After a class field trip to the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra last week to see the Nutcracker, my 6-year-old son was so excited to tell me all about it. Except what he ended up telling me had nothing to do with the ballet and everything to do with what he noticed before and after the show. He had counted not one but six homeless individuals and asked me what seemed like a hundred questions — the most important was, What could we do to help them?
In our simple conversation, my son reminded me what the holidays should be about: giving. This is perhaps the best time of year to catch up with friends, spend quality time with family, and invest ourselves in our communities. However, this is also the time of year when Americans spend hours in ridiculously long lines at the mall and camped outside of retail stores fighting for deals, further intensifying the holiday themes of consumption and materialism. Usually left with the feeling of exhaustion versus respite, many experience the need for a holiday do-over. While shopping shouldn’t be regarded as the enemy (after all, it does help boost the economy), it does serve as a distraction from what is really important at this time of year.
Below is just a short list of holiday ideas that can be done in a group or individually but still have an impact. Show that you care about the well-being of others in your community by giving the gift of time — it will cost you little or no money at all.
- Volunteer for a shift at your local soup kitchen.
- Check with your local shelter to see if it will take donated blankets, coats, or food.
- Lead story time at your local library or on the children’s floor at your local hospital.
- Make or buy a homeless person a meal.
- Got talent? Sing, dance, play an instrument, make art, or read poetry at a local senior center.
- Make a meal for the volunteers at your local animal shelter.
Although my son is too young to serve at the local soup kitchen, our family plans to make lasagna trays and cookies at home for a kitchen in our community, in addition to cleaning and preparing meals at a group home that cares for sick children. My son is eager to serve and helped our family remember that the holidays are about what you give, not what you get.
Let’s redefine the holidays by buying less stuff, giving more time, and creating change in our communities.