Most memorably the morning it climbed up on my dad’s motorcycle and ate the lining out of his helmet. He was not happy. One day it disappeared and my mom is pretty sure some of our neighbors ate it (we had a variety of neighbors from countries that eat goats).

    Anyways, I like the idea of Heifer and have used it at times, with full awareness of the monetary issues. I also don’t like the fact that they continue to send us lots of glossy brochures in the mail; in the internet age you’d think more companies would just stick to email–it would be more effective for us anyways.

  34. My mother drove a goat cart in Salt Lake in 1926 — she’s the five-year-old in this picture. Odd how many of us have goats somewhere in our background.

  35. When we moved to our current house, we were told to tell people we were renting the pink house across the street from the people with the goat.

    Well over half the people in town know exactly where we live when we use that description.

  36. I am loving all the random goat stories/songs/jokes, etc.

  37. Here’s another one, Stephanie: My great-grandmother kept a few goats 90-110 years ago in her small central Utah mining town specifically, according to family lore, to be able to feed babies whose mothers couldn’t nurse them enough. Apparently goat’s milk is, or was thought to be, easier for babies to digest than cow’s milk.

  38. That’s true, Ardis. My dad was adopted at birth in 1955. He was deteriorating on formula. My grandfather (who was born at the turn of the century and was right around 55 at the time) wanted to give my dad goat’s milk. My grandmother said no because “the doctors know best”. So, in the middle of the night, my grandpa poured the formula out and replaced it with goat’s milk. My dad immediately began thriving. When my grandpa revealed what he had done, my grandma agreed to keep my dad on goat’s milk. So, that’s what he was raised on.

  39. In response to Dan (#18), that’s actually Emily Litella. One of my favorite Gilda Radner characters. Who wouldn’t appreciate more violins in the media, or be happy to make Puerto Rico a steak?

  40. Okay, off goats and onto Krampus! I served a mission in Austria, so when my daughter had to do a report on another country in 6th grade, she chose Austria. In telling her interesting tidbits about my time there, I included an explanation of Krampus, which she then found more info about on the internet. After giving her report, one of her teachers was extremely disturbed, and apparently thought my daughter was a bit twisted for writing such a report. Huh? Can we donate her to the goats? (Oh wait, I don’t think that’s how it works). Merry Christmas, Kristine!

  41. Kristine, the goat guards the presents of the younger children from the greedy hands of older siblings! You’d know that if you were the youngest :)

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