ADVENT IS COMING—4 of 4—Traditions to Make the Season More Meaningful for Others

ADVENT IS COMING—4 of 4—Traditions to Make the Season More Meaningful for Others December 2, 2023

ADVENT IS COMING—4 of 4—Traditions to Make The Season More Meaningful for Others

Advent means “to come to” or “toward” and is filled with a sense of expectation and hope. But most years, we get too busy, scattered, and jaded to allow the season to have a life of its own. In this four-part series, I give a little background and a few ideas that might help you stop, breathe, and become a part of the anticipation of Christmas.

‘Tis the season to think of others. We’ve all heard the adage, “It is better to give than receive,” but how many of us do it? Yes, we could donate to the red bucket as we enter the big box store or donate a can of pumpkin or two to the food pantry after Thanksgiving. We might even go out on a limb and donate those worn-out running shoes to a thrift store. But is that really giving, or is that the quick appeasement of a little nagging voice within us telling us we should actually give of ourselves?

Giving can come in many forms, especially at Advent. The following are a few ways you can genuinely give—thoughtfully, prayerfully, deliberately—and do “good unto others, as you would like to have others do good unto you…” if you were in their shoes.

How Much Time DO You Have?

Be honest. We are all busy, especially during the Holidays. Presents to ferret out, buy, and wrap. Parties, get-togethers, and soirees to attend. Pageants, concerts, and recitals abound and take up our precious time. So, how much time can you dedicate to giving to enrich your and possibly your family’s life? Be brutally honest. Do not set yourself up to fail. If it’s only for a single event, great! Once a week, spectacular! The key is to try to be totally present (pun intended) for the time you are gathering, packaging, and giving.

Choose Wisely

Don’t burn your non-violet and rose candles at both ends during this season, and don’t add to the crazy! This is a time for reflection and peace, so pick only one, maybe two of the following, and actually be in the moments with giving.

Reverse Advent Calendar

We’ve all heard of Advent Calendars—usually, you open a little door and take out a piece of candy or a toy for each day of Advent. Well, this is that calendar in reverse. Instead of getting something, you give something away! It could be something as simple as a piece of candy to people you work with, buying a cup of coffee for a stranger at your coffee shop in the morning, or giving a water bottle with a dollar bill rubber-banded around it to the unhoused person on the corner as you drive by… the idea is to deliberately give something away to someone to bring just a little joy, happiness, or ease to their day.

The Saint Nicholas Gift

The Saint Nicholas Gift giving is simple, planned, and fun. The idea is to give something to someone you might or might not know anonymously—it could be something practical, fun, or something the person would never get for themselves. The secret is it’s a planned gift you have researched and given anonymously. A fun idea is to attach a note saying, “Here is a gift to you. All I ask is that you also give something to someone anonymously.” Then, sign the note “Saint Nicholas.”

Christmas For All

We all buy extra Christmas decorations or trinkets for ourselves every year. Instead of buying only one, buy several extras. Take the extras to a shelter or thrift store early in the season for someone who can’t afford to purchase these items at full price. Or better yet, go in with some friends, and each of you buys extra decorations, then have a clearing house at your parish or hall early in Advent. Advertise in the parish bulletin “Decorations for those without in the Hall after Mass.”

Bags of Love

My wife and I have done this for many years, and it has become one of our favorite traditions. We used to live in an area where you would pass unhoused people on many corners we would drive by. After working with the unhoused for a while, I learned some things they needed but found challenging to get. Every year, we go to a discount store and buy anywhere from 25-40 items to package and give as Bags of Love to the unhoused.

For all:

  • A bottle of Water
  • A couple of power bars
  • A candy bar
  • A mini toothpaste tube
  • A toothbrush
  • Hotel-sized shampoo
  • Hotel-sized bar of soap
  • A pocket pack of Kleenex
  • A piece of fresh fruit.

For men:

  • A pair of men’s underwear (we buy several different sizes)
  • A tee shirt (we buy several different sizes)
  • Two pairs of socks
  • Inexpensive gloves (we buy several different sizes)
  • Inexpensive stocking cap

For women:

  • A pair of women’s underwear (we buy several different sizes)
  • A tee shirt (we buy several different sizes)
  • Two pairs of socks
  • Inexpensive gloves (we buy several different sizes)
  • Inexpensive stocking cap
  • Several feminine hygiene products

We make up to 40 of these for every Advent and give at least one away daily until they’re gone.

