The holidays are fast approaching and I am getting excited. I am one of those people who loves everything about the holidays and sharing them with family. The whole aura of the Christmas brings me joy. This includes the decorations, giving gifts, feasts, baking cookies, carols, and any other holiday activity that comes to mind. I love it all!
Throughout the chaos, I do my best to keep a focus on what I believe the holidays are really about. As a Christian, I try to keep the religious side of Christmas alive for my family. Part of this is making a more concerted effort than I do other times of the year to give back to others, whether I know them or not. I also try to create plenty of opportunities for my family to participate in holiday service activities.
As my kids grow, I am making an effort to come up with more of a variety of holiday service activities we can participate in as a family. I realize we may not get to everything I want us to do due to our hectic schedules. However, I feel having a list will be helpful. I can share my list of possible holiday service activities with my children and we can decide, as a family, which ones we will participate in. I just need to be sure I pick volunteer opportunities that are developmentally and age-appropriate.
The following list contains holiday service ideas that I have compiled thus far:
1. Complete a reverse Advent calendar.
This is a really neat idea I saw while scrolling through social media one day. Basically, instead of eating chocolates or treats out of a pre-made advent calendar, your family chooses a non-perishable food item to donate each day of Advent. All items go into a basket, which you can deliver to a food pantry once it is full. We usually do participate in one food drive or another during the holidays, but I think doing it this way may be more meaningful. I can let my children take turns picking something out of the pantry or asking me to purchase at the store to add to the basket. It seems like it gives all family members an opportunity to be more involved in the donation, and also more thoughtful about it. I will no longer be the only person digging through the pantry to add food items and my children will be doing more than just helping me deliver the bags.
2. Volunteer at the food pantry/soup kitchen.
This is a great opportunity to get families involved in serving others.
3. Visit a nursing home.
A friend recently told me that in the past, she’s simply called a nursing home or assisted living facility and asked if there was a resident who doesn’t receive many visitors who might benefit from a visit. Many times the staff is able to accommodate a visit such as this.
During my childhood, I used to go caroling at nursing homes with church groups, the Girl Scouts, and my high school chorus. Whether you are sitting and visiting with an individual, or walking through the halls singing Christmas carols, experience has taught me that even the smallest smile makes a huge difference for the residents of these homes. I want to revive these types of experiences in my own family in the coming years.
4. Write Christmas cards to ill children.
I have done this with my children the past couple of years. I follow Operation Christmas Child Card Writing Community on Facebook. Sometime in November, the administrator of the group gives out first names and addresses of children who are ill and in the hospital who would love to receive mail. (These addresses are usually P.O. boxes that parents of the children designated for this purpose). I copy some names and addresses down and give my kids some neatly folded cardstock, markers, construction paper, foam shapes, stamps, and other art supplies. They make the cards themselves.
I used to write the messages inside the cards when the kids were done decorating. Last year, my son was skilled enough to write the messages himself with a little help from me with spelling. The one thing you need to remember when you write messages is NOT to include ‘get well soon,’ as many of these children are terminally ill. A simple ‘Happy Holidays!’ or ‘We are thinking of you this holiday!’ will suffice.
Once I purchase envelopes large enough for the cards, I address them and let my daughter put the stamp on and help me deliver it to the mailbox.
This year, I plan to watch that page again, but I have also searched for other ways to write letters to these children. You can find a good list of other organizations that you can use to send holiday cards to sick children here.
5. Provide a hot drink for a crossing guard.
We live close to multiple schools and, therefore, pass multiple crossing guards per day on our daily commute. These people spend 45 minutes to an hour on the street corners in even the coldest weather. I don’t think they receive enough thanks for keeping our kids safe in extreme temperatures. This holiday season, I’ll have the kids help me set out everything to make hot chocolate in the morning. Then, I’ll pack a thermos full of hot chocolate and have the cups they laid out before I leave for school pick up at least one day. I’ll try to deliver the hot drink(s) a few minutes before school gets out so that finding a safe place to pull my car over may not be so tricky, and so as not to interrupt the crossing guards’ duties when they start needing to focus on children and traffic. If I can figure out the logistics of delivering some hot chocolate before school, we may also try that.
