Our Reason-for-the-Season Immersion Experience / by Alison M. Newcomb

My stepsons are much less greedy than I remember being as a child. I recall counting down the days and adding items to my list of what I wanted Santa to bring me. With the boys, we typically have to remind them—multiple times—to make their wish lists for Santa.


By Christmas Eve this year, the oldest has put twice the number of gifts under the tree than the rest of us (his Dad and I were clearly way behind on our wrapping game). So it’s not like we need to provide the kind of heavy-handed, chastening reminders about the real reason for the holiday season, like my sisters and I required from my parents when we were the boys’ ages.

Still, like many people we know, we have always incorporated some sort of charitable giving into our family holiday tradition. We adopt a family from the Angel Tree at the grocery store or volunteer with one of the many non-profit programs promoted heavily between Thanksgiving and Christmas—the catch-as-catch-can scramble while people are in the “giving spirit.” 

Leading up to the holidays this year, my husband and I had been talking a lot about wanting to create space in 2018 for us to have more immersive experiences as a family. More travel, perhaps slightly more outside-of-our-comfort-zone experiences, more doing and less spending. 

When the time came to start thinking about our holiday plans, we realized that our charitable routines from years past felt….well, routine. We also found ourselves with a much tighter budget, without much margin to buy gifts for anyone other than the boys. But what we could give was our time. 


When I first called the local Meals on Wheels number in November, I was told they had a long waiting list, but they would put our name on it and we would get a call if enough volunteers higher up on the list canceled at the last minute. Before we even had the chance to look into other activities, we got an email saying we had a route for Christmas Day. 

This our first time volunteering with the local Meals on Wheels, staffed and run like a well-oiled machine by the Volunteers of America program. Our pickup time was scheduled for 9am on Christmas morning, which required a pretty early wakeup time not shirk Santa’s generosity. But we caffeinated our way through the pre-dawn gift exchanging and stocking stuffer delight by 8am and managed to get bundled up and out the door on time. 

Christmas Day here was beautiful. Electric blue skies over our snowcapped-mountain skyline. It was also 14 degrees when we left the house so, when we picked up our supplies from the food bank and received our route, we were all grateful it was for residents of a single elderly-housing complex (and entirely indoors).

We hauled our two giant coolers and 2 boxes full of gift bags into the front lobby, and began delivering meals to the names on our list. Floor by floor, we knocked or rang (or both, often several times), while whispering the person’s last name to the boys. They recited “Merry Christmas, [Ms. Parker/Mr. Nunes/Mr. and Ms. Pavlova]!” each time a door would open. 

By the time we got to the 12th floor, we had a system down, everyone stepping into one of four jobs. One of us carried the hot meals, another grabbed the milk, a third responsible for the bagged bread, and one gift bag carrier. Oh, and we stored the yellow Sorry We Missed You cards (to leave with a gift on the door of anyone who was not home) in the hood of my younger stepson’s winter coat, for easy access. 

Some people invited us into their apartments, some stood in the doorway and chatted about their family members in other cities or states. Several of the residents spoke only Russian, which made for a pretty quick handoff. But all of the people we met yesterday brightened at the sight of children in their doorway. Even one blind man on the 9th floor began waxing nostalgic about his days growing up in Denver, asking the boys what sports they liked to play.

By the time we made our last delivery, we were all hungry and the kids were bordering their good temperament decompensation point (after a no-sleep-till-Santa night’s rest).

When we walked out of the building to reload our car, it was still only 16 degrees. And when we got back home, we discovered our furnace had died—not two weeks after we had to replace our 23yr-old hot water heater.

Last Christmas, I think we would have all just thrown up our hands and felt somehow persecuted by the universe. But we didn’t yesterday. We turned on the oven to reheat leftovers for dinner, wrapped ourselves in blankets, gloves, and scarves, and were all in bed by 8:30pm. Quiet, a little bit cold, but contented.

Ways to Volunteer as a Family

Online Resources

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