There's something about Christmas that encourages people to spread a little cheer. Maybe it's all those twinkling lights, inflatable snowmen, sugar cookies, peppy songs and shiny toys -- or maybe the eggnog helps.
Whatever the reason, one good thing about Christmas is that it gets many of us thinking about others and how we can help those in need. It's a nice break from the gluttony of the season, when we seem to get accosted by fruitcake, cheese balls and candy canes at every turn.
So if you're feeling particularly charitable during the holidays, there are plenty of places that need your help. Start by thinking about your skills and interests and what organizations would benefit from those talents.
To ensure the best yuletide volunteering experience, be sure to get a head start. A few months before the holidays, start keeping your eye out for posters on the bulletin boards at your local library, grocery store or community center. Visit one of your local churches to see what they're planning. Even if you're not a member of the church, they'll likely appreciate any help you're willing to provide [source: Squidoo].
You can also contact local service organizations. They might be working with larger organizations and foundations on holiday-related projects or could be preparing for their own project and in need of extra help. For example, residents in Carrboro and Chapel Hill, NC, can contact the Chapel Hill Service League to volunteer for Christmas House, an annual event that provides new toys, books and coats to approximately 800 children in need within the community [source: Chapel Hill Service League].
And don't forget to check the Internet for local volunteer opportunities. You'll find more than enough places to spread your time and wealth. The deeper you dig in the results, the more likely you are to find the smaller organizations that may be in greater need of help.
Read on to find out where you can volunteer on Christmas.
Places to Volunteer on Christmas
Play the guitar? How about strumming a few bars of "Deck the Halls" at the local retirement home. Want a date? Even singles groups organize holiday volunteering events [source: MeetUp]. One of the most common places to volunteer at Christmas is at a soup kitchen or homeless shelter. If that piques your interest, the Salvation Army or your local shelter are good places to start [source: Salvation Army].
Nursing homes, hospitals and senior centers are always great options for volunteer opportunities because many patients don't get visitors around the holidays. You can help ease their loneliness by bringing in a deck of cards, serving dinner or simply sitting down for a chat.
Because of a spike in violence around Christmas, battered women's shelters are often in need of donations like toiletries, clothes and toys [source: Merkel]. Or you could help pick up the donations, serve meals or entertain the children at the shelter.
If animals are your thing, the local animal shelter may welcome help walking dogs on Christmas so the staff can have the day off [source: Squidoo].
Lots of organizations and churches offer programs that enable you to adopt a low-income family for the holidays and provide them with Christmas dinner and gifts. The Salvation Army has an "angel" program that matches you with a child who needs basic essentials like clothes and shoes [source: Essortment].
Other ideas include volunteering to wrap the gifts that organizations get for needy children, helping the local hospice or meals-on-wheels deliver meals and hosting a solider who is stationed away from his or her family for Christmas dinner [source: Essortment].
Besides helping others, you just may find that volunteering benefits you. Read on to find out how.
The Importance of Volunteering on Christmas
Unfortunately, Christmas isn't always chestnuts roasting on an open fire and Jack Frost nipping at your nose. The commercialization and pressure of the season can sometimes be difficult to deal with. You've got reason enough to take a little break from the festivities.
Studies have shown that volunteering helps people feel more connected to their communities and useful to society. Often, volunteering requires training, meaning a chance to learn new skills. In unstable economic times, it's always a great idea to take any opportunity to beef up your resume and skill set. By doing so, you're probably more likely to find a new job in the event that you need one [source: World Volunteer Web].
Volunteering expands your social circle and introduces you to new hobbies and interests you might not have been aware of previously. (Who knew playing Guitar Hero at the youth center could be so much fun?) It can also lead to an improved sense of well-being, higher self esteem, a sense of achievement and help lessen anxiety and depression [source: Hub Pages]. Beyond social and emotional benefits, volunteering can also be good for your overall physical health. Research indicates that volunteers have lower mortality rates than people who do not volunteer [source: CNCS].
Volunteering may also provide you with a little perspective. If you think you're depressed around the holidays, think of how hard those times must be for families that are homeless or barely making ends meet.
If all of these benefits aren't enough motivation for you to head over to your local soup kitchen at Christmas, then what about simply setting an example for those around you. It's the easiest way to show your family and friends that the holidays aren't just about family meals and presents. And who knows? Maybe you'll like it so much you'll decide to volunteer all year round. It could become the New Year's resolution you actually keep.
For more on volunteering on Christmas, see the links on the next page.
Related HowStuffWorks Articles
- All Things Christmas. "Christmas Charity." (Accessed 5/5/09)http://www.allthingschristmas.com/christmas-charity.html
- Chapel Hill Service League. "Christmas House." (Accessed 5/1/5/09)http://www.chapelhillserviceleague.org/howwehelp/christmashouse.htm
- Corporation for National & Community Service (CNCS). "The Health Benefits of Volunteering." (Accessed 5/1/5/09) http://www.nationalservice.gov/pdf/07_0506_hbr.pdf
- Essortment. "Volunteer Opportunities for Christmas." (Accessed 5/5/09)http://www.essortment.com/family/volunteeropport_sgbv.htm
- Hub Pages. "The Benefits of Volunteer Work." (Accessed 5/5/09)http://hubpages.com/hub/The-Personal-Benefits-of-Volunteer-Work
- Meet Up. "Feed the Homeless on Christmas Day." (Accessed 5/5/09)http://www.meetup.com/Super-Single-Mixers-age-40-59/calendar/9222164/
- Mental Health America. Fact Sheet: Holiday Depression and Stress." (Accessed 5/5/09)http://mentalhealthamerica.net/index.cfm?objectid=C7DF954D-1372-4D20-C80ED0A7AB69D250
- Merkel, Jim. "Christmas brings spike in domestic violence." Suburban Journals. December 23, 2008.(Accessed 5/5/09)http://suburbanjournals.stltoday.com/articles/2008/12/23/south/news/1224ssj-safe0.txt
- Salvation Army. "Christmas Charity." (Accessed 5/5/09)http://www.salvationarmyusa.org/usn/www_usn_2.nsf/vw-text-dynamic-arrays/4A2D2520606517C4802573F5005661DB?openDocument
- Squidoo. "How to Volunteer at Christmas." (Accessed 5/5/09)http://www.squidoo.com/how-to-volunteer-at-christmas#module12496830.
- World Volunteer Web. "Benefits of Volunteering." (Accessed 5/5/09)http://www.worldvolunteerweb.org/resources/how-to-guides/volunteer/doc/benefits-of-volunteering.html