6. Adopt a child or a family to sponsor or buy gifts for.
Locally, I am aware that churches and radio stations often offer these programs. Sometimes, you can take a tag off of a giving tree with a child’s name on it and something they would like for Christmas. Other times, you might hear a radio station give the age and gender of a child and a list of things they need or want for Christmas and you can call in and volunteer to buy gifts for them. Once gifts are bought, you drop them off to the organizer and they deliver the items to the child or family.
I want my kids to understand that we are fortunate to have the warm clothes and toys we do. I hope they feel good that they will be helping another child or family to be warm and/or have something new of their own.
7. Donate items or money to nonprofits for care packages for US troops and/or their families.
This is high on my list to complete. I appreciate the sacrifices our military members and their families make and I want to do something to demonstrate that appreciation. I also feel this will be a good opportunity to explain to my children what sacrifices some individuals make to serve their country.
After researching how to go about doing this, I have come to the conclusion that it is best to go through an organization. There are many rules about what can and cannot be sent to troops overseas. Using an organization that ships the goods themselves out to troops saves you trying to find the address of a soldier or military family to send to and the headache of figuring out what items are acceptable and which are not. It also saves you the overseas postage. (If you are collecting actual items, you often mail them to the organization’s headquarters in the U.S.).
I found this list that contains organizations that send care packages to troops that are also recommended by the U.S. Department of Defense.
Other organizations that appear to be popular include:
8. Bake cookies for the neighbors
In our former neighborhood, I did this. However, it was very difficult to find a time my neighbors were home to deliver all of the cookie tins or trays, and it became stressful. Since then, we moved to a different neighborhood. I don’t know all of my neighbors well and I fear I would have the same problem of not being able to connect with them for cookie delivery,
Last year, I tried something new. Each home on our street does not have a mailbox. Instead, we have two mailbox stations. One for the top of the street, and one for the bottom part. Each station has six or seven locked boxes, similar to the P.O. boxes in the actual post office. We each have a key to our own. I decided to tape two cardboard boxes shut. Then I waterproofed them with packing tape, and created a small flap on the side of each box that people could stick their arm in to take out a small bag of cookies. I printed a little sign with snowmen and candy cane clip art that was placed under the waterproof packing tape layers that said:
Before we start a brand new year, here is a bit of holiday cheer
(I also added that it was from our family and that my cookies were not allergen free in smaller font).
I printed smaller versions of this sign on to tape to the individual cookie bags. After baking and placing a small assortment of cookies in each of 11 labeled bags, I put the appropriate number of bags in each waterproof box.
For the next three mornings, on my way out of the house, I left one box of cookies at each mailbox station. My neighbors could take a bag if they wished, when they picked up their mail. At about 7pm, I brought them in for the night, as not to attract animals or entirely freeze the cookies.
This worked beautifully. Neighbors who wanted cookies took them, and there was no pressure for my neighbors to accept them if they didn’t want to or could not due to allergy. I eliminated the complications of differing schedules, knocking on doors, and any awkward conversation with those I did not know well. Yet I was still able to spread some kindness and holiday cheer. It was well received by my neighborhood.
I want to see my children more involved in this process as I believe I’m going to make it a yearly tradition.
9. Donate pet food or, if your children are old enough, volunteer at a branch of the Humane Society or another animal shelter.
While my family is in no position to adopt a dog or cat, I think donating pet food is a great way to show kids to respect not only people but our furry friends too. Note that animal shelters may have a designated age you have to be before you are allowed to volunteer for safety and liability reasons. So, if you plan to do this as a family, call ahead to make sure your children make the cut.
10. Buy a grocery store gift card and surprise a stranger with it.
I am thinking of possibly either walking through the store and finding someone we think may need the smile to give it to, or delivering it to a social worker/guidance counselor at a local school who may pass it along to a family they know is in need.
I cannot wait to work on some of these ideas and to add to my list as my children grow. It is my hope that participating in these acts of service will result in lifelong holiday traditions that they will take with them and use with their own families as adults.
Do you participate in any special holiday service activities as a family? What other holiday service activities can you think of?