The holiday season is in full swing. Our family has several cherished traditions we’ve built over the years to mark this time of year. For us, it is a time for sharing and giving, a time for personal reflection, a time to celebrate our relationships with family and friends.
Unfortunately, the messages and meanings of the season can easily be lost amidst the consumer mentality perpetuated by endless television ads and news reports, the store catalogs that seem to self-propagate, and the seemingly never-ending gift wish lists my kids write…beginning as early as October! This year, I decided to introduce a new holiday activity in the hopes of guiding my kids back to why we celebrate at this time of year.
We typically create an Activity Advent Calendar for the month of December. The presentation varies (we’ve done homemade numbered boxes, a numbered paper chain, etc.) but the idea remained the same: like the candy advent calendar, the kids would open something each day and inside would be a holiday-related activity. Bake Christmas cookies. Take a night drive to look at Christmas lights. Check out a new holiday book from the library. Decorate pine cone ornaments.
The kids loved doing these daily activities. And so did I. But, determined to bring the focus back to others this year, I decided to modify our Advent Calendar. Inspired by the Random Acts of Kindness movement, we created a HASA calendar instead (Holiday Acts of Service Advent).
The idea is simple. For the 24 days leading up to Christmas — or the 21 days leading up to Solstice — or the 28 days until Hanukkah ends — or the entire month of December — commit to doing one act of service for someone else. Sit down with your kids and generate a list of simple things you could do each day. Assign one for each day, keeping your daily calendar in mind (classes, activities, etc. that may influence what you are able to do on certain days) Then create an advent calendar.
To be honest, I wasn’t sure how my kids would react. I typed up an entire list of possible service/kindness ideas and gave each kid their own copy. I explained the concept to them. Their response? Unbridled enthusiasm! They wanted to do them ALL! They came up with new ideas of their own. They pored over our monthly calendar and helped figure out which activities would best fit our schedule.
As December 1st approaches, we are busy putting together the physical display of our HASA calendar. I’m looking forward to doing these projects with my kids…for others. And my greatest hope is that they carry this spirit of kindness and giving into the New Year…and throughout 2012.
Possible Acts of Service ideas (gleaned from several online sources…with our own ideas mixed in!)
Bake & deliver hoiday cookies to library employees.
Pay for Santa pictures for someone at mall.
Collect canned goods for food shelf.
Pass out candy and spread cheer to folks mailing off their Christmas cards at the post office.
Leave small Christmas treats/gifts in shopping carts for folks to find.
Collect old towels and washcloths and drop off at local animal shelter.
Make holiday cards and tuck them under the windshields wipers of cars at the store/library/school.
Buy coffee for stranger at a coffee shop.
String popcorn and cranberries — and put them outside for the birds
Tape change (and a note!) to a vending machine.
Pay for the order of the car behind you in the drive-through.
Leave present or card in mailbox for your mail carrier.
Drop off books and magazines to a hospital, nursing home or doctors office.
Give a compliment to the manager of someone who helps you today.
Check in on someone you know is alone.
Send someone a small gift anonymously.
Hold the door open for someone today.
Make eye contact and smile at everyone you see today.
Run an errand for someone.
Bring up the neighbor’s garbage can and recycling bins.
Shovel someone’s driveway.
Send a thank you note to someone who has helped you in the past.
Tape candy canes and notes to neighbor’s doors, wishing them happy holidays.
Forgive someone in a bad mood or who is negative today and say something nice to them.
Purchase a couple extra bags of cat/dog food and bring to a local animal shelter.
Leave your change in the soda machine, vending machine, parking meter, etc. today for the next person.
Offer someone behind you at the grocery store to go ahead of you.
Renew a relationship with someone you’ve lost touch with.
Listen to everyone you speak with today.
Offer to help someone do a task they don’t want to do.
Return a shopping cart for a stranger in the parking lot.
Pick up litter you see lying around by the road or in a parking lot.
Offer to help someone who looks like they need assistance (i.e. a mother trying to open a door, an elderly person pumping gas, etc.).
Acknowledge someone who has helped you today, no matter how small the task.
Say an encouraging word today.
Tell all your family members how much you appreciate them.
Buy a hot cocoa or latte for Salvation Army bell ringers.
Purchase toys for kids in need.
Tape candy canes and happy holiday notes to ATMS, vending machines…
Send a box of gently used mittens and hats to a school or homeless shelter
Offer to buy a pack of gum or mints for checkout clerk at grocery store.
Buy an extra copy of your favorite holiday book and donate to your library or local school.