For most of us, our kids are on the receiving end of gifts during the holidays. And a parent can't help wondering, as they watch their beloved sons and daughters tear open shiny present after shiny present Christmas morning, how grateful their kids really are. Do they really get that the season is about giving, not just receiving? One way to drive that point home is to dig into a volunteer project -- with the whole family. Here's a few ways families can give back this holiday season and come closer together.
1. Secret Santa: I love it when communities and church groups organize these. Think of a family that's struggling this holiday season because of illness or financial hardship. And then leave surprises on their doorstep every night. Kids especially love picking out toys for other children -- and they love ringing that doorbell and running away.
2. Visiting nursing homes and hospitals: Visit a retirement center and sing some carols for the residents. Or, if you're not super confident about your singing skills, even just visiting with your kids will brighten people's day. Same goes for hospitals, especially children's hospitals. Always talk with the staff beforehand to find out what their visiting hours are and if there are any special gifts or services you could offer.
3. Soup kitchens: Pantries and centers that feed people in need help all year round, but it's appreciated around the holidays. In addition to helping in the kitchen, you could also help collect non-perishables from your neighbors.
4. Coat drive: It's getting cold -- another drive your whole family can organize and run together is a coat drive. Collect hats and mittens, too. And if you have time, it's nice if you can also help repair coats before donating them.
5. Shoveling brigade: Are there people in your neighborhood who need help shoveling their walks? Commit to shoveling through the holidays -- and beyond, through the whole winter.
6. Visit your local firehouse: As the sister of a fireman, I think it's awfully kind when families visit their local firehouses and bring the men and women on duty there cookies and other treats. It's appreciated -- and what kid doesn't love seeing fire trucks?
Does your family ever volunteer around the holidays? What do you like to do?
Image via Mark Peterson/Corbis