The holiday season is upon us! While we’re all itching to tear the wrapping paper off of that box that we’re praying contains a new Michael Kors clutch, there are things you can do for others this winter that will make you much happier than even the most beautiful of designer accessories. Here are just a few ways that you can spread holiday cheer this season—they will warm the cockles of your heart like a sappy Claymation film and a cup of hot cocoa.
1. Send Gifts to the Troops
Each year, Operation Gratitude sends 100,000 care packages filled with snacks, entertainment items and personal letters of appreciation out to individually named U.S. Service Members deployed in hostile regions, as well as to their children left behind. Right now, their website states that their most urgent need is for personal letters for deployed troops, veterans, and wounded warriors. You can either visit their website to donate and type a message to a service member, or you can send your letter and a check to the address listed on their website. Then Operation Gratitude uses your donation and message to put together a care package! For just $15 and the few minutes it would take you to compose a heartfelt holiday message, you could bring a smile to a service member’s face during the holidays.
2. Save Someone from a Parking Ticket
It’s a hectic, crazy game trying to find a parking spot in metropolitan areas during the holiday season. Armed with a bag of quarters, walk around a city near you adding money to nearly-expired parking meters to save a frantic mother from ending her stressful day of Christmas shopping by finding a parking ticket stuck to her windshield. Bring a little note that says “Happy Holidays!” and stick it to the parking meter—maybe your good deed will inspire them to pay it forward!
3. Clean Out Your Toy Box
Dive into the nostalgic mess of childhood toys your parents keep in your attic or basement and pick out the ones still in decent condition. Then give them to someone who needs them more than you do! You could take them to a children’s hospital or orphanage in your area, or donate them to a specific charity. Toys for Tots is an organization dedicated to distributing Christmas gifts to less fortunate children, so you could drop a new, unwrapped toy or two in a Toys for Tots box near you. You can also donate a shoebox worth of new toys to Operation Christmas Child (or you can visit the OCC website and send a box of gifts to a child online for $30!) The smile your gift will put on a child’s face is better than any gift you’ll get this holiday season.
4. Double Your Order
Instead of popping into Starbucks for a grande peppermint mocha twice in one week, just stop in once—but buy two cups, and give the extra to someone less fortunate. You’ll get by just fine without that fancy beverage later in the week, but that warm cup of joy will mean the world to a homeless person worried about staying warm as the temperature dives below freezing. Make sure you smile and wish them a Merry Christmas! Even better, take it up a notch: invite them into the coffee shop with you for warmth (using good judgment, of course—don’t engage anyone who comes off as sketchy, or who makes you uncomfortable!). Then buy them a latte and give them a chance to tell you their story. You have no idea what this small kindness will mean to them.
5. Go for a Walk
While you’d probably rather find your own precious little puppy under the tree on Christmas morning, there are loads of homeless dogs (and other animals!) just dying for some love and attention at an animal shelter near you. Volunteer to walk dogs there on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day so that the staff can have the day off—and so that you can score a little one-on-one time with these adorable animals!
6. Ring a Bell
Everywhere you go this holiday season, you’re likely to see someone with a Salvation Army red kettle, ringing their bells quietly and accepting donations. If you’d like to be a part of this selfless cause, visit the Salvation Army Bell Ringing website to sign up for a date and time. Your arm will be tired by the end of it, but after smiling and wishing “Happy Holidays!” upon everyone who drops a coin or two in your red kettle, the whole thing will be worth it.
7. Bake, Bake, Bake
Whether you make bangin’ snickerdoodles or mouth-watering sugar cookies, spend a day in the kitchen baking up a storm. Then offer these homemade treats to everyone you forget to thank in your day-to-day life, from your mailman to that Econ professor you don’t really like. You never know how their home lives are during the holidays, and you could be providing them with the holiday cheer they need to brighten up their season—or make it even brighter if it’s already good!
You can give a family in need the holiday that they are unable to afford by participating in the Adopt-a-Family program, sponsored by the Salvation Army. Their website provides a shopping list made up of all the elements essential to a Christmas feast, and suggestions for additional gifts to include (like soap, deodorant, toothpaste, laundry detergent, and other things that we tend to take for granted). When you are matched with the family you’ll be adopting, you’re given an address, and will either send or hand-deliver the items you purchase to that address in order to provide this less-fortunate family with a much brighter Christmas than they may have been looking forward to.
9. Give the Gift of Music
We’ve heard Buddy the Elf say it a thousand times: “The best way to spread Christmas cheer is singing loud for all to hear!” Going Christmas caroling sounds like a cheesy idea, but it can really get people into the holiday spirit. Grab your guitar (or, you know, someone who can actually play the guitar), and drag your friends to a nursing home, hospital, or senior center near you. These people don’t always get visitors over the holidays, and it can be a hard time for them. So whether you’re tone-deaf or not, make Buddy proud as you pull out a few verses of “Jingle Bells” and “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” and spread that Christmas cheer.
10. Buy Something Pink
So you’re still not sure what to get your roommate/best friend/great-aunt/new boyfriend’s mom for Christmas. Why not check out these gift options on the National Breast Cancer Foundation website before hitting the department store? They offer a huge variety of gifts for anyone you’re buying for. From fine Australian chocolates to hairstyling tools to kitchen products, any woman in your life would be thrilled to get a gift that simultaneously makes them happy and supports the ongoing fight against breast cancer.
As thrilling as it is to open the perfect present you’ve been wishing for all year, it’s 10 times more rewarding to give a gift to someone or help them out without expecting anything in return. These kinds of charitable acts are what the holidays are all about, so go on—get to giving!