The holiday season can be such a special time for many families, but it can also be tricky, and even isolating, for others. So many things come into play this time of year– your religious affiliation (or lack thereof), your childhood experiences, finances, whether you have lost loved ones, and so many more factors.
So in addition to celebrating the joys of the holiday season with my family, I also teach my kids that it is a time to help, include, and serve others. I remind them, in an age-appropriate way, that not everyone has everything they need or has the love of friends and family. Some people are lonely. Some people might not have enough money for a Christmas tree or a big family dinner. I also want them to understand that not everyone celebrates Christmas and that however families choose to celebrate is a beautiful thing.
As a family, we think of ways to help and bring some cheer to those who might need it. We incorporate some of those activities into our advent calendar so that we don’t forget as the holidays get busy. This way, we can stress the importance of being mindful of those that need a little help or that might celebrate things differently. Here are 11 ways to keep service and inclusivity at the forefront of our holiday celebrations:
1. Add books to your shelf that focus on non-Christmas holidays
Our Christmas classics are in heavy rotation, but we also read books about other celebrations like Hanukkah, Kwanza, Diwali, and the winter solstice. This list is a great place to start if you are looking for books to add to your home that are less centered on Santa or the religious aspects of Christmas and are more about inclusivity, the spirit of giving, and how other cultures celebrate Christmas as well as other winter holiday celebrations.
2. Share the season with neighbors
Check-in on an elderly neighbor by delivering your holiday cards or some treats you baked as a family. We can never predict how others are feeling this time of year, and your simple presence (even at a six-foot distance) or offer of Christmas cookies could make all the difference to someone—plus, you might get a new friend out of it.
3. Participate in a family toy drive
Each year, when my kids write their letters to Santa with a few gifts they’d like to receive, we also think about toys that we already have that we could donate to kids in need. You can follow a one-in, one-out method if necessary to get your kids on board.
We also help our children buy a toy to donate to a local toy drive. Try to take your child with you when you donate the toy so they can be present for that feeling that giving brings.
4. Donate winter coats
When you check to see if your kids’ coats fits for the winter, donate any that are too small to a local winter coat drive, or start your own! If no one needs a new coat this year, consider buying a new one for the coat drive. And don’t forget warm hats, gloves, and shoes that are always in need.
5. Swap winter-birthday gifts for donations
If your child has a winter birthday (and therefore is already getting more than he or she needs this time of year), forgo asking for birthday gifts and ask for non-perishable food or a new toy to donate. It’s a great way to help others while teaching your kids a wonderful lesson, not to mention the teaching opportunity it provides to your guests as well.
6. Demonstrate immediate kindness
It can be easy (and sometimes prudent) to turn away charity or chronic homelessness with any range of excuses, but in a season where the economic difference is so stark, generosity and trust go a long way: donate that dollar to the charity collector at the grocery store or give a McDonald’s gift card to people experiencing homelessness who is asking for food, and then explain to them where their donation will go and why it matters.
7. Buy a Christmas tree for a family in need
There are many local services and organizations that have a list of local families that could use a little help. Your child’s school might also be able to guide you to just the family that could use some extra Christmas spirit.
8. Send cards to a local nursing home
Many residents don’t have family who visits regularly—or can’t visit regularly this year. So this time of year can feel especially lonely. Sending a handmade gift or card can bring joy to the people who made the community you’re living in what it is today!
9. Send a holiday card to a service member
The freedom to celebrate any holiday you choose is being protected by those who cannot be with their families during this season. A card of thanks and celebration or a care package are easy ways to teach appreciation and spread holiday cheer. You can find more information on how to do this here.
10. Write a “thank you” to the unsung heroes of your life
There are few careers that when they’re doing their absolute best, we don’t notice at all. They truly make our lives function so smoothly! Write thank you cards to service workers like your mail carrier, sanitation workers, bus driver, teachers, local police officers, and firefighters.
11. Demonstrate random acts of kindness
Let your kids brainstorm ways to show kindness in little ways every day, like paying for the Starbucks order behind you, planning a special gift for your child’s teacher, or even encouraging your children to let their sibling choose the car music.
This is by no means an exhaustive list. There are so many things you can do with your kiddos to teach service and inclusivity, not only during the holidays but all year long. Only you know what works best for your family and what activities are age-appropriate (and safe) for your children. But if we all took some time during the holidays to think of others and to teach our children to do the same, I think the world would be a nicer place for everyone.
This story was originally published on December 4, 2019, and has been updated for timeliness.