By Jenny Friedman, Ph.D., coauthor of Doing Good Together
During the holidays, amid so many messages of wanting and getting, it doesn’t hurt to put some focus on giving back. A popular solution is a party centered around a lively service project, with the crafts you make donated to a good cause. It’s a great way to spend time with family and friends, create traditions that instill the values of compassion and empathy in your children, and celebrate being grateful for what we have. Plus, doing something for the greater good makes your guests feel good, too. Whether you involve immediate family or host a larger group, these ideas can add more meaning to your holiday gatherings.
- Decorate holiday cards. Purchase blank cards and envelopes, then get creative with decorating materials. Along with stickers and stamps, supply ribbon, fabric, patterned paper, old comic books, buttons, feathers, or washi tape. Contact a local hospital, nursing home, or other institution to find a group eager to receive your cards. Or visit sendkidstheworld.com to connect with children who have serious illnesses or injuries and are eager for cheery mail. For this route, make “mini-posters” with a photo of the featured child and a note about age, illness, and interests. That way, your guests can personalize their cards.
- Get cozy while making no-sew fleece blankets. This simple project is especially satisfying in the cold winter months. It can also spark nice conversations with children about what we can do to help others stay warm, such as donating an old coat or helping to defray people’s heating costs. Involve the kids in choosing fun fleece patterns or, to cut down on costs, have guests bring their own fleece. Also consider making fleece hats and scarves or tie-dyed socks to donate to a local shelter or crisis nursery.
- You might be preparing for an epic holiday feast, but others aren’t so lucky. Be mindful of hunger by making sandwiches for a local homeless shelter or making portioned bags of beans or rice for a food shelf. Or have each family at the party decorate a grocery box or basket to keep in their kitchen to collect food for those in need. Imagine the impact if each guest “adopts” their local food shelf and helps keep it stocked year-round. (While you’re at it, ask family members to bring a favorite recipe to start a family cookbook!)
Most important, pick activities that excite your children. You can find more ideas at Doing Good Together and in our book Doing Good Together. However you decide to incorporate service into your holiday gatherings, keep these tips in mind:
- Before you start, contact the receiving nonprofit for any requirements or instructions. For example, if you decide to make no-sew fleece blankets, ask the shelter what size they can use. Also determine a good drop-off time. Through such interactions you will get to know the organization, become educated about its mission, and learn about opportunities for future involvement.
- Any charitable activity is more meaningful when we reflect on it. Although reflection can be challenging in a party setting, encourage conversation about the value of helping others and the critical social issues your project is addressing. Especially if there are children present, discuss what it might feel like not to have presents, family, and feasts over the holidays. Point out that everyone needs help sometimes, and that part of being a responsible citizen is lending a hand. Take turns remembering those occasions when you have been grateful for the assistance of others.
Fortified by your success, you’ll be eager to brainstorm new ways to weave service into your holiday traditions next year—and ideas for how you might continue giving throughout the year.
Have you hosted or attended a service-themed holiday party? Please share your experience. How else do you give back during the holidays?
Jenny Friedman, Ph.D., is founder and executive director of Doing Good Together and coauthor of the book Doing Good Together. She is a leading national expert on family volunteerism. She works with schools, businesses, youth-serving organizations, and congregations in addition to families and groups of families. A sought-after speaker, Jenny has volunteered with her family of three children for more than twenty years. She lives in Minneapolis, Minnesota.
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Additional Suggested Resources
Blank cards and envelopes are available at most papercraft shops, as well as Target stores.
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