Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Family Volunteer Ideas for Christmas

It's Giving Tuesday

Christmas time brings out the best in our charitable nature.  Every year for Christmas we pick one Charitable experience to do as a family.  Here are some ideas to get you started.

This is the easiest way to donate to your favorite charity.  Just log into org.amazon.smile.com and link it to your Amazon account.  Everytime you shop on Amazon they donate .5% to the charity you chose.  The biggest catch is you have to login through Amazon Smile when you shop.  Check out the website for more details.

Volunteer at a Homeless Shelter
one year our kids weren't old enough to serve food inside the shelter, so we gave hot chocolate and doughnuts out while the homeless waited outside to get let in.

Project Linus
We tied blankets for this great charity. Click here for details.
volunteer kids

Bring him home Santa
We downloaded this song Bring Him Home Santa by The Song Trust, about a soldier's family asking Santa to bring home their Daddy for Christmas.  The cost of our Download benefited animals.  We gave a copy of the song to each of our neighbors with a poem written by a service member about how they spend Christmas over seas.  We attached a note saying this year for Christmas we donated food to the Airman's Pantry, a charity that provides food for struggling service men and their families.

Toys for Tots
My husband was in the military, and every year he would volunteer his time to deliver these toys to Foster Care kids.  He saw first hand how much these donations mean to these kids.  We try to donate what we can every year. Click here for details.

Police Stuffed Animal Drive
The police department in our area collects new and gently used stuffed animals, to give to children at crime or accident scenes, to help comfort the children involved.  We have gone through the tons of stuffed animals my kids have collected over the years and donated several.

Fire Fighter's Coat and Blanket Drive
The Fire Department in our area collects new or gently used coats and blankets.  If I don't already know someone in need, I always wash up the coats from last year and donate them.  My kids aren't hard on their coats, so they are usually in good shape.

Just One Penny
We started a tradition as a family with the Salvation Army Red Kettle Program. click here for details.

Wigs for kids/ Locks of Love
We grew out and donated our hair. Click here for details
Great Clips- Locks of Love

Homeless Kits
We made homeless kits and donated them to a shelter.
We included food, water, hygiene products and warm socks.

Food Drive
We organized a food drive in our community and school.  We sent out flyers and collected the food on a set day and time.  At school we made it a contest to see which class could collect the most food.

Food Bank

Our local food bank has a family night, where you can bring in the whole family to sort food.  They also like the kids to decorate Christmas trees on the boxes.  Many of the families they service can't afford a Christmas tree, so they use these boxes as their Christmas tree.

Gift for a neighbor you don't know
We included a neighbor we didn't know in our Holiday neighborhood gifts.  A great way to get to know your neighbors.

Secret Service Elves
We went around and shoveled people's driveways.

Box of food/presents on a neighbor/co-worker/family member's porch
We left a box of food on someone's porch, with a special note, rang the doorbell and hid.  We wanted it to be a secret.
We have also bought the entire Christmas for Friends and Family who are struggling medically or financially.  If you can't afford to do it all get a group together.

Donate old toys and clothes to thrift stores
Did you know that some religious thrift stores give out vouchers for people in need to come in, and get stuff for free in their stores, at the holidays.  We like to donate our old stuff, so they have good stuff to choose from.  Great way to make room  for your kid's new toys.

Knit Hats for the Homeless
We helped our church group knit hats for the homeless, then we helped deliver them to a shelter as a family.

Blankets and Coat Drive for the Homeless
You can donate them at a shelter or leave them at the park frequented by the homeless with a special note attached.

Angel Tree
We got together with our extended family and bought Christmas for a family on the Angel Tree.

Visit a Senior Center
Unfortunately, many seniors don't get very many visitors.  You can go and visit them, talk to them, play games, read to them, or have your family perform for them.  Gifts are always nice.  Call ahead to get permission, and they should be able to help direct you to who could use a visitor, or even a gift.

Weather permitting, and you might need permission.  You can cut the overgrown grass off of headstones.  After many years the grass starts to move closer and closer to the Middle of in-ground headstones.  You can ask if any headstones need a deep cleaning.  In certain areas headstones start to get covered in moss, soot, or salt ruining the headstone.

Donate Money
There are many charities out there to donate money too.  Do your research so you aren't giving your money to some big shot CEO.  I always ask how much of the money I am donating actually goes to the charity, you'd be surprised how much doesn't.

You don't have to be rich or spend money to volunteer, but the difference it will make in your life and the lives of those you helped is priceless!

Saturday, November 25, 2017

Christmas Traditions

I'm looking at my calendar and trying to plan out all our family Christmas traditions.  The list gets bigger and more involved every year.  So, I thought I'd share some of our traditions with you. To help inspire you for the holidays and your own family traditions.

