Friday, November 16, 2012

10 Weeks to an Organized Christmas: Cultivating Grateful Hearts through Serving Others

At a time of year when we are so easily drawn into the "stuff" of Christmas- shopping, getting & receiving gifts, crafts, and fun, it is very easy to forget to be grateful, thankful, and appreciative of all the things we have.  We celebrate Thanksgiving with grateful hearts, and follow up that family and friend filled day with a mad rush through the stores, trampling over other people in order to get "stuff" at a great price.  We rush to be the first in line, and make sure to keep our carts close to the person in front of us to keep "cutters" out (side note: I once got punched in the face in 2nd grade for telling a cutter "no cuts, no buts, no coconuts").  It's a very "me" centered day.  Transitioning into Christmas, we can allow ourselves to be so overly-consumed with everything, that we neglect the most important things of the holiday.

So, my question/challenge for the day is to think: How can I teach my children to live with grateful and appreciative hearts?  How do we transfer the love of Jesus for others into the lives of our children (and don't forget ourselves!)?

Volunteering during the holiday season (and anytime, really) is a great place to start.  Now, before you run off thinking that there is no way you can make that happen with your houseful of children, let me encourage you through addressing some common concerns.

My child's not old enough

When you have small kids, involving them in some sort of volunteering or helping can seem scary.  Will they be able to do anything?  Will they understand?  Will the experience teach them anything?  The holidays are a great time to volunteer because kids really seem to grasp that the holidays are "different" and "special".  We eat special food, we don't go to school, we spend time with our families, etc.  This gives a great framework to helping our kids understand why it's so important to help out needy families.  Even a 2 year old understands that Christmas is a special day (even if they only know that it's because they get presents).   A 5 year old understands that on Thanksgiving we make a big meal, complete with a turkey.  Small children love helping, and they really do want other kids to have good things, too.  They can easily help pick out food at the grocery store, sort food into boxes, choose and wrap a gift, or even help bake a dessert.  They are very capable.

Comprehension will come through conversation.  Take time to explain why we are buying food for someone else, or why a child would love to have a gift from them.  Answer their questions.  They usually have a lot!  And remember, it's okay if they don't fully understand what is going on.  You are laying a framework for them of giving and taking care of others.  They will understand eventually, and they will learn to be grateful for the things they have.

We don't have enough money

While it seems natural that in order to do something "volunteer-ish" during Christmas that you would need to spend money (buy food, buy gifts, etc.), this is certainly not a rule.  Today I took my kiddos to a local elementary school to help pack Thanksgiving boxes for needy families within the school.  This cost me nothing but my time.  The supplies and food were already there.  We just showed up, packed a box, aided in directing students who were lost or confused, and that was it!  I have been looking forward to this for the last week, as I was so excited to spend that time with my girls, teaching them to be servants and to help others.  We had conversations about the "whys" throughout the day, both before and after helping.  They understood that they were packing a box with food for a family that would otherwise not have a Thanksgiving meal.  They were pleased to be able to help.  It cost us nothing monetarily.

Maybe there is a group or organization with which you can join forces.  You do not have to do it on your own, and you do not have to have money to get involved and teach your children about loving and caring for other people.  Today provided a lot of great conversations with my kids, which is exactly what I was hoping for.

I don't know what to do

If you've never volunteered with your kids before, it could be overwhelming to try to think about how to get involved.  Here are some ideas to get you started:

  1. Participate in an Angel Tree event.  Many schools and churches host these.  You grab and "angel" and purchase Christmas gifts or food for that family (they will usually tell you what they need/want, which is helpful).  You can also volunteer to help be a "sorter" for the received gifts and food.
  2. Adopt a family.  If you do have funds, adopting a family may be a great option.  You can find a family by calling local churches, schools, or even Social Services may be able to direct you to some families in need of help.  When you adopt a family, you would typically provide a Christmas meal and gifts for the members of the family.
  3. Serve at a local school during an outreach.  Just like I did today with the Thanksgiving baskets, many schools would welcome help packing Christmas meals and sorting the received Angel Tree gifts.
  4. Serve at a soup kitchen.  This one would be more appropriate for older children.  The environment may not be as conducive to safety for younger children (and individual places may have age rules).  
  5. Sing songs and/or bring cards to the elderly at a nursing home.  You will need to check with the individual place to ensure that you and your children would be welcome to come and bring cards or sing.  This would be fun to do alone with your kids, or with another family or two.  
These are just a few ideas.  If you have any others, please leave them in the comments below!

Volunteering does not have to involve a babysitter for our kids.  Our kids can, and should, be involved in serving and loving others.  We will be cultivating a giving spirit in our children, all while growing the gratefulness in their hearts!

I hope you feel encouraged to add volunteering or serving to your list of Christmas goals this year!


  1. I love this post, Jessica. Thanks for breaking down myths about volunteering and showing how everyone can be involved in helping one another this holiday season.

    Also, I'm so excited to hear you had the opportunity to pack meals at a local school and bring your girls! Such a great opportunity and what an open door to potentially help with whatever the school and its students may need in the future!

  2. I love this! This year we are starting a home made Advent calender with a differen't craft, book or activity corresponding with scripture that tells the story of Christ's birth. We've also decided to make cookies and pass them out to the homeless in our area. We used to do it for the homeless shelters but the area we live in now doesn't have one. Its just our way of giving a heartfelt gift that most people take for granted but is none the less a special treat. We have always done the Angel trees but this year we did the Shoe boxes for Operation Christmas where they send gifts to children in all parts of the world. We love these traditions! My son loves it too and really enjoys choosing something special for children who otherwise would never receive it.



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