November and December mark a time of holiday preparations and incredible busyness for most of us. Yet it’s also supposed to be the season of gratitude, giving, and togetherness. Maintaining our focus on preparing our hearts to celebrate the true reason for the holidays, instead of becoming frazzled by all the festivities, takes intention.
What if instead of counting down the number of days we have to finish all the shopping and baking, we purposefully fill each day with intentional acts of kindness and service? As a church, we can take the lead in this and plan a calendar of opportunities between Halloween and Christmas that highlight what the holidays are truly all about.
This has the potential to dramatically change the focus of Thanksgiving and Christmas for many people in your congregation from gifts and stressful holiday events to serving others, living out compassion and being the hands and feet of Christ in a tangible way.
What would this look like? It can be as unique as your community and your own body of believers. It simply requires looking around and asking the Holy Spirit to open your eyes to see the needs around you.
8 Creative Ways to Bless Your Community this Holiday Season:
For the community:
- Collect gift cards to give to first responders in your town. Our first responders usually work during the holiday season and are not usually highly paid. An extra gift card to Walmart, Target, or a local restaurant would be a tremendous blessing during the holidays.
- Contact your local water department or electric coop to pay for someone’s past-due bill. They usually know of quite a few people who are struggling to pay and close to having their water or electricity turned off. What a holiday miracle it would be for them to go from fearing they will be without electricity or water during the holidays to finding out their bill was paid for them! What a relief and blessing. This could truly be an opportunity for someone to experience the grace and provision of Christ in a tangible way!
- Ask the guidance counselor from a local elementary school for the names and contact information for a few families that could use some assistance this Christmas. Contact the parents and ask if they would be willing to let a volunteer from your church take them shopping so they can choose presents for their children. Make sure to encourage them to also purchase everything they need to wrap the presents. This allows the presents to come from them instead of the parent possibly feeling defeated that they are unable to provide Christmas gifts for their child. Also if your church is able, pay for their electricity and water bills for December. What a blessing to this family to know they will have that taken care of for Christmas.
- Ask the chaplain from a prison in your area if there are certain inmates who would like to send Christmas presents to their children but are unable to. Offer to shop for the gifts they would like to give and ship them to their children with a personal note from their parent.
- Ask for volunteers from your congregation who would like to host a Saturday gift wrapping event. Many senior adult groups would love to do this. Buy festive gift wrap and ribbons, shirt boxes and tissue paper to wrap presents. Let the single parents and young families in your congregation know that if they would like to drop gifts by on that Saturday there will be volunteers present to wrap them. For many parents, purchasing gift wrap is an added expense on top of a tight budget around the holidays. They also have difficulty finding time when their little ones aren’t present to wrap the gifts and keep everything a surprise. It seems like a small act of service to some, but it might mean a single mom or dad gets to actually sleep on Christmas Eve instead of staying up through the night wrapping and preparing gifts for Christmas morning.
- Hold an event one evening in December where your youth group and other volunteers provide free childcare for your families with young children so those parents can do some Christmas shopping. Many parents find shopping for gifts a stressful task, so to have a few hours to shop, knowing their children are safe and having fun, can turn it into an enjoyable experience. Childcare is expensive and Christmas does not need to be so stressful.
- Host a Thanksgiving feast somewhere on your local college’s campus and invite all of the students who were not able to travel home for the holidays. There are many students who live too far away to travel home, can’t afford to travel, or may be in a season of being estranged from family and will spend Thanksgiving alone. Advertise well beforehand and ask the administrators, advisors, and resident hall advisors to help you spread the word. This is a great way to tangibly provide some encouragement and community while building some new relationships.
- Meet with the lead guidance counselor of a high school in your area and ask for the opportunity to pay for the registration for a few students to take the SAT or ACT or for a few college application fees for seniors in need. Sometimes the cost of the SAT/ACT or the application fee can be a barrier for a young person taking the first steps toward pursuing a college education. Take it a step further and offer to have volunteers meet with these students and parents to help them actually fill out the applications if they would like help. Senior year and the process of applying to college and applying for scholarships and financial aid can be very overwhelming for many students and parents. Having someone who has navigated the process and is willing to take some time to help can make a huge difference.
There are so many ways we can serve during the holiday season that do not necessarily involve buying gifts. Meeting the tangible needs of those around us and making it easier for them to focus on their families can be a huge act of service and love. It also returns the focus to relationships and community, which is what Thanksgiving and Christmas are truly about. Being the hands and feet of Christ in big and small ways this holiday season can bless those in your community, in your congregation, and in your family.