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20 Random Acts of Kindness Your Family Can Perform this Holiday Season

Whenever I need a little boost of holiday spirit, I always look to the one and only Charlie Brown. That bald-headed brooder may not be the savviest football player, but he does know a thing or two about the true reasons for the season. A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving reminds us to focus our Turkey Day energy on our loved ones, not on stressing over stuffing and mashed potatoes. And who can forget A Charlie Brown Christmas? Charlie with his tiny Christmas tree remains one of the most memorable holiday images of all time.

While it would be nice if the entire world had the same nonmaterialistic attitude as the Peanuts gang, this time of year tends to bring out the inner shopoholics in all of us. In a little over a week from now, Thanksgiving sales will be in terrifying, full effect. It is predicted that Americans will spend $1.6 billion on Black Friday this year — and that’s just accounting for the online shoppers. Plus, now that Apple, Walmart, and other major stores are opening their doors on Thanksgiving Day, consumers will get a 24-hour advance on all the typical commercial madness.

And then we get to December. Not counting all the money put towards decorations and Hallmark swag, Americans will spend an estimated $704 (per person!) on Christmas presents in 2013.

Good grief.

This year, try taking a break from the disheartening spending sprees and devote your energy to spreading joy to the world. There are so many ways your entire family can volunteer time and resources to help those who need it the most. You’ll be surprised how easy it really is to completely revitalize the holiday season — the best place to start is with small, random acts of kindness.

We’ve rounded up 20 creative ideas (with a holiday twist!) to get you started. What are some other ways you plan on spreading holiday cheer this year? Share your ideas in the comments!

20 Random Acts of Kindness to Perform this Holiday Season:

  • The Gift of Giving 1 of 21
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    'Tis the season to be giving! This year, have your entire family perform some random acts of kindness to spread holiday cheer to those who need it the most. Click through the slideshow for 20 creative ideas and resources to get you started.

     

    You can also print this handy cheat sheet to check off the items with your family! (Get the full-size image here.) Once you see how happy these little gestures can make people, you'll never want to stop!

  • Help Santa answer his letters. 2 of 21
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    Every Christmas, hundreds of thousands of children write letters addressed to the North Pole. That's a lot of snail mail for Santa Claus to answer himself, but you can easily help the jolly old man out. The Postal Service's Letters to Santa program allows adults to "adopt" pieces of mail. You go to a participating post office, pick one or more of Santa's letters, and fulfill the wishes expressed by the children in their notes. You then return to the post office with your gift, and they'll send it on its merry way! You can easily have your children participate without spoiling any innocent beliefs they may have — just tell them that Santa personally requested they help him out this year, and they'll be sure to jump on board.

     

    Visit the US Postal Service's website to find a list of post offices that participate in Letters to Santa, as well as everything you need to know about adopting letters.

     

    Photo credit: Flickr Creative Commons

  • Visit your local animal shelter. 3 of 21
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    Don't forget that our four-legged friends need some holiday cheer, too! Volunteering with your family at your local animal shelter is a wonderful way to spend a cold Saturday. Even just an hour of your time can make a big difference, whether it's to clean cages or play with puppies. You'll help a nonprofit organization, bring comfort to some lonely animals, and even reduce your own stress alone the way!

     

    Visit Pets911 to find an animal shelter in your town.

     

    Photo credit: Flickr Creative Commons

  • Be the designated driver. 4 of 21
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    Some of the most dangerous days for driving occur between Thanksgiving and New Year's. With increased travel and alcohol-fueled holiday parties, it's no surprise that people need to take extra caution behind the wheel this time of year. Do your part to make the roads safer by signing yourself up to be the designated driver and letting your friends know they have reliable transportation for a night. You might have to pass on the eggnog, but you could potentially save human lives in the process. We think that's more than worth it.

     

    Visit MADD for more ways to prevent drunk driving this season.

     

    Photo credit: Flickr Creative Commons

  • Leave a nice comment on a blog or website. 5 of 21
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    Finding a kind comment among the millions of internet trolls is becoming harder every day. As someone who writes online, I can attest to how much it would mean to hear some positive feedback in the coming months — no one wants to get beaten down during the holidays! It literally takes just a few seconds to post some nice words, and who knows? Maybe other readers will see your comment and feel a tad bit friendlier as well.