Christmas Caroling

For those who do, and even those who don’t think they have a good voice, please go out and use it! Get together with friends from your parish, the neighborhood, from work—wherever—and go to places that would love to have some life brought in during the season of Advent! Go to Eldercare facilities, shelters, and hospitals, and spread a little cheer wherever you can! But make sure you check with the establishment first. Some have tight regulations on “drop-ins.”

Advent Cleaning

In ADVENT IS COMING—2 of 4—Things To Do and Not To Do, I talked about cleaning where you live as a good Advent practice. Now is the time to take those nearly new treasures you have culled out to someone who would love to receive them and give them a new life! Many cities have a virtual community bulletin board where you can put things up for sale or give them away. Places like Facebook Marketplace or the Nextdoor App are great places to start. You could create an “Items Free” flyer for your church, listing the items you have and adding a photo. Take it one step further: have your Parish sponsor the “Items Free” page and have multiple families put things on it. And, of course, don’t forget about your local thrift store. I know many people who shop at thrift stores for their last-minute Christmas gifts.

Help Thy Neighbor

Every community, town, and city has people in need. It could be an elder who doesn’t get around easily or whose home needs repair. It could be a single mother who must work 60 hours a week to make ends meet. It may be a family down on their luck and living out of their van. Every community has them.

I suggest starting locally. Every parish administrator knows someone who could use a little help. Someone who needs a person to go to the grocery store for them once every two weeks. Someone who needs a ride to a doctor’s appointment. Someone who has a rain gutter that needs repair. Again, be aware of the time commitment, but I can’t think of a better way to give of yourself than to help a neighbor in need.


Volunteering is the lifeblood of every church community. It is a sacred bond between people who desire nothing more than to be of service. Now is the time to explore your gifts and choose something that you can do to help others. A few ideas might be found at Home ( or Home – Harvesters or FIND YOUR LOCAL CATHOLIC CHARITIES – Catholic Charities USA. Remember, it is in giving that we receive.

Notes of Encouragement

It’s exactly what it sounds like. Find a person for every day during Advent and write a note to them on a small card of happiness, cheer, or encouragement. You can mention something you admire about them or something you saw them do that made your heart glad. The secret is to write a positive message to someone. Hey! We all need encouragement!

Special Activity

The most cherished gift we have to offer is our time. So why not give your time to someone who would love to have it? Pick a day of the week and set aside several hours. Then, pick a person in your life who could use a little one-on-one time with you. Better yet, make it an entire family affair! Pick the person up and take them to a local activity, out to dinner, or a movie. It doesn’t matter where you go or what you do. The idea is you are spending yourself with this person. Who knows, it may become a regular activity. Wouldn’t that be an Advent miracle?

What Are Your Ideas?

Remember, these practices are a personal way of connecting with the season. There is no right or wrong answer. So, explore and become more at peace during this Advent Season. And as always, I love hearing from you! What are some of your ideas? Please let me know! Happy Advent Season!

Public Domain
Whatsoever you do to the LEAST of these, you do unto Me.
About Ben Bongers KM
Ben Bongers was an international operatic tenor and practicing sommelier for 30 years based in San Francisco, CA, and Europe. He has written monthly articles for trade magazines in wine and singing over a long and lustrous career. After becoming a semi-full-time caretaker for his parents, he earned an MA in Gerontology (the study of aging and care) and was asked to publish in an eldercare textbook in 2020. He has written several books, all published by EnRoute Books and Media. His first novel, THE SAINT NICHOLAS SOCIETY, has won many awards, and his other two, TRUE LOVE—12 Christmas Stories My True Love Gave to Me, and THE FARMER, THE MINER, THE ARTISAN (a children’s book) are both up for writing awards. Ben is a Knight in the Order of Malta and helped start an overnight homeless shelter at his San Francisco, CA parish. Today, he is a Permanent Diaconate Candidate in Kansas City, MO. You can read more about the author here.

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