Want your kids to focus less on “stuff” and more on people? Try these six ways to serve others at Christmas with them!
“Did they have a home?” my three-year-old asked as I finished telling him the Christmas story.
“Yes, they had a home,” I said, skipping the whole “escaping into Egypt” bit. While his question surprised me, it wasn’t out of nowhere. We’ve been talking about how not everyone has the same privileges we do, including homes.
These discussions are important all year round, but I find them especially important at the holidays. It’s easy for kids to get wrapped up in the Christmas’s surface-level magic, from twinkling lights to presents. Instead, as both a Christian and someone who’s concerned with our society’s inequality, I want to teach my kids how to serve others during Christmas.
Here are some ways to turn away from consumerism and towards serving others at Christmas:
Have kids pick out gifts for others
With my three-year-old, nicknamed Sprout, coming up with his own Christmas list for the first time, it was good timing to involve him in buying gifts for other people. We can use it to reinforce the real reason for giving gifts – to show our love for each other.
Involving kids in the process also helps them consider other people have needs and wants different from their own. We recently bought a birthday gift for a friend’s son who is turning five. When we asked Sprout what we should get, he recommended the same tractor that we bought for a one-year-old’s birthday party a few weeks earlier. After explaining that he would be too old, we helped him think about more age-appropriate gifts.
Talk frankly about economic inequality
Giving to charity is a great starting point for conversations about economic inequality. As a kid, my mom taught me how lucky I was to have a good home, loving parents, plenty of toys/books, and wonderful experiences. She wasn’t trying to pull a guilt trip; she was making me aware of my privilege. I’m so glad she did.
In addition to gifts for people we know, Sprout picked out a donation to Toys for Tots. Before buying the present, we explained that some kids’ parents don’t have enough money to buy their kids gifts. By donating a toy, we could help those kids get presents.
Participating in an Angel Tree, which allows children of prisoners to ask for presents, is also a great opportunity. While explaining the idea of a parent in prison may be too much for a small child, it could be a way into a conversation about the criminal justice system for an older one.
Include service in your holiday traditions
When I was a kid, my mom organized an Advent calendar with a different activity each day. While most of them were focused on our family, “Donate to Toys for Tots” was always on there. Having it there not only forced us to find time to do it, but imprinted it on my childhood Christmas memories. That’s why I pass it on to Sprout now.
Other ideas can include serving at a food bank, collecting diapers for a diaper bank, or singing Christmas carols for residents at a local assisted living facility.
You can even use a whole advent calendar devoted to acts of kindness!
Make something unique for the local homeless program
Our local homeless outreach program provided our church with a handy list of activities kids can do to help. They include everything from baking cookies to drawing colorful holiday placemats. While your local program may not have the exact same needs, find out if they have any suggestions for kids in particular.
Get your kids’ organizations involved
Getting a church youth group, Scout group, or class to collect goods for a local charity multiples your impact. Our church is running a collection for a different charity each month. For December, we’re collecting socks, hats, scarves and gloves for the homeless program.
Focusing on non-food products is often the best way for the organization to get the most for your money. Food banks and soup kitchens can often get food cheaply, but non-food goods are difficult to get discounts on. (If you are going to run one, check out the best ways to donate to a food drive.)
In particular, diaper banks are essential to helping needy families with young children. Mothers can’t use food stamps on diapers and may have to choose between diapers and other essentials. Daycares also require parents provide their own diapers. Without daycare, parents can’t work, reinforcing the cycle of poverty.
Make something for the animals
Not everyone we serve has to be human. Pinterest has loads of ideas for making edible holiday crafts for our feathered and furry friends. You can set the stage by reading books where Santa (or the animal equivalent) brings animals presents, like Merry Christmas, Ollie! and The Animals’ Santa.
As Sprout grows up, I hope he realizes that we too have a role to play in the Christmas story. By finding ways to serve others at Christmas, we can show the love of the season to everyone.
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