1. Keep a candle burning
The constantly burning flame, holding back the darkness, is a potent symbol of life in the heart of winter. On the first Sunday of Advent (the period beginning four Sundays before Christmas), some Christians carry home a taper, lit from their church’s Advent candle, and keep it burning until Christmas Day using a series of candles. Keep your Christmas flame on the table during family meals. You might also like to follow the tradition of lighting three more candles — one for each week of Advent.
2. Support a worthy cause
Make a donation in someone’s name to an organization you know he or she would like to support, such as the American Cancer Society, the American Heart Association, March of Dimes Birth Defects Foundation or the Christian Children’s Fund.
3. Write a letter to your past
Is there someone you wish you’d thanked for a kindness you’ve remembered all your life? An old friend with whom you’ve quarreled and would like to be reconciled? Someone you’ve never been able to tell “I love you”? Now is the ideal time to grab pen and paper and write a note to tell them so.
4. Give a gift that’s really needed
Often we buy people presents just for the sake of buying them something. But there are many things the people on your list would love that aren’t store-bought.
That’s why Jan Gonder, a Reader’s Digest reader from Los Angeles, came up with the idea of giving coupons redeemable for some of her time and talents. Last year, she gave coupons for teaching calligraphy and needlepoint, even tutoring for the SAT exams.
The idea is to match the service with the person’s need. As Gonder explains, “Children might appreciate coupons relieving them of chores, teens with driver’s licenses a chance at the family car, or new brides a promise to help write thank-you notes.”
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5. Plant a real Christmas tree
A lovely way to remember this Christmas, this could also make a great last-minute gift for a nature-loving friend. For just $10 and a phone call (or the click of a mouse), you can help American Forests, the nation’s oldest nonprofit citizen conservation organization, plant ten trees in a threatened forest ecosystem.
The organization’s Global ReLeaf program plants trees across the United States in areas that have been damaged or destroyed by natural (or human-made) disasters. The program has planted over 13 million trees since 1990 in 45 states, with a goal of planting 20 million trees by the end of the year 2000. If you plant ten or more trees, American Forests will send a personalized certificate to you or the person of your choice. Call American Forests at 800-873-5323, or visit online
6. Create a new family holiday
If it’s traditional to spend Christmas Eve with all your husband’s relatives and Christmas Day with yours, you may feel you miss out celebrating the holiday at your house with just your immediate family. Lynne Blalock, from Memphis, reports that she and her children never seemed to have any private time to enjoy Christmas together. So she took matters into her own hands and invented a new family holiday. “We created Christmas Adam on December 23 — because Adam came before Eve,” says Blalock. That’s the day when they open presents and have a special meal just for the immediate family. And though Blalock says her life is less hectic now, “Christmas Adam is still a tradition.”
7. Create a Christmas gift book
Buy a beautiful blank journal to record the gifts you and your family receive as well as those you give. This book will come in handy when it’s time to write thank-you notes, and in subsequent years, it will help you avoid giving the same gift to a friend or family member twice. It also serves as a lovely record of the thoughtfulness of others — and yourself.
8. Trim the tree stress-free
Give each family member his own part of the tree to decorate. “Using beautiful red ribbon, divide the tree into sections so that everyone gets his own place to work,” she suggests. “This will eliminate the familiar ‘Hey! I was going to put something there! That was my spot! I quit!’”
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9. Eat by tree light
After the tree is decorated, have a meal around it. Turn off all the lights except for those on the tree, and admire its beauty. This is an especially good idea after a stressful afternoon spent Christmas shopping at the mall. That’s one reason why Carolyn A. Clarke, a Reader’s Digest reader and mother from Manassas, VA., has made eating around the tree a family tradition. “Young kids enjoy tree lights,” she says, “and they seem to have a calming effect on them.”
10. Watch a meaningful movie
Pick a seasonal flick that celebrates sharing and compassion. Try The Bishop's Wife, a 1947 film starring Cary Grant about an angel summoned to Earth to help struggling members of a community, or It's Wonderful Life, the perennial favorite from 1946 in which a downtrodden James Stewart learns how much his existence really matters.
11. Keep Christmas Eve simple
Instead of slaving to prepare a fantastic spread on Christmas Eve as well as Christmas Day, suggest a simple meal, such as pizza, or let guests make their own sandwiches from a selection of fillings. That way, you’ll have more time to relax and enjoy each other’s company — which is what Christmas is all about.
12. Set an extra place at Christmas dinner
Each year, there are many people without families who spend the holiday alone. If you know someone like that, extend an invitation to join you at your table. Cooking for an extra person won’t take much more effort, but it will make all the difference to your guest.
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13. Go to church
Whatever your religious practice throughout the year, Christmas is a time to wake up our spiritual selves. Many find that the familiar carols and readings stir an understanding of God that proves elusive at other times of the year. This Christmas, remember the real reason for the festival — the birth of Jesus Christ.