In the midst of holiday sales and shopping sprees, sometimes the best part of the holiday season gets lost. It isn't about how many presents are under the tree, but about sharing joy with your family, friends, and community. At Rodale Wellness HQ, we got together around a conference room table (and an email chain, for our colleagues in other locations), and shared ideas for simple things anyone can do to bring the spirit of the holidays to life. We hope you are inspired to try one of these ideas, or share your own with us on our Facebook page!
1. Become a donor
While it's true you can become a blood donor at any time of year, what you might not know is that blood banks across the country see a dip in donations during the holidays, so this is an excellent opportunity to make an appointment. You can also sign up for the National Marrow Donor program with a simple cheek swab, or even donate your hair to help make wigs for cancer patients. You never know whose life you might change with a donation like these.
2. Pay it forward … literally!
Is there a toll on the road you're driving to get to your holiday destination? Take the cash lane and pay your toll, plus the toll for the driver behind you. They'll be surprised by the gesture, and might even pick up the tab for the driver who's behind them. You could try the same idea at your local coffee house. Who knows how far it will go?
3. Be a good neighbor
Too often, we are so wrapped up in our own busy lives that we barely know our own neighbors. This season, commit to greeting your neighbors every time you see them. You could offer to walk your neighbor's dog, or shovel their sidewalk as you're out shoveling your own. Maybe bring them a plate of those famous holiday cookies you make. Or, offer to help them take down all those holiday decorations! A simple gesture of friendship can make all the difference in the world.
4. Recycle your stuff
Instead of letting magazines pile up, why not offer them to your community's senior center or a nursing home? A local library or community center might love to receive your used books. Used towels or blankets are often on the wish list for animal shelters. Before you toss it in the recycling bin (or worse, the trash), consider if your stuff might just brighten someone else's day.
5. Share a meal
Head to a local church or community soup kitchen and offer your time serving or cooking meals. If you can't fit that into your schedule, make a simple bagged lunch at home and offer it to a person in need that you see during your everyday routine.
6. Honor the elderly
If your own grandparents have passed away, or live too far away to visit often, head to a local senior center or nursing home and volunteer to "adopt" someone else's! Just an hour chatting or playing a card game can make an elderly person's day, particularly if they don't have many visitors from their own family. Bonus if you have a talent like playing guitar or singing and can brighten the whole facility's day!
7. Craft for a cause
No matter what type of craft is your specialty, there is probably a charity that can use your skills. Whether it's making a no-sew blanket for an animal shelter, a superhero cape for a child in a shelter, afghan squares for blankets, paracord bracelets for deployed soldiers, or knitted caps for chemotherapy patients, there's no end to the ideas you can find with a search online. At Rodale Wellness HQ, two of our colleagues spearheaded an effort to decorate simple tote bags with stamps and stencils to give to a local women's shelter. Even if you don't know a craft, many organizations would be thrilled by a donation of materials for their projects.
8. Mentor a child
One of our Rodale Wellness team members is using the holiday season as the impetus to teaching her niece about volunteering. They will be working together to help trap feral cats, spay or neuter them, and return them to their colonies. Is there a child in your life who you could inspire through mentorship? Visiting a local library or museum with a child could inspire their creativity or curiosity. No matter how you mentor, the benefits extend far beyond the holidays.
9. Show off your muscles
Whether at the supermarket or the mall, if you spot someone who needs help with their bags or packages, offer to carry them, or sprint ahead and hold the door open for them. You've been working out, right?
10. Be kind
Shelters are often inundated with stray and surrendered animals during the holidays (and immediately after, due to ill-advised "gifts" of puppies or kittens — click to read why pets should never be surprise gifts). Visit your local animal shelter and volunteer to walk dogs, play with cats, socialize puppies or kittens, or even clean cages or litter boxes. If you're allergic, you can still help out by sorting food donations, answering emails, processing paperwork, or taking photographs of adoptable animals. Your kindness makes it that much more likely that more pets will find their forever homes this season.
11. Share a greeting
For soldiers spending the holidays overseas, a little piece of home is always welcome. You can send a holiday card to a soldier through various organizations, including Soldiers' Angels. Or, you can visit a nearby veteran's hospital and deliver your greetings and gratitude in person.
12. Offer a ride
One of our colleagues has an incredibly kind way of sharing love during the holidays. When she's driving through her town and notices someone waiting for the bus with a boatload of bags, she will stop and offer them a ride home. She told us, "It saves them the hassle, the cold, and it's nice to give a little door-to-door service."