Ahhhh the week of Thanksgiving is upon us.

Family. Food. Football. And then (the chaos of) Christmas shopping officially takes over the internet and storefronts nationwide. 

At the strike of midnight, sometimes before, mothers (and fathers) will brave record Black Friday crowds to score their beloved children the most sought after toys for the best price possible. Whatever they can't scoop up on Friday, they will seek out on Cyber Monday via the World Wide Web.

That being said, Hatchimals (think Furby of 2016, with a little extra flair) are already sold out everywhere, people. What ever are you going to do?

Are you willing to pay black market prices on eBay so that your child will have everything they ever wished for under the tree? $400+ for a weird looking birdicorn of some sort that pops out of an egg? I can't even. 

But then again, I don't have kids either.

Every year, there is always a toy that makes me question a) who came up with that and then b) why didn't I think of it? This year, the Hatchimal took the win for my annual inquisition. . .which prompted c) who will you hatch?

Sadly, I won't be hatching anyone or anything anytime soon, or probably ever for that matter as far as the Hatchimal is concerned.

But, Hatchimals aside, I'd like to think I've come out of my shell in a sense over the past few years and well, there are other things that I'm (way) more concerned with these days beyond the 'Top Toy of 2016'.

Sure, I like to pull up a chair with my imaginary popcorn at hand when Black Friday rolls around each November because it really amazes me the lengths parents go to in order to make their kids happy (and often 'act a fool' in the process).

But, there is a flip side to this shopping/latest and greatest toy acquisition frenzy, though; A harsh reality many tend to block out at a time when everyone should be 'merry and bright'.

'Tis the season, am I right?

Pass the eggnog.

For every parent fighting the crowds to buy their children everything they ever wanted...

There's a single mother working 3 jobs trying to figure out how in the world she is going to afford one gift on her child's list. Or more importantly, how she is going to pay the month's electric bill for that matter. She is already two months behind on payments and if the December bill is not paid, the company will shut her electricity off.

There's a single dad that suddenly lost his wife to a massive heart attack, who is trying to figure out how to make it through Christmas much less buy gifts for the 3 children he was left to raise alone. His wife was a stay at home mom, and handled everything while he worked 80+ hours a week in Corporate America.

There's an 18 year old girl who lost her parents in a car accident. She is trying to raise her 4 siblings on her own.  Mom and Dad had no life insurance and no money saved. She had to drop out of college 12 hours from home where four months prior she was enrolled as a new freshman on a full academic scholarship. At the top of her list reads: Food to put on the table. She hasn't been able to find a job--She and her siblings haven't eaten in three consecutive days. . . Pantry is bare.

There's a little boy in foster care who doesn't even have a Christmas list. He has moved in and out of 5 foster homes in the past 3 months. He feels so hopeless; unwanted. His wishes are beyond the latest and greatest toy, or even a toy for that matter. He wishes for a pen and paper to write Santa a letter with his simple request: a forever home; someone he can finally call mom or dad.

Unfortunately, 'merry and bright' is 'miserable and dark' for many people in our country.   And it often goes unnoticed, either because they choose to 'put on a happy face' to hide the pain, or we get too caught up in our own indulgent lives to notice--I'll go with both.

It honestly took me a really long time to (genuinely) feel the way I do.  Likewise, I feel it is important to share because maybe just maybe someone will wake up way before I did----just by reading this.

I am an (overindulged) only child.  My mother LOVES every.single.holiday. . . Not just Christmas. Yes, I get (not past tense, if you notice) gifts for everything. She often jokes that everyday is a holiday for me. And I wouldn't have much of a leg to stand on if I tried to disagree.

My mom is one of THE MOST CARING AND THOUGHTFUL INDIVIDUALS ON PLANET EARTH (and yes, the caps are VERY necessary, because this fact must be stressed.) I may be a 'bratty only child' to some, but I'd like to say those folks don't know me too well--especially now.  Yep, Mom fought that label long and hard for many years. I may have (ok, I have) a mild case of 'only child syndrome' and I went through a phase of constant self-centeredness (called the teenage years, lol) like most living breathing humans, but if there is one single thing I was taught at a very young age that stands out in my mind, it was to give back.

And let me tell you, my parents more than practice what they preach (present tense). Most of the (kind) things they do for people, no one will ever know.  They perceive needs and reach out accordingly, without ever having to be prompted to do so.

