From Our Readers
December 17, 2014 6:00 am

While we’re knee-deep in holiday shopping, festive parties, and overwhelming schedules, the joy we’re supposed to feel during this special season is usually buried beneath mountains of stress and anxiety and did-I-take-the-butter-out-to-soften-for-those-darn-sugar-cookies. To truly reflect on the purpose of this celebratory time, take a step away from the obligations you’ve created and invest in something that is far more heart-warming than any gift basket could ever be. Here are just a few unexpected gifts you can give this holiday season (both to yourself and to others)!

Schedule a time to volunteer in January

Shelters and food banks see a huge increase in volunteers in November and December, a period when most people are consciously aware of their efforts to give back. Instead of following the crowd, set up a day to volunteer after the holiday rush has subsided. It’s a friendly reminder that you can lend your time to a good cause even after the turkey has been carved and the tree has been left on the curb. Giving is year round.

Foster a dog or cat

Rescuing a dog or cat from an animal shelter can be a huge commitment. However, most shelters have the option to foster an animal for a few weeks to either help it adjust to being around people or simply to help a puppy get potty-trained. Not only will it help the animal be ready for adoption to a loving home, but it will also give you and your family some extra snuggles (and a reason to get some extra walking in)! If your long work hours and inadequate living spaces prevent you from keeping an animal at all, ask about walking a few dogs a couple times a week. You can still help out, but not feel guilty about working late.

Donate old jackets, mittens, and boots to a local school

While donating old items at a neighborhood drop box is great, consider donating smaller-sized winter items to a nearby school. Many children, especially in low-income areas, are inadequately dressed for brutal weather and rarely have appropriate clothing. A school nurse or social worker can take clean, well-loved clothes and make sure they are allotted to children in need. Call your school ahead of time to make sure this is something that would benefit their students.

Participate in a winter race for a cause you’re passionate about

We tend to relax a bit on our activity levels in between giant mountains of mashed potatoes and slices of pumpkin pie. Signing up for a race will not only encourage you to keep your body moving despite the frigid weather, but it will also motivate you to raise money for a cause you care about. Whether it’s for a food bank in need of donations or to raise awareness about a healthy cause, involving yourself in an organized event is a great way to benefit both the community and your well-being.

Create experiences

Instead of shelling out hundreds of dollars on material objects that will most likely end up in the back of someone’s closest, consider giving family and friends the “gift” of your time. Whether it’s an outing to an ice skating rink or tickets to see a popular show they’ve been talking about for months, the memories made together will be far more valuable. While this will still be a monetary investment, the promise of a future outing together ensures that quality family time extends beyond the new year. After all, love should not be restricted to the season.

Juliette Kopp spends the majority of her time reading books before they become movies and finding new uses for post-its.

(Image via.)

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