     

    Photo credit: Flickr Creative Commons

  • Work at a food pantry or soup kitchen. 6 of 21
    Mandela Day at Bowery Mission Soup Kitchen

    With all the excitement over turkey trimmings and Christmas cookies, it can be easy to forget about all those who will go hungry this year. Volunteering at a soup kitchen or donating canned goods to a food bank is the perfect way to give back. It's also a great opportunity to teach your kids about poverty and help them appreciate all that they have (just make sure you call ahead to see if children are welcome to participate). Working at soup kitchens with my family over Thanksgiving always helps put things in perspective and reminds me to be more grateful all year long.

     

    Visit FoodPantries.org to find a food pantry near you and find out more ways to put an end to hunger.

     

    Photo credit: Flickr Creative Commons

  • Share a feel-good playlist. 7 of 21
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    You know those songs that put you in a good mood every time you hear them? Compile your favorite feel-good tunes on a CD or Spotify playlist, and share it with a coworker or friend who needs a musical pick-me-up. And with all the wonderful Christmas songs out there, a holiday-themed playlist would be incredibly easy to put together.

     

    Click here for 8 ways music can help improve your life.

     

    Photo credit: Flickr Creative Commons

  • Thank your mail carrier. 8 of 21
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    The U.S. Postal Service delivers 17.9 billion cards and packages between Thanksgiving and New Year's Eve. That's a lot of work (and potential paper cuts) for mail carriers. So show your mailman a little appreciation for all the extra work they'll be doing in the upcoming months. Leave some homemade cookies and a card in your mailbox for them, or bring them a cup of hot chocolate on a particularly cold day. At the very least, a simple smile and "thank you" can also go a long way.

     

    Photo credit: Flickr Creative Commons

  • Donate blood — the gift of life. 9 of 21
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    Blood transfusions save millions of people every year. In fact, you can personally save up to three lives just from a single donation! A gift like that kind of makes wrapping paper and tech gadgets seem pretty trivial, doesn't it?

     

    Visit American Red Cross to make an appointment to donate blood today.

     

    Photo credit: Flickr Creative Commons

  • Shovel snow from your neighbor’s driveway. 10 of 21
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    How wonderful would it be to wake up after a big snowfall and see that your driveway or sidewalk was already shoveled? If you have an elderly neighbor, consider waking up 15 minutes early to clear their snow before they can even notice. Not familiar with your neighbors? Well, we can't think of a nicer way to introduce yourself!

     

    Photo credit: Flickr Creative Commons

  • Offer your parking spot to someone else. 11 of 21
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    Shopping during the months of November and December is stressful enough, even without the added misery of finding an available parking spot. If you find yourself at a stand-off with another car over a coveted spot, smile and wave them ahead of you. That other person will feel like they won the lottery!

     

    Photo credit: Flickr Creative Commons

  • Go caroling at a nursing home. 12 of 21
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    Everyone sings during the holidays (even if it's just in the shower!), but adding an audience allows the joy of music to spread to others. Call a nursing home near you and set up a time for your kids and a group of their friends to go caroling. The elderly will love interacting with younger generations, and your visit will make them feel special and loved. As Buddy the Elf would say, "The best way to spread Christmas cheer is singing loud for all to hear!"

     

    Visit Gilbert Guide to find a senior care home near you.

     

    Photo credit: Flickr Creative Commons

  • Pay for a stranger’s coffee. 13 of 21
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    The next time you're in line at Starbucks, tell your cashier you'd like to pay for the person behind you. You can do the same thing at a fast food drive-thru or even a tollbooth — give those weary holiday travelers one less thing to worry about. Chances are you'll only end up spending a couple extra bucks, but you'll completely make someone's day in the process.

