Colorfully decorated jars on wooden countertop next to young girl

12 Days of Service: Ideas for your family this Christmas season

As we get closer to the big day, everyone seems to be talking about lists. Santa is making his list and checking it twice. Boys and girls are making their wishlists. There’s the nice list, the naughty list, and of course, every mom has a shopping list. Here’s a 12 days of service list of things that you can do with your family to help shift the focus away from the commercialism and hype surrounding Christmas and lean into the spirit of giving.

I’ve provided a plethora of links to the supplies you’ll need to make this a reality. Yes, they’re affiliate links, and I hope you’ll find them helpful.

More Blessed to Give than Receive

So much of what excites us about this season has to do with presents, treats, stockings, and trees. I love all of those things! But, I want my family to experience something even more valuable when it comes to Christmas. That’s why I love this idea of counting down the days with acts of service.

Every year we designate the 12 days leading up to Christmas as our 12 Days of Service. Each morning we unwrap package, and inside is a symbol that represents a service project we’ll be taking on in coming days, weeks, or months. It’s a simple concept, and we love having it as part of our family’s holiday traditions. Our kids look forward to this so much! Planning and wrapping these gifts is almost as much fun as watching their excitement while opening them.

12 Days of Service

Without further needless explanation, here’s the list of our 12 days of service. Some are quick and easy, others will involve a bit more planning and commitment. All will be more than worth it.

1. Write notes of gratitude to hand out or mail.

Supplies to wrap: Stationary, pens, markers, rubber stamps, stickers.
Tips: There are so many who perform thankless jobs and would love to hear a word of gratitude. The trash collector, The parcel delivery driver, The meter reader, your pastor, etc. Create and decorate a note of gratitude to share with someone who could really use it.

2. Hand out fresh cut flowers to strangers.

Supplies to wrap: Flower seed packages
Tips: Flowers are special because they’re an impractical and lavish way to tell someone they’re special. This service project can be done in one of two ways. The long-range approach involves planting and growing your own fresh cut flowers to harvest and share all summer long. Some of our favorite varieties include zinnias, sunflowers, cosmos, and globe amaranth. All are relatively easy to grow from seed. Alternatively, you can buy single stem flowers to share.

3. Bake treats or cookies to share with your local fire department.

Supplies to wrap: Measuring cups, chocolate chips, toy fire truck
Tips: First responders spend a lot of time away from home during the holidays. No firefighter ever complained about a surprise batch of comfort food to keep them company.

4. Leave a special package in the mailbox for your mail carrier

Supplies to wrap: Miniature mailbox set or die-cast toy mail truck
Tips: Slipping a care package addressed to your mail carrier into the mailbox is a great way to share gratitude and holiday cheer. You can share a healthy homemade treat, a gift card, or a fun new gadget.

5. Make bags of essential items to share with a homeless shelter

Supplies to wrap: Gallon ziplock bags, wool socks, travel-size toiletries, granola bars, and emergency blankets.
Tips: The homeless population is ever-growing and now represents more than one half-million Americans. Winter is always a difficult time of year for homeless families and individuals alike. Having a prepared bag with some basic essentials and a few non-perishable treats and hand-written notes can be a big morale boost. You can work with your local homeless shelter to safely distribute the bags your family puts together.

6. Participate in the Angel Tree gift program

Supplies to wrap: Angel ornament, or Angel Tree hang-tag
Tips: The Salvation Army has always been at the forefront of Christmas charity and service. Their Christmas Tree Angel program can be a lot of fun for the whole family. Our local Walmart has a Christmas tree near the entry doors with tags hanging from its branches. Simply choose a tag with the name of a child in need along with a few suggestions about what they have on their wishlist. All you have to do is go shopping. It’s really exciting to pick out a few surprises for the “angel” on your list.

7. Make and deliver a hot meal to a family in need

Supplies to wrap: Chef’s hat and apron
Tips: If you take some time to think about it, you can probably name 2-3 people that could use a little help in the form of a hot meal. Maybe it’s a single parent that could use a helping hand, and elderly neighbor, or that family welcoming a new baby into their home. Sharing a meal is such a heartfelt way to serve someone in your community.

8. Sign-up for a walk-a-thon or 5K run to support a good cause

Supplies to wrap: “Your First 5K Run” Book or a new pair of running shoes.
Tips: This service project is relatively easy, except for actually completing the race. There are so many great 5K run events organized around outstanding charities. All you have to do is find an open weekend on your calendar and commit. Your registration fee will go towards a great cause, and you’ll be on the hook to get off the couch and get ready to run. You can find a listing of local 5K’s here.

9. Start a small business venture to fund more service projects

Supplies to wrap: This bestselling business book for kids, or this one for young entrepreneurs
Tips: If this is way outside of your comfort zone, here’s a great free course to get you started. Teaching youngsters to find creative solutions to life’s problems, and leverage their successes to be a blessing to others is such a valuable life lesson. Consider how you can take this on and create a family firm selling farm fresh eggs, handcrafted goods, or entertaining content. The sky is the limit!

10. Shovel snow or rake leaves

Supplies to wrap: Kids work gloves
Tips: Depending on where you live, a snow shovel or leaf rake might be the right tool for the job. This feels like a service project from a bygone era, where neighbors helped neighbors. The challenge here is to break the mold and jump in to help someone out without being asked. There’s an excitement that comes with doing a good deed without being expected to do it.

11. Foster care Hope Packs

Supplies to wrap: Backpack or duffel bag, stuffed animal toy
Tips: Transitioning to a foster home is a life-altering, traumatic experience for a child at any age. Most arrive with only the clothes on their backs. If they’re able to take anything familiar with them, it’s usually stuffed into a plastic trash bag. We know this to be the case from our first-hand experience as foster parents. Creating a resource like a “Hope Pack” for social workers to share with foster children can be a game-changer. You can make your own Hope Packs and share with your local Family Services Department or partner with an organization like Carrying Hope. You can find a comprehensive list of items needed to build out your Hope Packs, or you can partner financially.

12. Decorate a jar that can be used to collect loose change, or add some savings to in support of next year’s 12 days of service

Supplies to wrap: Chalk-friendly labels and a repurposed glass jar
Tips: Having a visual reminder of your family’s service goals all year long will go a long way to keeping the spirit of serving alive and well. There’s just something about seeing the extra quarters and dollars adding up week after week that is inspiring. You can start with a blank jar as your canvas for this project. Feel free to decorate with paints, glitter, or tissue paper and Mod Podge. Once you’ve made it your own, add the chalk-friendly label and write what project the contents will support next year.

Ready, Set, Go!…

I admit that this won’t be easy. Once you decide to commit to 12 days of service, there will be a thousand things that attempt to get in the way. I’m hopeful that having the resources and ideas all compiled here will make it easier to jump in with both feet. Like us, I’m sure you’ll find that the excitement of giving far outweighs the receiving.