Show Mobile Navigation
Miscellaneous |

10 Christmas Traditions to Spread Joy

by Patrick Welsh
fact checked by Rachel Jones

Christmas is a time of kindness and charity. It’s the season of giving, and there are now more ways to give than ever. Whether you celebrate Christmas, another holiday, or no holiday at all, this cold, dark time of year is an excellent occasion to spread warmth far and wide.

This year, instead of exchanging presents out of necessity with a select few, try mixing your traditions up. Add a new habit to your celebration, and make it one that brings happiness to others. To help you get started, here are ten unusual and impactful Christmas traditions you can adopt to spread some joy.

Related: 10 Heartwarming Stories To Restore Your Faith In Humanity

10 One Simple Wish

One simple wish: Danielle Gletow at TEDxEncinitas

Children in the foster care system, whether orphaned, victims of abuse, or in any other way disadvantaged, often struggle during the holidays. The absence of a stable home and family is often felt most strongly during this family-focused time of year. It’s hard to forget what you don’t have when it seems like the whole world is celebrating having it.

That’s where One Simple Wish comes in. The charity allows children in the foster care system to request specific toys and other Christmas gifts. It then lists them online along with some basic information about the child who requested it and the item’s price and asks anyone who is willing to pay for the item. The organization then buys the gift, delivers it to the foster child, and you gain the satisfaction of spreading joy to a place where it is sorely needed.

9 Pay it Forward

The Pay it Forward movement started as a series of small, anonymous charitable acts in the late ‘90s and has since grown into a major nonprofit charity organization. The idea behind Pay it Forward is simple: do something quick and easy for someone else and then encourage them to do the same. That process of chained charity creates a snowball effect that radiates goodwill from person to person.

A great way to join the movement is to donate to or join the official Pay it Forward organization at or to simply get to work yourself. Something as simple as leaving five bucks behind at the coffee counter to pay for the person behind you can mushroom into a network of newfound joy.

8 Make Christmas Halloween

Top 10 Terrifying Christmas Traditions

Yes, that sounds weird, but evolving demographics have begun to interweave old-fashioned Christmases with fresh, new traditions. Especially for the increasingly non-denominational youth, Christmas has become less about celebrating a man and instead about celebrating each other. For the younger generations, this had led to a lot more costumes, candy, cocktails, and creepiness.

Look at the recent resurgence in popularity for the demonic Krampus and Belschnickel or the slew of movies in the vein of Nightmare Before Christmas. Or tour the world for a whole host of witchy women that accompany Santa Claus on Christmas, such as the Mari Lwyd, the ogre Gryla, or Frau Perchta. Try one of the many Christmas-themed murder mystery games or the zombie-themed board game Dead of Winter. Not least of all, search Steam for Christmas horror games or Netflix for Christmas horror movies; you’ll be surprised how rich the genre already is.

7 Volunteer…on a Different Day

Volunteering at Holy Apostles Soup Kitchen

Probably the single most popular way to volunteer on Christmas is serving the less fortunate at a soup kitchen. The same is true for Thanksgiving—if ’tis the season to give, people tend to give at soup kitchens. It’s a kind, generous action, but there is one simple way to give back even more without doing any additional work: don’t volunteer on Christmas or Thanksgiving.

Don’t get us wrong: any time you volunteer to help the needy, you’re killing it at the game of life. But so many people volunteer on the holidays that some places don’t even have work for the volunteers. Instead, wait a few days, a week, or a month and volunteer then. Shelters need help all year round, so why not give to them when they need it most?

6 Help Those Stuck at Work

Many Expected To Work On Christmas Day

It’s an unfortunate reality that many people don’t have any Christmas traditions because they usually work that day. That is so often true for health and safety workers like police, firefighters, physicians, and service industry employees like waiters, cashiers, and cooks. One of the simplest and sweetest ways to spread joy during the holidays is to help someone who can’t celebrate themselves.

Bringing a festive or homemade dinner to those stuck in police stations or firehouses is a popular choice. It doubles as both a “happy holidays” and a “thank you for your service” surprise. Workers in the service and retail industries are in need, too, and a surprise, hot meal for someone stuck pumping gas or manning a pharmacy counter can go a long way toward making the season bright.

5 Donate Your Air Miles

See how far your donated miles can go

Almost every major airline works in partnership with the Red Cross to allow frequent fliers to donate air miles to help volunteers get where they’re needed. Whether you fly United, Southwest, Delta, American Airlines, or any other big brand, donating your air miles to Red Cross workers is easy and impactful.

A simple Google search of the airline’s name and “donate” will take you where you need to go, and in turn, you get a Red Cross worker to where they need to go—helping those in need when they need it most. For many, accrued miles become an afterthought and sit unused, making donating them essentially a free option to give back.

4 Become an Elf

Volunteer elves respond to every letter sent to Santa Claus, Indiana

There are myriad holiday events in cities across the globe, and they offer one of the most fun and creative ways to spread joy: volunteering to dress up for kids. Whether as Santa Claus, Mrs. Claus, an elf, or any other character (there are a lot of Elsas these days), holidays parades and festivals rely on volunteers to dress up and make the magic real.

This Christmas cosplay may also be the most enjoyable volunteering experience out there. It can be a blast fielding questions from curious kids and improvising lore-friendly, family-friendly answers. And, if we’re being frank, young children could care less who the character is, so long as they’re big and bright, so volunteer as Spider-Man or Shrek if you’d like. It will spread joy, guaranteed.

3 Adopt a Soldier

Adopt a US Soldier

The life of a soldier is a demanding one, and many are unable to secure leave for the holidays. Instead, they’re left to scrounge together whatever celebration they can while on their base. Luckily, you can help them out, and it’s actually pretty easy.

You can “adopt a service member” for the holidays by contacting your local military base and asking for their Morale Welfare and Recreation department. They can set you up to invite a service member to your house for Christmas. They’ll celebrate with your family and soak in some much-needed R&R in the comfort of a true home. Though they can’t be with their family, they can at least become a part of yours.

2 Fundraise Virtually

20 Online Fundraising Ideas Working During COVID-19

Technology has made fundraising easier and more available than ever. If you’re unable to physically volunteer or just can’t find the right place to donate your time and energy, or both, you can still reach people across the world. Virtual fundraising might be the answer. People are primed to give during the holidays, making Christmas fundraisers particularly productive.

One innovative way some have turned doing good digital is to host gala fundraisers over Zoom. The pay-for-a-plate event becomes a do-it-yourself dinner with the added bonus of safe socializing. There are infinite variations of virtual fundraising, most involving peer-to-peer networks and cleverly branded hashtags. They are exceedingly easy to start.

1 Celebrate Abroad

Top 10 Best Cities to Spend Christmas In | MojoTravels

One of the absolute best ways to spread joy, not just during Christmas but throughout your life, is to experience and celebrate other cultures. Those who learn about their neighbors become closer to them and honoring each other breaks down invisible, alienating walls. Christmas is an excellent time of year to break down those boundaries, as its surplus of good cheer makes it easy to spread.

If you’re a small-town soul, try visiting New York City for Christmas and taking in the sights at Rockefeller Plaza. If you love artisan crafts (or just shopping), the Christmas Market in Nuremberg, Germany, is one of the largest in the world and still maintains a cozy, fairy-tale-esque feel. If you want to ditch the snow for the sun instead, try visiting the Honolulu City Lights festival in Hawaii, a month-long display of music, mirth, and—obviously—Christmas lights.

fact checked by Rachel Jones