Growing up, I was a pain, I know I was (and still am, sometimes). I can see it clearly now. Sure, I got excited to help with things when I was little using my hard earned allowance for a Toys for Tots or Angel Tree gift or going to the Nursing Home on Christmas Day to visit an older person--bringing lots of presents, hygiene products, and candy.  (It was years later that I found out we "adopted" these people because they had zero family.)

But once I reached my teens, the eye rolling began and I was no longer excited, in the least. I wanted what I wanted and I didn't want to be bothered.

Mom always told me, "Claire, there are 2 kinds of people in this world: Givers & Takers Only you can decide which one you are gonna be.  Just know that the takers of the world will never experience the joy of giving."

I don't really remember the exact point at which the statement actually resonated. But, I'd like to think that I've impacted a few lives (in a good way) over the years.

While Black Friday, and (now) Cyber Monday are well-known days in our country as the biggest shopping days of the year, not many people know about a little something called #GivingTuesday. Founded in 2012, #GivingTuesday is relatively new. So if you had no clue about it before today, I'll give you a pass. But I feel that it's my civic duty to enlighten you.

The #GivingTuesday movement harnesses the collective power of a unique blend of partners—nonprofits, businesses and corporations as well as families and individuals—to transform how people think about, talk about and participate in the giving season.

#GivingTuesday inspires people to take collaborative action to improve their local communities. It allows them to give back in better, smarter ways to the charities and causes they celebrate and helps to create a better world. It doesn't take much.  Every little bit helps. One dollar. One quarter. One penny. . . A life is impacted. We must look at the big picture. How many of us grab a $5 cup of fancy coffee on our way to work in the morning? How many of us grab a $5 meal deal or dine out for  breakfast/lunch/dinner/snack/dessert? What if instead, we gave it to a worth while cause on 11/29? 

Or what about taking the money leftover in Christmas savings after crossing off the majority of items on the Santa shopping list and donating it? What if you had your child empty his or her piggy bank, count it with them, and walk them through the donation process?  Tell them they are making a difference in someone's life. Explain how lucky they are to have those pennies and quarters in their possession. Help them understand that some children are not so fortunate. That being said, it is not all about money. There are other ways we can give back.  Heck, you can 'give back' just by vowing to smile and say "Hi" to everyone you come in contact with on any given day.  Tell someone how you truly feel about them and why you feel that way. Tell them how they have impacted your life in a positive way.

Get involved.  Find something you are passionate about and give your time. . . Last night, my mom and I went Christmas shopping-- For 10 children. (Yes, I said ten.) Ten children who attend a local elementary school who need pants to wear and shoes for their feet. They need a folder. A pencil. They need underwear and socks.

I am a member of an organization called Junior Auxiliary of Biloxi-Ocean Springs, whose mission is to improve the community by meeting the physical, medical, financial, and educational needs of the children, youth, and families in our service areas of east Harrison and west Jackson counties and surrounding areas of the Mississippi Gulf Coast through 12 service programs.

I serve on the executive board as Public Relations chair this year. I give my time because I am passionate about what we do. I get to see, first hand, how we can change lives through our service projects. The ten children we shopped for were funded through our School Aid service project where members are assigned a school within one of our 2 area school districts to help provide clothing, school supplies, medical, dental, and financial assistance for children that are in need. This is all in partnership with the school counselors, nurses, and teachers. Once a student in need is identified by the school, the assigned member is called to fill the request as needed. We find that working directly with the schools opens up many needs that otherwise we would not know. This was the first of many "JA" holiday shopping trips Mom and I will take together before Christmas comes this year.  We spend time together and give back in the process.  After all, it's the little things in life that matter most.

Beginning Thanksgiving day, I challenge each of you to (genuinely) say thanks to someone who inspires you (and tell them why) and 'give back' to someone in need (even if it's not of monetary value). Maybe in the end the question isn't "who will you hatch?" but, rather "who will you help?" this holiday season. ? --------------------------------------

On Tuesday, November 29 - join me in celebrating #GivingTuesday and support the precious children of the MS Gulf Coast by making a tax deductible donation to the Junior Auxiliary of Biloxi-Ocean Springs. For more information or to make a donation, visit https://www.501auctions.com/jabos.

By Claire Lyons