Mid November and it is time to start thinking about holiday family activities. Yes, we will visit Santa but if I want to do anything other than that I need to start planning now or else the time will slip by and it will be Christmas Eve before I know it.
Each year I become more and more aware of the amount of excess and extravagance that can be associated with Christmas. The older my kids get the more expensive their Christmas list become. Gone are the days of cute little toys. Now they want tablets, gaming systems, motorized scooters, laptops and robots. Finding just one item on their list under $100 is becoming harder and harder. I’m trying to teach my kids that we are fortunate in what we already have and that we shouldn’t expect to receive every single thing we want. That we are blessed beyond measure and that there are many kids in our community who will go without basics like a full stomach this Christmas. However, they see their friends with the latest electronic and don’t understand why they can’t have it too. The struggle is real.
While the dilemma rages on in my own mind and heart on what we can and can’t afford, wanting them to feel happy with what they receive but not giving them so much that they come to expect it and not feel grateful for what they have.
One thing I can control is how much we spend on family holiday activities and who will benefit. Rather than focus on them and getting more stuff, this list of activities turns to focus on the true meaning of Christmas and doing something good for a friend or stranger not because we will get something in return but because selfless giving can be its own reward.
5 Holiday Family Activities on a Budget
1 – Packing meals at the food bank
If you live near a large-ish city chances are there is a food bank/pantry that needs your help. Most of these organizations depend on volunteers to help pack boxes of food that go out to local food pantries. Several months ago I took Addison to the Regional Food Bank in Oklahoma City to pack boxes. We went with a group of friends and joined about 30 other volunteers. In just 3 hours we helped pack after 34,000 lbs of food that would serve over 28,500 meals to those in need.
This could be a really fun activity with several families that would make an impact on both the families and those who will benefit from your help. Sometimes there are age restrictions so call ahead to make sure your kids are old enough to volunteer.
2 – Sign up to ring the Salvation Army bell
When I hear that ring-a-ding I feel like the holiday season has really started. We have all seen the red Salvation Army bucket and dropped a few coins in it as we pass. But have you ever been the one ringing the bell? Many churches have times for their members to sign up a ring the bell, that’s how I find my time and bell location. Or, you can go online and volunteer to ring the bell closest to you.
Watching people come and go for an hour, dropping coins and bills into the kettle can be a good lesson in for children in hour our community cares for each other. The money raised in each community often stays in that community. This can also be a great lesson for shy children to come out of their shell a little bit by wishing people Merry Christmas or Happy Holiday. It can also be a great outlet for high energy kids to get the responsibility of constantly ringing a bell for an hour.
3 – Serve at the local food shelter
I’m pretty sure that every community has a homeless population and in turn there is an organization to serve them. Like the food bank, often times a homeless shelter depends on volunteers to serve the meals. This can be a real eye opener for kids who have everything as they see families with children pass through the line.
Check with your local shelter for their volunteer schedule. Even if they don’t have volunteer times available right away, they would probably love donations like coffee, sugar and creamer. During cold winter months shelters can actually run low on coffee as they serve so much of it to help keep people warm.
Cost: free or $20 for bulk coffee
4 – Pack a Shoebox for Samaritan’s Purse
Samaritan’s Purse is a Christian international relief organization that provides spiritual and physical aid to those in need around the world. During the holiday season you can participate in their Pack a Shoebox program. Just pack a shoebox with small toys and books, print of a tracking label and drop it off at a participating location. The tracking label will let you and your family watch to see where your shoebox is being delivered. Visit their website to see where your nearest drop off location is. If you want to teach your children about serving those around the world, you better hurry. The deadline to send a shoebox is November 25 in order for the recipient to receive it by Christmas.
Cost: up to you. Shop at the dollar store or Wal Mart to keep the cost down. Because everything you buy will have to fit into a shoebox, you can keep the budget manageable.
5 – Pick an angel from the Angel Tree
Like Samaritan’s Purse,The Angel Tree teaches children that not everyone has tons of toys and need to be taken care of by caring strangers. The Angle Tree is special because it will bless someone right in your community. For smaller children the idea of helping someone across the globe is a difficult concept, but they can understand the other side of town.
The Angel another Salvation Army program. You may have seen the Christmas trees with tags on them in entrance to places like Wal Mart and department stores. The concept is so simple, pick a child from the tree and shop for them. Age, size and gender are already provided so you and your kiddos get to play secret Santa for a child in need.
cost: depends on you. I would expect to spend a minimum of $40 in order to find clothes, coat, shoes and toys.
What I really love about all of these activities is that it teaches children that Christmas isn’t all about them. That they can spend their time helping others instead of obsessing over their Christmas list.
What are your favorite holiday family activities?