Giving Service during the Christmas Season
By Clark L. and Kathryn H. Kidd

First of all, we would like to apologize to those readers who remembered our promise to give you ideas for Christmas service activities in our October column.  When we made that promise, we had no idea that funeral potatoes were going to consume our entire lives for two months.  Who would have guessed that funeral potatoes and other Mormon comfort foods would occupy such a treasured spot in the hearts (or stomachs) of so many Meridian readers?

(For those of you who missed those columns, and who are tempted to write and ask about funeral potatoes, you can read about them here in “Funeral Potatoes and Other Inspirations”  and “Funeral Potatoes and Other Ward Dinner Crises“.  Far be it from us to stand between anyone and a dish of funeral potatoes!)

But all good discussions must come to an end, and it’s time for us to return to the topic of ward activities.  And if there’s any time of the year that ward activities can make a difference in people’s lives, it’s the Christmas season.

Yes, we’re aware that the Christmas season is not yet upon us, and we don’t want to be accused of rushing Christmas before the Halloween decorations are even taken down.  But some of these activities take a little bit of time to prepare.  In fact, funeral potatoes may have derailed the idea of passing out ward cookbooks to nonmembers until 2005 – but you’ll find plenty of other ideas that should help you and your ward auxiliaries give service during the Christmas holidays.

Look for Local Service Opportunities

Christmas may be your favorite season of the year, but for people who are not surrounded by loved ones, Christmas can be a devastating time.  There are countless people in nursing homes, abused women’s shelters, or even on the street who will not celebrate Christmas unless somebody goes to the work of making a Christmas for them.

Singing Christmas carols at the nursing home is nice, but a lot of people do that.  Instead (or in addition!), you may want to make Christmas stockings for the residents of the home.  You can check with your chosen facility to see the number of residents, and what kinds of things they need in their stockings.  (Hint:  Nursing home residents probably aren’t going to appreciate chewy caramels as much as they’d like treats that won’t get stuck in their teeth.)

Another option is to adopt nursing home residents.  If you find out from the supervisor who in the home is not likely to have any friends or relatives come to share Christmas with them, you can adopt those specific residents for more individual attention.  You can give them individual gifts, take them individual treats, or even – if they’re mobile – invite them to Christmas dinner at your house.  Each member in your group could adopt a different resident, or you could focus the attention of your group on a few who most need your services.

If you live in a place where people live on the streets, you may want to make care packages for them.  These care packages should contain food that doesn’t need to be cooked, warm hats and gloves (assuming a winter climate), or even a blanket or a shirt.  The homeless need service even more than nursing home residents, and in fact a care package could even save the life of someone in an extreme circumstance.  But if you choose to help the homeless you must be careful.  Find a way to distribute your packages without endangering the people in your group!

Abused women’s shelters exist in almost all of our communities, and there are always opportunities for donated time and efforts.  Helping at an abused women’s shelter can be done on a one-time basis or as a regular program, depending on the needs of the shelter and the time commitment of your group.  Don’t just drop in, though.  Call ahead and work out a plan with the head of the shelter.  Somebody may already be taking presents to the children, and you may be asked to take food instead.

Create Christmas Cookbooks

This is an activity that emphasizes the culinary skills of ward members while also promoting goodwill in the community.  The idea is to have ward members compose a book of Christmas recipes and thoughts, and then distribute that book free of charge to nonmembers in the community or neighborhood, or to members of the ward who do not usually participate.

When choosing an editor, select someone from the ward who has good typing and desktop publishing skills.  This should be done near the end of the summer so that there will be plenty of time to get the project completed before Christmas.  Solicit Christmas recipes and stories from all ward members.  You want the book to be a useful kitchen resource for the people who receive it, but you also want to use it to share the Christmas spirit and teach them something about the Church and your ward.  Perhaps the bishop should write an introduction, plus you should also include items such as meeting times and the phone numbers to reach ward leaders and the missionaries.  Also include brief stories, quotes, traditions, and scriptures that emphasize the spiritual nature of Christmas, and the fact that we are celebrating the birth of Christ.  But make sure that the main content of the book consists of recipes, because that’s what will cause the recipients to keep the book on their kitchen shelf and refer to it throughout the year rather than discarding it.

