December 1 is finally here! The day we've all been waiting for - the kick-off to our Christmas countdown - with kindness. And just in time because this year, more than ever before, we could all use some extra holiday cheer, amirite?
For me, one of my favourite parts of the holidays is doing something for others. Even as a kid, I remember how much the getting AND the giving brought me joy. I remember when I was old enough to get an allowance and earn my own money, how excited I was to buy Christmas presents for my parents (I think my mom still has those oven mitts with the Christmas cats all over them!) When I started working real adult jobs, I loved coming home for the holidays with tons of gifts for my family, excited to take some of that "taking care of others" responsibility from my mom and have the chance to create special memories for her too. I grew a reputation for my holiday Christmukah carolling parties - I loved making the fanciest foods for my friends and collecting change or canned goods for charity as the entry fee. These are the Christmas memories that I cherish ... alongside the presents and stockings under the tree of course!
This year, our holiday traditions may have to look a bit different, but doing something for others and bringing joy is still a mainstay and more important than ever - both for our own mental health and that of others. How are you going to give back this year? To give you a few ideas to launch this kindness countdown, especially on this Giving Tuesday, we connected with our expert advisors to hear what giving back means to them this holiday season and give you some ideas to get started!
Me (Maran Stern-Kubista, founder of My Kindness Calendar)
When I think of "doing something for others" at the holidays, for me that means for my own family and for the broader community as well. In terms of my own family, one thing we do every year is to make homemade holiday ornaments. Decorating the Christmas tree is one of my favourite holiday traditions. I love taking out the decorations one by one and taking a trip down memory lane, remembering where each came from and the special stories behind them. All little memories, frozen in time. Since having kids, we've started a tradition of making homemade ornaments every year. I love this since it charts our kids' growth and age, seeing how their craftiness changes as they grow up, and their interests too. I love putting these on the tree but also gifting these to family - grandparents in particular. Anything that they can look at that reminds them of their grandkids and that they're loved is a biggie for me. We'll have to make something this year that fits in the mail and isn't too breakable - sending love to grandparents from afar will be more important that ever!
We also like to do something for others in a more charitable sense that my kids can get actually get involved in - more hands-on that a donation. In the past, we've put together shoeboxes for the Shoebox Project. This year, as a street, my neighbours and I have opted to sponsor a family through Holiday Helpers, helping a family of 6 complete their Christmas wish list who wouldn't otherwise have the means this year.
We'll also be putting together a holiday food hamper for a local food and clothing bank in our area, The Sharing Place. Food banks are in such great need right now, and I love how this initiative gives you a specific list to include in the holiday hampers, so that you're providing good quality healthy and festive food for a family in need.
I love both of these options not just for the amazing support they lend to families, but for how the kids can get actively involved. Even with Covid, the kids participate with online food or toy shopping and even disinfecting the groceries! While I would normally take my kids shopping for the items in person, this year has been less hands on due to Covid, but the conversations around the impact and brainstorming together have the same teachable moments. Because we are providing families - and specifically kids - with experiences that my own kids look forward to for Christmas, it provides an amazing opportunity to learn about empathy, walking in someone else's shoes, and inclusion - how everyone deserves to feel special and have access to healthy food and things that bring joy. I also love the opportunity to talk about teamwork - because we've partnered as a neighbourhood to sponsor a family, my kids can see how their small acts of kindness, when combined with others, can make an even larger impact, and the value of community.
Each year, Jenn and her family put together boxes for pediatric patients at their local hospital through a grassroots organization called the Love Box Project. The kids each put together a box for a child their age, to help make their stay at the hospital a little easier. Why does Jenn love this tradition? "It's an opportunity to talk about empathy & compassion as they imagine what might make them feel more comfortable and less scared if they were in the hospital. The kids respond really well when they can see the positive impact that they can someone directly in our local community."
This year has been a challenging one for so many small businesses, and retail stores in particular. Alyssa, the founder of Mini Mioche, who has several retail locations across Canada and the US, has had to make big decisions to continue to thrive as a business throughout Covid. In deciding to close one of their flagship locations in Toronto, they also took the opportunity to turn lemons into lemonade, donating all of their leftover inventory to Holiday Helpers for families in need. As a family, they've packed up over 1000 units and may even be volunteering to distribute items as drivers - another awesome way families can participate and volunteer together (Holiday Helpers always needs wrappers, drivers and donors - it's an awesome place to volunteer over the holidays).
Sarah's kids are a little bit older now - 13, 16 and 19 - but since they were young, she always supported them to make (or buy) gifts for each other. This focus on giving from a young age has blossomed into a thoughtful and beautiful tradition amongst siblings. "Of course they were always excited about the 'getting' of Christmas, but I wanted them to be excited about the giving. As little kids they made fun and thoughtful crafts for each other. As teenagers today they carefully think about what each sibling would like and shop independently (and with their own money of course) for gifts for their siblings."
We'd love to hear more about your traditions of giving! Drop us a comment and let us know how you'll be focussing on giving back this holiday season!