The spirit of Christmas is all about the spirit of giving; a gift from the heart lasts a lifetime. How do we find the spirit of Christmas as we rush to and from work, pageants and shopping? The day after Thanksgiving, Black Friday, marks the beginning of the Christmas shopping season, and Sunday opens the official Christmas season. Yet with all the beauty that comes with the Christmas season, the headlines capture acts of violence as crazed shoppers compete to buy gifts for their loved ones. Christmas often turns into a season of getting, competition and financial stress rather than of giving. In todays age, how do we teach our children to be caring, compassionate and giving at this time of year and throughout the New Year?
Volunteering as a family helps families build a loving and caring foundation that will teach children to give back and build awareness of other cultures, life circumstances and the lives of other people. Volunteering teaches important values such as compassion, understanding, sharing, giving, empathy and community responsibility. Above all, time spent together as a family while volunteering will build family relationships and often will instill an appreciation of ones own life circumstances.
Good intentions often fall by the wayside due to busy schedules, prior commitments, and resistance, or due to unfamiliarity with opportunities available for volunteering. Before checking off your shopping list, wrapping presents or scheduling a Christmas party, set aside a few hours for a family volunteer project. There are opportunities to volunteer for all ages of children. Planning your community service allows time to address questions and concerns that you or your children may have regarding the service. Researching opportunities in the community will give the children a choice in the event and enhance involvement, pride and ownership in the charitable activity.
The following volunteer ideas will help connect your family with the community and provide an opportunity for your children to give rather than get this holiday season:
Sponsor a family; adopt a local family for gift giving. (The Pinon Project, 564-1195)
Make homemade cards or ornaments and deliver them to a nursing home or hospital.
Christmas carol, or just sit and talk with patients at a hospital or nursing home.
Make blankets. (Project Linus has a no-sew blanket pattern.)
Create a giving box. (Many churches have a needs list and can distribute the boxes.)
Join a toy drive. (Toys for Tots)
Collect food and necessities for those in need. (Collect food and donations instead of presents at parties.)
Bake goods or make gifts for a friend, neighbor or co-worker that is undergoing a hard time during this Christmas season. Deliver the goods and spend some time talking with them.
Make a shoe box filled with things for a child that is your childs age. (Operation Shoe Box, The Giving Tree or The Angel Tree, local churches or a shelter may be able to distribute these.)
Put up a tree or a clothesline and encourage children to hang socks, mittens and hats on it that are to be given away.
Cook food for those living in a homeless shelter (bridgeshelter.org, 565-9808)
The Bridge Shelter (bridge shelter.org, 565-9808) has several, various opportunities for families to volunteer throughout the year.
Participate in races, walks and bicycle events where the entry fee or a pledge of so much per mile goes to help a specific cause.
For animal lovers, volunteer at a pet shelter.
Create a calendar and mark one day of each month that you will devote time to the needs of others.
Traditions are wonderful ways to bring a family together for years. A tradition of volunteering and giving to others in heartfelt ways is a tradition that promotes the joy of Christmas, binds families and develops worthy values in children. This Christmas, be a positive, holiday role model for your children. Take time away from the rush and stress that accompanies the season and get involved in volunteering and enjoy this time for family and for giving.
Patricia Nelson is the School Readiness Coordinator and Quality Improvement Specialist with Montelores Early Childhood Council. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.