     

    Photo credit: Flickr Creative Commons

  • Slip a fun note in your kid’s lunchbox. 14 of 21
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    I remember how antsy I would be at school during the days leading up to holiday breaks. If you have younger kids, sneak a funny or encouraging note into their lunchbox before they leave for the day. If your kids are older (and prone to lunchtime embarrassment), think of another small, supportive gesture. Put a $5 iTunes gift card in their backpack or surprise them with their favorite breakfast in the morning. Giving your kids a small pick-me-up will help those final days of school seem not quite so dreadful.

     

    Photo credit: Flickr Creative Commons

  • Be a Salvation Army bell ringer! 15 of 21
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    The Salvation Army and their famous red kettles have provided over 6 million people with food, toys, and clothing for the past 122 years. Be a part of that awesome tradition by applying to be a bell ringer this year — they are always looking for people to help cover some shifts. If you truly feel like you don't have the time to participate, there are other ways to spread some warm fuzzies. If you see a bell ringer standing outside on a freezing cold day, bring them a warm beverage or a $10 gift card for McDonalds, Subway, or whatever heated restaurant is closest to them. You should always reward good behavior with more good behavior!

     

    Visit RingBells.org to find your nearest Red Kettle location and sign up to be a bell ringer.

     

    Photo credit: Flickr Creative Commons

  • Save an endangered animal. 16 of 21
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    The Nature Conservancy works all year to protect Earth's resources and habitats, but they offer one service that's especially appropriate during the season of gift giving. Their online gift catalog allows you to donate in honor of someone you love, and then print out a certificate to serve as that person's gift. What's awesome is you can pick exactly what you want your money to go to, from protecting endangered monkeys to saving 5 trees in Costa Rica. You can cater your donation to fit the interests of the gift recipient (animal lover, nature buff, etc.) and know you improved the world with just a click of a button.

     

    Click here for 19 more charitable holiday gifts you can feel good about.

     

    Photo credit: Flickr Creative Commons

  • Tip 50% on your restaurant bill. 17 of 21
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    It's no secret that waiters and waitresses rely heavily on tips. If you and your family go out to eat this holiday season — especially on days like Christmas Eve or Black Friday — leave your server an extra generous tip. Remember, they have to be away from their loved ones to go into work on these special days. The least you can do is be a friendly customer and give them a reason to smile when they look at your bill.

     

    Photo credit: Flickr Creative Commons

  • Return a shopping cart. 18 of 21

    There are always mad rushes of people going to the grocery store around the holidays, which means shopping carts usually get left scattered all over the parking lot. Instead of adding to the mess, simply take an extra 30 seconds and return your cart back to where it belongs. On a particularly hectic day, you can even go one step further — gather other carts around your car and push them back inside the grocery story. Not only will you save an employee an annoying trip out into the cold, but you'll get rid of needless clutter so other people can park without any frustrations.

     

    Photo credit: Flickr Creative Commons

  • Invite someone over for the holidays. 19 of 21
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    Do you know someone that has to spend the holidays by themselves this year? Perhaps they are new in town or weren't able to afford a plane ticket home. Whatever the case may be, invite them over to your house for Thanksgiving dinner or a New Year's Eve party. Introduce them to all your other holiday guests, make them feel as welcome as possible, and send them home with yummy leftovers at the end of the evening. Nobody should ever feel lonely this time of year.

     

    Photo credit: Flickr Creative Commons

  • Send flowers to someone sick. 20 of 21
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    Bright and beautiful flowers always brighten up a room, and you don't have even have to know someone to send them this lovely gift. Bring a few colorful bouquets to the hospital and ask an orderly to put them in the rooms of patients that don't get a lot of visitors. Or leave an arrangement on a lonely neighbor's front porch with a kind note. If you want an extra dose of karma, order flowers from Organic Bouquet. Their flowers are sustainably grown, the arrangements come in eco-friendly packaging, and they support tons of great environmental causes around the world.

     

    Photo credit: Flickr Creative Commons

  • Put change in an expired parking meter. 21 of 21
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    If you notice an expired or almost-expired parking meter as you're out doing your holiday shopping, stop and put some spare change in it. If you are feeling frantic about getting all your errands done, you can be sure others are as well. Save them the added stress of an expensive parking ticket — it will cost you only a few loose coins to rescue a stranger from having a total meltdown. 

     

    Photo credit: Flickr Creative Commons

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