Print copies of the book on the ward copier, or using a local copy service if that is cheaper.  You can probably get away with using standard letter-sized paper, perhaps folded in half so that it makes a small booklet just smaller than a hymn book.  If your budget will allow, use colored heavier paper for the cover.

There are a number of options for distributing the book.  Home teachers, visiting teachers, auxiliary leaders and priesthood leaders can deliver them to the members of the ward.  Ward missionaries could visit the families in the neighborhood and leave a booklet as a gift.  Individual members and families can be asked to give them to their neighbors.  You may also wish to distribute the book as part of another activity, such as a community Christmas concert.  Advertising the book as part of the concert may get people to attend who ordinarily would not.  This gives you a double chance to influence them, as they feel the spirit of the program and then have that spirit reinforced by reading excerpts from the book.

Pass Out Valuable Coupon Books

This is a similar concept to the Christmas Cookbook, except that you are giving neighbors and others a “Valuable Coupon Book” instead.  As they redeem the coupons throughout the coming year, this will bring them into contact with ward members and bring them to the ward building a number of times. 

You can have a lot of fun and involve many ward groups in the design of the coupons.  The youth may wish to offer a car wash in the summer, and then include a coupon so neighbors can bring their car over for a free wash.  You can also include coupons for ward events such as summer parties, Christmas parties, and talent shows.  Also provide coupons that provide admission to educational and cultural activities such as financial planning and budgeting seminars, health fairs, concerts, plays, and family history classes.  Although most of these are offered without cost to any member of the public, having a date on a coupon will serve as a reminder to them throughout the year.

The biggest challenge to pulling off the activity is being able to plan things a year in advance so that the dates of the events can be listed on the coupons.  For some events, such as family history instruction, you do not need to print a specific date on the coupon, but just list a number and have the coupon holders call for their free appointment.  The challenge is to devise a series of events that will really interest people, and will get them over to socialize with ward members on a regular basis.

Adopt a Missionary

This is an especially good activity for the youth, and it can work equally well with the missionaries assigned to your ward or with the elders or sisters from your ward serving in other places.  Some of the adoption activities might include the following: 

         Taking turns writing monthly letters

         Making and decorating special cards (Christmas, birthday, other special days) to send your missionaries

         Taking pictures of your class and sending them with personal notes from your class members, telling the missionaries how much the class members love and appreciate them

         Baking cookies and clipping articles out of the local newspaper to send to your missionaries. 

No matter how you do it, the idea is make sure your missionaries know that they are thought of often and that your youth appreciate the importance of missionary work.

Sponsor a Crche Display

This is an activity that serves two functions.  Its overt purpose is to get people into the Christmas spirit, as they view manger scenes in your ward setting.  But the second purpose is a missionary effort.  So many people who are not familiar with the Church do not know of our members’ deep commitment to Christ.  Having an annual create display will remind them that Jesus Christ is at the center of our religion.  What better missionary opportunity could there be during the Christmas season?

Organizing a crche display is easy.   So many people in your ward collect manger scenes that it will be easy to get people to donate theirs to put on display in the cultural hall during the Christmas season.  Because so many of our members have been on foreign missions, you’ll probably be able to find manger scenes from many of the world’s nations.  This is good, because you’ll need a whole lot of them to make the display worthwhile.  Several wards may want to sponsor the event in order to increase the size of the display and distribute the work.

Find an attractive way to display the manger scenes, and make sure the local newspaper advertises the dates and times that the crches will be on display.  Also arrange for ward members to be to keep children from touching or even walking off with the small pieces.  Crowd control is important if you’re expecting a lot of viewers.

As people exit the display, you may want to serve hot apple cider in disposable cups.  It wouldn’t hurt to have a table where people can pick up free copies of the New Testament or The Book of Mormon, as well as other Church pamphlets, so that people who are inspired to do so can pick up literature that will teach them more about our religion.

You can find other suggestions for service activities during the Christmas season in the Meridian archives by reading “Christmas Activities to Make People Smile”, or by purchasing our book, Ward Activities for the Clueless .Don’t forget to feed your bishop during tithing settlement!