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This photo illustration shows someone using a cellphone inside a Catholic chapel in Washington Oct. 27. CNS photo/Tyler Orsburn

App puts kindness in focus at Advent

  • December 4, 2017
It started out as a Duffy family tradition and now they’re ready to share it with anyone with a smartphone.

The Christmas Tree of Kindness is a free app that helps the user decorate a virtual Christmas tree with random acts of kindness. As families enter into the Advent season, parents can use the app as a family project to teach young children about the spirit of generosity.

“The kids were little and we wanted to have a Christmas activity that would teach the kids the value of giving and not so much just the receiving,” said creator Beth Dessen Duffy. “The goal was that when Dec. 25 came, our tree would then be a gift the to baby Jesus.”

In 2000, the Christmas Tree of Kindness was just a simple tree cut out of green construction paper. Every day starting the first Sunday of Advent, Duffy’s five-year-old son and three-year-old daughter would craft a Christmas ornament that represented the good deed that they dedicated to the baby Jesus that day.

“We would put a dish, if you helped with the dishes or an ‘L’ if you helped with the laundry or if we went to Confession, we would put ‘C’ for Confession,” said Duffy.

Ichristmass tree app landingn 2005, Duffy began to teach the children’s liturgy at Our Lady of Grace Church in Aurora, Ont. She shared the Christmas Tree of Kindness project to the children and the family tradition spread in the parish community.

Over the years, parents have told her how much their family loves their Advent project. Within her own family, Duffy said the tree became a helpful tool that allowed her and her husband to have regular conversations with their children about the virtue of charity and generosity. It kept Jesus at the centre of the holiday season, she said.

Now that her two children are teenaged and moved out to university in Indiana, she hopes that more young families can benefit from the Christmas Tree of Kindness.

“In a way, we feel like that this idea was a gift that God gave us and we felt that now is the time to pay it forward,” said Duffy.

Three years ago, she sought out a web company to help her develop the idea for the app.

“I always tell people I feel like this is the third year of the first year,” said Duffy. “Each year, we’ve modified the app and we’ve learned a lot along the way. But this is the first year that we’ve really had a serious launch.”

During the early stages of the app, Duffy said the development team paid special attention to how users were navigating through the app. She wanted to read every review and tweak the functions accordingly.

Duffy said the best feedback they get is from teachers.

“A lot of the teachers really loved it and they said they’re going to use it on their iPads and use their SmartBoards to make classroom trees,” said Duffy. “And they could print them and decorate their classroom, or bring them home.”

The Christmas Tree of Kindness app (ChristmasTreeofKindness.com) can be downloaded for free on the Apple App Store or Google Play.

A pro version is also available with an exclusive feature that allows long-distance family members to collaborate on the same virtual tree.

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