We try to get all our shopping done before December, so we aren't stressed for the holidays.  This alleviates all the holiday hustle and craziness at the stores.  Online shopping is becoming so much easier around the holidays to relieve some of the stress of running from store to store,
Great deals on gifts can be found on Black Friday, but so can buyers remorse.  You are more likely to spend more money than you save on stuff you don't need anyway, so try to budget and follow your lists.  

We started a fun family tradition for the Salvation Army Red Kettle Program click here for details.

The decorations go up the day after Thanksgiving or at least that weekend.  We put everything up together as a family.

We always send out a funny Christmas card.  Usually whatever the funniest picture we took as a family that year.  Then, we hang up all the cards we get in one place.  Here's the start of the cards coming in.

We don't want to forget that Christmas is about Christ.  We place nativities around the entire house to remind us of him including a large set in our family room, one under the Christmas Tree, and one in each our bedrooms.  Fisher Price even makes a fun Nativity set of Little People.  

We even play this fun game Keeping Christ in CHRISTmas.

A neighbor gave us a fun new tradition a few years ago.  Ornaments with all the names of Christ.  Everyday you are supposed to read what the name means as a family, and hang that name on the Christmas tree.  Such a fun gift!

We would buy a chocolate advent calendar.  It's amazing how much the kiddos love the easy simple stuff.  I didn't buy one last year and my kids were so disappointed.
Advent calendar
My kids even as Teenagers still beg for these 
They keep asking for the Lego Nativity set, but I'm cheap, lol.

We started the Elf on the Shelf.  The first year I did it for the kids.  The next year, the kids wanted to do it, since they are teenagers.  They took turns.  It was fun to see what they came up with. Click here to see some of our fun Elf on the Shelf ideas.

For teenagers and adults we've upped our game, they are way funnier

Nativity crafts are always a hit we've done popsicle stick sets, clothespin sets, Lego sets, clay sets, and even Perler Bead sets. 
This one was a gift

We make a new ornament each every year. One year we made I-spy ornaments with the meaning of Christmas theme and gave them as gifts.  They were a big hit. 

When my kids were younger, we would let them pick out an ornament every year that represented their interests that year.  We quit doing that, because they would rather make them.

When my kids were little I traced their handprints and feet out of colored paper and hung them on a small tree in their room.  We made chains out of colored paper.  We made a star out of their handprint on yellow paper.  They don't use the paper ornaments any more, but they each wanted a small 1ft. tree in their rooms to decorate however they wanted.  some years we've put little gifts under their trees like jewelry.

We always have the kids write letters to Santa.  We would sneak them and then send them back a letter from Santa.  I like to keep them.  My girls usually decorate them really special. One of my daughter's would always ask Santa how he was doing, and what he wanted for Christmas.  So cute when they think of others.

Then, we'd visit Santa every year.  I have never paid to do this or bought the pictures.  We always go somewhere free and take our own pictures

  One year we wrote letters to Jesus and sealed them in envelopes and tucked them into our Christmas tree.  The younger kids drew pictures, some were spiritual, and some were birthday wishes.  I didn't dictate what they had to write to Jesus about.

We love to make some sort of Christmas houses.
We've done gingerbread kits, graham cracker houses, rice crispy houses, poptart, and one year we even got gingerbread Halloween house kits and called it our Nightmare before Christmas village.

Every Year we make sugar cookies and decorate them as a family.  One year we did cupcakes instead.  My husband started a tradition of giving all the people at work two dozen home-made Oreo cookies.  This takes the entire family's help and an entire day.  Everyone loves them.

We like to have a lot of desserts for the holidays.  We bring out some of the recipes my husband and I made growing up.  One of our favorites is Rosettes.  It is similar to funnel cakes, but you get to use a hot iron in boiling oil.  We  like to sprinkle them with sugar and cinnamon mixed.  Just be careful not to get burned! Adult supervision is recommended.

I think there is one dish that you have to have every year to make it feel like the holidays.  You just aren't complete without it.  Mine is Christmas Jell-O.  My kids love cheeseball (2 pkgs cream cheese, 3 Tb Hidden Valley Ranch dry mix, and milk to soften, mix and let sit in refrigerator one hour) and crackers.  My husband has to have a pecan pie.

We always stop off and see some sort of Christmas light display.It might be the zoo, local park, church, or even a fun neighborhood.
*Bonus points if there is a sleigh, train, or bus tour.
**Don't forget the Hot Chocolate

We try to attend some sort of special Christmas concert, play, musical, religious service, live nativity, etc.  Some years it's fun community Christmas Caroling.  We paid for some of these things, but if you look you can usually find something for free.

