Each year, we are teased earlier and earlier of the impending holiday season. Then suddenly, time flies, and, as if by magic, we find ourselves right in the middle of the hustle and bustle of it all. Creating a signature family tradition of giving is not only fun, but it can be calming and deeply fulfilling.
To begin, you can choose a theme for your giving tradition. My theme this year, for example, is “prizes in different sizes.” Having a theme helps to ignite imagination. Carve out some family time to brainstorm ideas, or adopt one or more of the ideas below, and find a way to make it your own. By this time next year, you will be a pro.
Write a Reverse Christmas List. Everyone knows that it’s the season for list making, and for children, those lists usually include the gifts they wish to receive. This is fun, but try encouraging your kids to make a “reverse Christmas list” after they’ve penned a list of things they’d like to ask for. A reverse Christmas list will consist of a list of things they’d like to GIVE to others this holiday, whether the recipients are family, friends, or gifts for those less fortunate than them. If you have a theme to your giving tradition, creating the reverse list can be a lot of fun.
This is also an opportunity for families to reflect on things that were on previous Christmas lists. Are those things still being used? Have they been outgrown? Were they played with a time or two before being forgotten? Make a list of those items. Ferret them out, and then pack them with care. Add a secret note about a special memory you may have had with that toy, gadget or once favorite wearable. Stow away the note with the item. These simple steps will help your family connect to giving on a deeper level because it conjures up a living, breathing recipient.
The Yard Un-Sale. Begin by choosing a date for your “un-sale.” You might want to recruit your neighbors or friends to participate. Collect several empty boxes, and mark each box with the name of a room in your home that you wish to de-clutter. Don’t forget to include the garage, attic or basement. Go through each room and pack anything you no longer wish to keep. Make sure that the item is in “givable” condition. On the day of your Yard “un-sale,” organize the items by category. If you live in an area frequented by people walking their dog, add a water station to encourage dog walkers to stop by. Enjoy the day meeting people. Watch as your customers smile when they realize that everything at your yard “un-sale” is FREE!
Invent a Family Giving Advent. Populate twelve of your advent calendar slots as usual with simple treats or small gifts. Populate the other twelve with notes describing a single act of giving. For example: “Give 5 heartfelt compliments today.” Or “Give your turn to someone else today.” Or attach a $5 or $10 bill to a note asking that it be used to treat someone else. Once you have filled all twelve slots, tear an ordinary sheet of paper into twenty-four squares and mark them from 1-24. Fold and place the numbered paper into a bowl. Take turns with your family selecting numbers until you have gone through all of the folded paper. The numbers on the papers you draw correspond to dates on the Giving Advent calendar. Now, your family can experience getting and giving! If you choose a theme, you can decorate your advent calendar in that theme, or make the items in each slot adhere to your theme.
Adopt a volunteer. Millions of people volunteer for various organizations all year. During the holiday season, many of those volunteers are a bit more visible. You may see them outside stores ringing bells. Others will spend time delivering food to the elderly. Some will devote extended hours in hospitals, and others will be caring in animal shelters. This year, why not adopt a volunteer? In nearly every hospital, a group of volunteers provide support services or directional help. Create a holiday box filled with treats, magazines and other goodies to thank them for their time. Pop in on the local animal shelter with treats for volunteers as well as the animals in their care. Offer a hot beverage to volunteers working outside in the cold. Your kindness is sure to be appreciated by people accustomed to giving!
Random Acts of Kindness. This can be practiced any time of the year, but the holidays are a perfect time to get started. Encourage your children to look for opportunities to give back randomly and anonymously, and model these acts for them. It could be a simple gesture such as buying a coffee or a fast food meal for the person in line behind you. Often, people who witness this type of giving follow suit.
The holidays are filled with so many gifts. The gift of giving is one gift to truly cherish. It is the only gift that gives back a hundred fold; it is always the right fit. This year, make lasting memories with your family while paying it forward and watch as the real magic of the season unfolds before you.
By Simone Mets, author of Very Christmas
Simone Mets has spent her life connecting with others, whether locally or abroad, and always has her eyes peeled for opportunities to give back. Her ingenuity has served her well in her professional life as an attorney and event planner, and shines throughout her first book, Very Christmas. She is a passionate volunteer, a mentor, and an active member of SCBWI. Mets lives in Princeton, New Jersey with her husband and two shorthaired ginger tabbies.