December 6, 2011

Giving Service at Christmas Time

Christmas Bells
Looking back at my childhood, I have a few specific Christmas memories that stand out above all the others. One such memory was the time my mother taught us a little Joy School song, “I have the perfect present when I give myself away. . .” and we went to the elderly shut-ins in our ward to sing to them. I vividly remember the Spirit I felt as we sang, seeing the joy on their faces and the tears in their eyes. I was amazed at how something as simple as singing them a song, could make them so very happy.
Another memory was the time we made ornaments and treats, and then secretly delivered them to a few families in our neighborhood. I remember our nervous glee in sneaking up to the door, ringing the doorbell, and running away as fast as our legs would carry us, trying not to get caught.  That was such exhilarating fun!
I also remember the Christmas our family of six was living in a trailer in the driveway of our half-built home. We were the recipients of a Secret Santa that year. I remember our surprise and excitement as we found the gifts outside our door. After all these years, I still have the little Popple (do you remember those toys?) that I received as my present from our Secret Santa. It reminds me of the lasting impact of simple acts of thoughtful service.
I’ve been taught that the best way to feel the Spirit of Christmas is to do as Christ would do and serve our fellow men. The fact that my most vivid childhood memories of Christmas involve acts of service, is another testimony to me of that truth.
President Monson said, “The Savior gave freely to all. And His gifts were of value beyond measure. . . He gave us His love, His service, and His life. What is the spirit we feel at Christmastime? It is His spirit—the spirit of Christ. The Christmases we remember best generally have little to do with worldly goods, but a lot to do with families, with love, and with compassion and caring.” (Ensign Dec. 2010)
I want my children to feel the joy of giving of themselves, of serving with love.  In our family, we have a few traditions in place that emphasize service.  Lately I have been gathering ideas that will help us make service an even greater part of our family traditions, for Christmas and also year round.  Here are some ideas and resources I have gathered, and as always, I would love to hear your ideas too!
Serving Family
Christmas Star – Make or buy a little star that can be hidden around the house.  One family member does an act of service for another, then hides the star where that person will find it.  When the star is found, that person will do something to serve someone else in the family and hide the star for them to find.  Around and around it goes. . .
Straw in the Manger – Our nativity set depicts Mary holding the baby Jesus, so we added a tiny ceramic box to represent the manger.  During the month of December, we fill up the manger with pieces of straw, one for each act of service that we notice a member of our family has done for us or for someone else.
Secret Kindness Tree – My husband grew up with this tradition in his family.  Little paper hearts were put up on a miniature Christmas tree each time someone in the family performed an act of secret service.
Reaching Out – I was so excited to find this website!  You can search in your area for local charities and groups who are in need of volunteers or donations.  Then you can refine your search by other factors like age group of volunteers or interest areas (such as serving children, homeless, elderly, animals, etc).  What an amazing website!
Local Gift Giving Opportunities – There are many organizations who display Christmas trees with names of children or families whom you can “adopt” and then buy presents or specific needed items for them.  Your local school, department store, or mall may have such an opportunity. 
The Salvation Army – I know my children always ask me if we have any cash or change to give to the “guy ringing the bell.”  I hardly ever have cash on me, and I always feel badly that I didn’t think ahead.  Maybe this year I can have a couple rolls of quarters in my purse for my children to be able to drop a few into the Red Kettle when I take them to the store with me.
Random Acts of Christmas Kindness – I found this great advent calendar idea on Pinterest.  Each day there is an act of service to perform.  Fun!
12 Days of Christmas – Pick a family and give them the 12 days of Christmas.  There are many ways to carry this out, if you Google it you will find lots of ideas and printables.
Christmas Jars – Have you read this book by Jason F. Wright?  The family in the story started a tradition of filling up a jar with loose change throughout the year, then giving it away to someone in need at Christmas time.
Secret Santa – Secretly deliver gifts and/or food to a family in need.  If you want help in choosing a family, your Bishop would most likely have recommendations or can point you to a neighboring ward who may have families in need.

LDS Church Service Opportunities
Church Humanitarian Services – This page is a general overview of what you can do to help, including information on donating funds or items, and what the current needs of the Humanitarian Center are (needs are updated monthly), along with guidelines and patterns.
LDS Philanthropies – This is the official website for all online donations to the Church and its affiliated charities.
The Vineyard – “Helping in the Vineyard provides service opportunities that can be completed in minutes. Participants from around the world spend as much or as little time as they like completing the activities online.”  There are opportunities in several areas including Church publications and mulitmedia, translation, technology, and family history.  This website is for teens and adults.
Bishop’s Storehouse and Deseret Industries– If you have either one in your area, it’s a great opportunity for teens and adults to go for a few hours and serve!  Also, we are encouraged to donate our used items and clothing to Deseret Industries.

So what are your favorite ways to give service at Christmas time?

Marcina and her husband, Aaron, have just welcomed their sixth child into their family!  Children are truly one of God’s greatest gifts. This is her third year of homeschooling and she is grateful for the opportunity to teach her children at home. It continues to be both a challenge and a delight! In her spare moments she enjoys family history, gardening, reading, singing, listening to beautiful music, and learning new things.

3 comments - Add a comment below -:

DAY said...

Thank you so much for this post and all of your ideas on service-they are wonderful! I already checked out the Volunteer Match website and you're right, it is great! Wishing your family a very Merry and memorable Christmas! Thanks again for writing this and helping my family have a more service-oriented season Ü

Amanda said...

Thanks for the ideas! We're always looking for new service ideas this time of year. Thanksgiving Day, after the turkey and gravy have settled, we write our service list. It is a list of people we want to serve from the Monday after Thanksgiving through Christmas Day. We stop all academics during the month of December and the kids have 5 things to accomplish each day.
1. Serve someone outside of our home
2. Learn Christmas music (play on an instrument, sing or sign)
3. Work on the Lego nativity (this is a big project and takes all month to build it)
4. Knit hats for the homeless (we use a knifty knitter so even small kids can do this)
5. Personal enrichment - do something to help you grow personally (exercise, read, learn a new skill, etc)

Service becomes such a part of our Christmas that by giving the kids forget about gifts for themselves. Last year, my kids (ages 7, 6, 4 and 2) never once asked for presents for themselves. I couldn't have been a happier mommy :) Serving truly puts you in the CHRISTmas spirit.

Diane said...

Wonderful post and comments! I love service all year round, but especially at Christmastime! Thank you for all of the great ideas!