How to make a positive difference this Christmas

Time and effort is a priceless gift that can bring joy to those who need help – and inner happiness to you.

Christmas can be a joyous time of year, filled with love, laughter and catch-ups with those we care most about.

But it can also be a time of reflection, prompting us to think about those less fortunate and how we might be able to share the love.

Spreading some festive cheer to those in a tight spot might be even more rewarding than ripping into a pile of presents, with studies routinely showing that helping others boosts our own happiness.

Here are just a few practical ideas to make a positive difference this Christmas.

Give your time

What better time of year to volunteer than the festive season?

Whether you’ve got a gift for wrapping presents, have the voice of a Christmas angel or want to play Santa, there’s plenty of fun and meaningful ways to share some altruistic spirit.

The Salvation Army needs volunteer gift wrappers at shopping centres around the country to help fund essential services, such as 100,000 meals and 2000 beds a week.

The Smith Family is also seeking volunteers to deliver thousands of new toys and books to children through its Toy and Book Appeal.

Meanwhile, nursing homes need armies of elves to lead singalongs, serve lunches and dance with residents at Christmas events.

Or why not kickstart a regular volunteering effort? From cutting hair in hospitals to mentoring mothers in jail and making home visits to the lonely, there’s something to match most passions.

Employment websites Seek and GoVolunteer have a list of volunteer opportunities throughout the year, including Christmas-specific listings.

christmas giving

Provide a helping hand to new arrivals

They’ve come to Australia for a new life, but refugees and asylum seekers are among the most marginalised communities. Some families are living on just one meal a day, according to the Australian Red Cross.

But there’s plenty of ways to support our new arrivals. Donations to the Australian Red Cross Refugee and Asylum Seeker Appeal are used for everyday essentials such as food vouchers, transport cards, small cash grants and access to caseworkers and emergency accommodation.

The Refugee Council of Australia also has a list of locations across all states where you can donate goods such as grocery store gift cards and furniture.

Or if you want to fundraise while you are getting fit, plan ahead and sign up to one of the Run 4 Refugees events held in Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane through the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre.

Pay it forward

Random acts of kindness have never been easier thanks to the Pay it Forward movement sweeping the world.

Set aside some time to seek out cafes, restaurants and Facebook groups that support the generosity initiative, which includes pre-purchasing “suspended” coffee or a meal for someone who needs it.

Sites such as the Pay It Forward Mums Australia Facebook page offer free toys, clothes and various services, “in the hopes that it helps another mother”.

If you prefer a more traditional style of donating, The Salvation Army’s annual Christmas Appeal happily accepts online donations and offers the option of buying a toy online for a child in need.

christmas giving

Charity begins at home

While the festive season is a happy time for many, it can also bring unresolved rifts with family and friends into glaring focus.

Dale West, director of South Australia’s Centacare Catholic Family Services, suggests setting yourself a task to repair a troubled relationship.

“It might take a bit of maintenance from time to time, but a strong relationship will yield big returns; it will enrich your life,” he says.

Other ideas include doing something that is a chore for someone else, like taking out an elderly neighbour’s bin, or throwing open your doors for an “orphan’s Christmas” – inviting people for a meal who may otherwise spend the day alone.

Whatever you do, West suggests doing it with sincerity: “We get personal joy from giving but whatever we give, whether it’s our time, a gift, a meal, it has to come from a sincere place.”

Written by Elissa Doherty.