We try to include the kids in some sort of charitable activity.
The Tuesday after Thanksgiving is known as "Giving Tuesday." Click here for a great list of Christmas volunteer ideas such as Project Linus.
volunteer kids

Play Christmas music and watch Christmas movies.  We are big fans of Hallmark Christmas movies, but my favorite will always be a Christmas Story.  My kids love a Charlie Brown ChristmasPolar Express is a must (there's even a book)!

Every night when my kids were little we'd read a different Christmas themed story book.  When they were a little older we read The Best Christmas Pageant Ever.  Some people like to wrap all the Christmas books and let the kids unwrap one every night and that's the book they read.  Their favorite was How the Grinch Stole Christmas, but the funniest one was Fartsy Claus.

These recordable books are great.  We took turns as a family reading a page.  The kids love to listen to them and hear their cute little kid voices.

I like to read an adult Christmas Book every year on my own.  Sometimes I need one to help get me in the Christmas mood, sometimes I need a comedy, and sometimes a good cry.  Christmas Shoes series (it's even a movie and a song) and the Christmas Box are my favorite so far.
My girl's love to do I-Spy Christmas, Can You See What I See? or madlibs in the in the car on the way to Grandmother's house.  A big lifesaver.

When I was younger, we would go to my Grandmother's house every Christmas Eve. and have a big family party.  We'd eat yummy food, open presents, play games(50+ Christmas Party Games) and the kids would re-enact the story of the birth of Christ while my Grandmother narrated from the Bible.  When we got older the gift exchange turned into a white elephant exchange.  My Grandmother some years made each family share their talents.  We played sports, which is hard to show.   So,we would usually sing a really funny song.  Last time we sang and danced to to the "Tootie Ta" it was pretty funny.

We always read the Night Before Christmas on Christmas Eve before bed, even now that our girls are teenagers.

We give our girls some sort of sleepwear every Christmas Eve.  It's always fun to open a gift the night before.  It has varied from matching pjs, robes, slippers, sleep hats, blankets, books, or even a fun pillow.

You can't forget cookies and milk for Santa and carrots for his reindeer.  I loved doing this with my girls when they were itty bitty, it was a good way to help them to start thinking of others.

Christmas morning we love to wake up before the kids.  We like to wake them up and see their faces when they realize it's Christmas morning.

We make the kids all wait at the top of the stairs wearing Santa hats before we release them to open presents.

A few years ago we got a Hide the Pickle Ornament.  It's a fun new tradition where before anyone is allowed to open a single present they must find the ornament that is shaped like a pickle.

We take turns opening presents, so we can watch everybody.  

We do something fun for breakfast.  Last year we made artsy pancakes.  We usually have all our Christmas visiting done on Christmas Eve.  So, we stay around in our pjs all day and play games, watch movies, and just spend to day together.  I don't like my Christmas rushed and busy.

Our Neighbor gave us a Christmas Family Journal.  During the season and after Christmas we write down all the fun things we did that year, what we got for Christmas, the kids lists, and how we felt the spirit that year.  It's fun to go back and read all the funny stories.

On New Year's Day, we take down all our decorations and somehow destroy our Christmas village.  We don't eat the old candy, so we let the kids either stomp on it, break it with hammers, or last year we burned them.  Not the best idea, but the kids had fun.  Always use extreme caution and adult supervision no matter what you do. We burned the village in the snow far away form any structures and made the kids stand back.

We always try to go sledding over Christmas break.  You can find a fun local hill or snow tube at a ski resort.  If you live in a warm climate ice blocking is a fun alternative.
Pioneer Day

Get outside and play with your family.  Whether it's building a snowman, having a snowball fight, or playing games in snow get outside for a good time.  If you live in a warm climate a shaving cream fight looks like snow and is super fun!

One of my daughter's is so cute!  Every year after Christmas she'd write a thank you card to Santa.  It's a great time to start teaching your kids to be thankful for what they have and the gifts they were fortunate enough to get.  I don't know what the world is coming to. I feel like when you got married, graduated, or someone did something extra special for you or gave a gift, it was customary to send a thank you card.  It kind of bothers me that over the last few years I haven't heard from the people I have given expensive gifts to, even just to make sure they did indeed get it. Kind of makes the person feel like you didn't like the gift or they weren't special enough for you to acknowledge it.  I guess I'm Old Fashioned that way.  Be kind and give at least a phone call to thank someone.

I'm sure I'm forgetting some of our traditions, but we always have a great holiday. 

Any Holiday is what you make of it.  It doesn't cost a lot to have a meaningful Christmas.

We'd love to hear about your family traditions, please leave us a comment.