"You’ll never know how much I appreciate this," Margaret said, tears forming in her 87-year-old eyes. With both hands, she gently held the hot cider our family brought her.

"Ever since my husband died, I haven’t bothered with my Christmas decorations. It’s too much effort. But it’s not the same without them. You’re Christmas angels!"

When our family decorated Margaret’s house for Christmas, it opened our eyes to the importance of small acts of service. Like many families, it’s easy to get caught up in all the commercialism of the season and lose sight of the true spirit of Christmas. As an antidote, we turned our attention outward – beyond ourselves – to our neighbours and community.

Since our encounter with Margaret, our kids have become hooked on serving. Christmas is no longer about "What am I going to get?" but rather, "Where can I give?"

Each year, we let our children choose where they want to serve based on their talents, and we continually add new experiences. Here are a few of our tested serving ideas:

  • Visit nursing homes or shut-ins. If your kids are artistic or like to write, have them make Christmas cards and crafts or write notes or poems for the residents. If your kids would rather talk, let them read Christmas stories.
  • Help a needy family. Bring out your children’s gift of compassion by working with local charities to help identify needy families in your community. Cook meals or purchase groceries or other practical items; then attach a personal note. As a family, deliver the gifts and offer to pray for their needs.
  • Volunteer at a toy drive. This is great for the organizers of the family. Help collect, organize, wrap and distribute toys through local toy drives. If possible, have your kids add personalized notes, cards or drawings to the gifts.
  • Visit a child in a hospital or orphanage. Use your children’s gift of encouragement to bring joy to a child who may be sad or lonely. Our kids like to bring homemade cards and small, wrapped toys for gifts. Usually the best present for these children is simply talking and playing games with them.
  • Be a good neighbour. Allow your family’s practical gifts to shine by helping the elderly, disabled or widows in your neighbourhood. You can help clean and prepare their homes for holiday guests or put up Christmas decorations.

  • From Focus on Your Child’s Tween Ages, December 2006. Published by Focus on the Family. © 2006 Focus on the Family. All rights reserved. International copyright secured. Used by permission.

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