Holiday traditions are important in every family -- regardless of your religion. Traditions give you the opportunity to make meaningful and cherished lifelong memories. So why not create a family tradition that not only makes you smile, but one that makes you proud? One that invokes change and instills a precious lesson that your child can pass on to their children -- and possibly make the world a better place?
For the past six years, my family has collected blankets to give to sick or displaced children during the cold months. We also organize a charitable flag football game as a way to coordinate a collection of blankets and food to feed local families during the holidays. But you don’t have to do a big event -- your family giving tradition can be as simple or elaborate as you make it.
There are many different ways that you and your family can give back this holiday season. Don't know where to start?
Here are seven ideas:
1. Play Secret Santa
We love stories like the one we heard recently about actor Tyler Perry paying off $430,000 in layaways. You don't have to spend that much though -- and you don't have to reveal your identity. You could follow Perry's lead with the layaways, or call your local school district and offer to pay off lunch debts, your local library to pay off fines, or a restaurant to buy everyone lunch one afternoon. Your kids will get a thrill out of playing "Secret Santa!"
2. Volunteer together
Homeless shelters and food kitchens always need volunteers to help serve meals and the experience can be eye-opening for kids who don't understand the kind of need in your community. Want to find one in your area? This Homeless Shelter Directory is a good place to start. If you really want to get into the spirit, team up with friends to plan, prepare, and serve your own meal to a group in need!
3. Clean out your child’s toy box
Finding gently-used toys for your kids to donate is a great way to talk about families who don't have as much as you do, or are in crisis, while also cleaning out old toys before the holidays. Women's shelters, homeless shelters, and other organizations are usually thrilled to get donations of toys. (Find other ways to get your kids to participate in a pre-holiday toy clean out!)
4. Drive the good
As a family, organize a coat, clothing, blanket, or socks drive. Team up with a local organization to find out what their greatest needs are and base your drive around their requests. You'll likely be surprised how excited your kids get about collecting items to help others -- and how willing people are to help!
5. Help Santa
Find a child or family to help through programs like the Salvation Army's Angel Tree. Find out as much as you can about the family's children and their interests and then take your kids shopping to help make another family's holiday brighter.
6. Go caroling at a local senior citizen home
They'll love to see your family! Bring a group of friends to make it even more fun! Call ahead to find out when guests are welcomed and if they have any special needs or residents who could use a visit. Find a local senior center near you.
7. Bake extra cookies
Making holiday cookies? Have your kids help you make an extra batch to take to an elderly neighbor, give to your mail carrier, or deliver to your favorite nonprofit. It's a delicious way of saying your family cares and appreciates them.
What's the right project for your family? Plan a family meeting to talk about a family giving tradition that everyone is passionate and excited about. It might require a little research and maybe some elbow grease, but the warm fuzzy feeling you’ll get in the end, and the memories you will make as a family, will make it all worthwhile.
Kristen Wright-Matthews is the publisher of College Park-East Point-Morrow, Ga.