12 creative ways your family can serve others this holiday

Fun little acts of Christmas kindness that are so simple your kids can help.

Dejan Ristovski | Stocksy United

The holiday season offers the perfect opportunity to get out of our comfort zones and serve others. And if you have children, there’s no better way to teach them how to love others as God loves us.

Here are a dozen ideas about how you and your family can serve:

1. Bake cookies for heroes

Bake cookies and package them in pretty holiday-themed tins. Then deliver them (on Christmas Day, if possible) to first responders at police stations and fire departments, and to nurses and doctors at local hospitals and nursing homes. These fine folks often don’t get to take the day off for Christmas, and they always appreciate being noticed and honored.

2. Send packages to soldiers

Call your local military support organization (simply google the phrase with your zip code to get started) and ask them what kind of care packages they’re planning to send to those currently enlisted in the military (especially servicemen and women stationed overseas). You can also check in with your local ASYMCA branch, which usually run an annual program or drive to help military families. Then enlist loved ones to help you shop for items to include in the packages. Be sure and include hand-written notes of thanks! The messy cursive of your little ones will make the care package all the more heart-warming.

3. Go caroling for kids

Instead of caroling in a local neighborhood, contact the nearest children’s hospital and set up a time to entertain kids who are away from home during the holidays. Gather a group of friends and family members, dress in your holiday finest, and make a joyful noise together. (A bonus idea: have every caroler bring a new stuffed animal to give to a child after you sing for him/her.)

4. Give manicures to seniors

Call a local retirement center and ask permission to give free manicures to their residents. Bring sanitized nail files and clippers, gentle lotions, and fun nail polish colors. As you bless the seniors with the priceless gifts of time and attention, ask each person questions about their lives. Listen with an open heart and mind to their stories—and you’re sure to be blessed, in return.

5. Host a Christmas tea

Invite friends and yet-to-be-friends to an afternoon tea in your home. Make finger sandwiches and cupcakes, use your best china, and play classical music. Have everyone name at least one blessing the year 2016 has brought them. Before the tea ends, give each woman a favor—perhaps an ornament or devotional book—to take home with them.

6. Adopt a refugee family

Talk to the closest Catholic Charities office about making Christmas special for a newly-resettled refugee family. Depending on the charity’s policies, you may be able to provide gifts, cash, and/or a Christmas meal.

7. Plan a birthday party for Jesus

Invite neighborhood children to a birthday party for Jesus, and share the true meaning of Christmas with the kids who attend.

In MTL magazine, Sharon Jaynes writes, “Begin by creating a fun party invitation, and ask each child to bring an inexpensive gender-neutral gift to exchange. Decorate the room … with streamers, balloons, confetti, and a birthday banner. During the party, play games with a Christmas twist, such as pin the tail on Mary’s donkey. Before cutting the cake, read the Christmas story either from Luke 2 or from a children’s picture book. Explain that Jesus was the first Christmas gift. God gave His Son as a gift to take away our sins … Of course, sing Happy Birthday and blow out the candles…”

8. Surprise your friends

Combine the pleasure of driving around to look at Christmas lights with a fun new tradition. Make mason jars of hot chocolate or cider mix and leave them on your friends’ doorsteps when you pass by their house(s). Include a fun note about how a “secret elf” thought they have been a good enough friend to you this year to warrant a pre-Christmas gift.

9. Purchase an animal

World Vision, Heifer International, Samaritan’s Purse and other relief organizations allow students, employees and families to pool their money and buy animals for people in third world countries. Last year, my son Jackson’s fifth-grade class raised enough money from hosting fundraisers during their school’s lunch period to purchase several small animals—sheep, goats, and chickens—for a needy family. I was so proud of the kids, and grateful for the teachers who shepherded them through that experience.

10. Declutter for a cause

We all have unused CD’s, DVD’s, and books lying around the house. Why not clean out your closets, get paid for doing it—and then donate the money to a favorite charity? I found a super-easy way to do this with Decluttr.com. I downloaded their app on my phone, collected all the items I wanted to get rid of, and scanned the barcodes on the back of each item. The app immediately told me whether or not (and to what amount) Declutter.com would pay me. Then, I printed out a form and shipping label with all the pertinent information. Next, I put the items and form in a box, sealed it, and took it to my local UPS store. I opted to get a check in the mail, but you can also choose to get paid via PayPal after Declutter.com receives your stuff. Easy-peasy!

11. Bake bread for the hurting

Churches often know who in your community is going through a tough time, and could benefit from a home-cooked meal. Bake a loaf of bread and make a pot of soup for someone who’s grieving or ill. Loneliness can feel suffocating to those who’ve lost loved ones or are shut in due to disability. When you bring the meal, you can include a festive tag or small card, perhaps inscribed with a favorite scripture verse (mine is Jesus, The Bread of Life).

12. Make ornaments for neighbors

Make simple ornaments for your neighbors’ Christmas trees. We did this last year, and it was fun—and budget-friendly. It also gave us an excuse to introduce ourselves to the people who live around us.

First, I bought one ornament making kit (which made 24 foam ornaments, each with space for a round photo in them) for $5 at Wal-Mart.

Second, I searched for a free printable on Pinterest. After finding one with 12 different ornament-shaped images in bright colors, I downloaded it, printed two copies, and cut the 24 images out to fit each ornament’s photo space.

Third, Jackson helped me put the ornament frames together. It took just a few minutes, because all the pieces included adhesive (no glue gun needed—yay!). Instead of attaching a photo to the back, we attached the cut-out images.

Fourth, I wrote a quick poem which told our neighbors that they are welcome to visit us any time and inviting them to our church’s Christmas Eve services. I included our names, address, and cell numbers. I then printed the notes out and placed them in lunch-size paper bags.

The poem’s text read:

“We haven’t been too neighborly, it’s true…

So this year, we aim for something new.

Feel free to text, drop by or call

If you need eggs, sugar—anything at all.

This little gift is a fun way to say

Merry Christmas from the house down the way.”

(I know I’m not Emily Dickinson, but it sufficed. Feel free to use it as the template for your own poem!)

Fifth, I placed an ornament in each bag, along with some Christmas candy, and stapled the bags shut.

Finally, I taped a different ornament on one side of the bag as decoration. Later that afternoon, I walked around the neighborhood and left the bags on doorsteps.

The total cost? Under $10, and an hour of time, for 12 neighbor gifts.

The best part of this story: a family from across the street—who were new in town and hadn’t visited any churches yet—came to our Christmas Eve service and called me later to thank us for inviting them.

You just never know what impact an act of kindness will make.

Dena Dyer
Dena Dyer
Dena's work has appeared in dozens of publications, including Reader's Digest, Woman's World, Family Circle, Redbook, Today's Christian Woman, and more. She's also the author or co-author of eight books; her newest release (written with her husband of 21 years) is the humorous devotional book, Love at First Fight: 52 Story-Based Meditations for Married Couples.

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