The holiday season is upon us again and as we look for ways to give our love to each other, I wanted to explore ways families can give back to their communities. Now that Doug is 3 he certainly understands the receiving end of presents, he has even begun drawing a Christmas list for Santa. However, I want him to understand the giving end of gifts too. It is important to me that Doug knows the holidays are about spending time with our loved ones and showing gratitude for all we have, more then focusing on Santa and the presents he will bring. (No easy feat for a 3 year old.) So here are a few ideas for families with kids of any age to think about incorporating into this holiday season in an effort to shift the focus away from Santa’s goodies.
Every year I have Doug make salt dough ornaments and simple cards as his gift to our family members. Take time out as a family to make cards or crafts for others. This is a lot of fun for the kids and puts the gift giving completely under their control. Beyond making gifts for family and friends there are lots of programs that collect cards and well wishes from children too!
Holiday for Heroes sends cards to our Troops and Veterans. Please note this is organized through your local Red Cross chapter.
Cards for Hospitalized Kids sends cards to children going through some pretty tough ordeals. Check with hospitals near you for similar programs too. Who wouldn’t want to bring a smile to their faces?
Look for local opportunities:
If you have bell ringers for the Salvation Army in your area, talk to your kids about donating some of their piggy bank change to them. Do not force them or guilt them into this kind of action. Gently explain what the bell ringers are collecting for and simply ask them if they would like to donate some of their change to the cause. You can find out more information about the Red Kettle Campaign here: Salvationarmyusa.org
The Red Kettle Christmas Campaign enables The Salvation Army to provide food, toys and clothing to over 6 million people during the Christmas season and helps more than 34 million Americans recovering from all kinds of personal disasters nationwide. –RingBells.org
Become a Santa’s helper. My family has chosen to give back this year as a Santa’s Helper through Foster Kids of the Merrimack Valley. Many foster kids have never had a proper Christmas through no fault of their own. Through the Santa’s helper program we will be buying the presents for one child in foster care. This program is a wonderful way to include the whole family! From picking out presents together to participating in the wrapping event. It is also a wonderful opportunity to begin the conversation with your kids about all different types of families in a tangible way. Look for similar programs in your area!
Look for simple events to participate in! Almost every outreach organization will be hosting a fundraiser at Christmas. One of our favorites family tradition is participating in the MSPCA’s Feast for Horses. We can purchase an ornament with our pet’s picture for their Christmas tree and bring apples and carrots for the homeless horses stockings.
Don’t forget about your local schools too! Our town’s high school sells Christmas trees, wreaths, and other holiday decorations. Other schools nearby put on festive plays, and even elaborate Polar Express events. Look for holiday activities near you to help support your local schools. Talk to your kids about what you are supporting and even ask them if they would like to get involved. These are win-win opportunities in my book!
Start a new family tradition:
I love the idea of a reverse advent calendar. They can be implemented in many ways, but the basic idea is to put an item each day into a box or basket to be donated to a nearby shelter on Christmas Eve. This can include non perishable food items, personal care items, gift cards, a small toy, and warm clothing.
Another advent calendar idea mixes giving & receiving by allotting a small gift or chocolate to the weekends and during the weekdays assigning random acts of kindness to be done that day. You can find a good list of kind acts over at Childhood101.com. The acts of kindness can range from drawing pictures to brighten someone’s day to volunteering some time wherever you can.
Finally, establish a Christmas Jar or Giving Jar to collect change all year long to be donated to a charity of your choice. This is a simple but wonderful way to instill the value of charity throughout the year and not just at the holidays.
Almost all of these ideas can be mixed and matched together! Children are so full of empathy and giving back can really make their hearts full. What are some of the ways you include giving back within your family?