When I was a child, my family practiced the 12 Days of Christmas tradition. No doubt many readers have too.
The tradition takes many different forms. In our case, my father wrote clever stories for each of the 12 days and made accompanying, often elaborate, handmade gifts. Even now, the sometimes zany childhood drop-offs are etched in my mind as some of my favorite Christmas memories.
It’s my turn as husband and father, and my own family has dabbled with this and many other traditions. The Christmas Jar, of course, has become a central part of our annual celebration, but we’re still exploring all avenues to impress upon our children the true reason for the season and the value of living a service-oriented life.
We’ve recently decided that in 2011, we’re going to celebrate the 12 Days of Service. Some of the days will be simple; some more complex. Some of the service will be performed individually and some as a family, after careful preplanning by Mom or Dad.
On behalf of the entire Wright family, we invite you to participate in your own way, on your own time and in your own hometown in the 12 Days of Service. We’ll begin on Dec. 13 and end on Christmas Eve. But, as with any holiday tradition, there isn't a wrong way or a right way, there's only your way.
On the first day of service, do something unexpected for a family member. Complete their chores without fanfare or offer to do the one thing you know they most dread each day.
On the second day of service, do something nice for someone you don’t know. Open a door or pay for a breakfast in the drive-thru. Be creative, but be safe.
On the third day of service, do something in your community. Visit a nursing home or hospital for a few minutes. Volunteer at a shelter or food bank. Be sure to call ahead and ensure the timing is right for them to put you to work.
On the fourth day of service, call or email someone you haven’t communicated with in a long time. What friend or family needs to hear from you? Who needs to be reminded you care?
On the fifth day of service, read to a child. Consider calling the nearest elementary school, whether you have children there or not, and offer to read a picture book to a younger class. The looks on their faces will stay with you long after the holidays slide past.
On the sixth day of service, take extra time to pray for someone with a specific need. Is your neighbor ill? Is someone from church out of work? Ask God to bless them and make their burdens light, and never underestimate the power of prayer.
On the seventh day of service, share your talents. Put on a talent show at home. Call your grandmother and sing over the phone. Write a poem for your teacher. Offer to take Christmas photos of those special friends you know can't afford to have them taken.
On the eighth day of service, do something nice for someone in your ward or stake. Prayerfully identify the need and perform the service as a family, if possible.
On the ninth day of service, thank someone for the unnoticed, unheralded things they do. Thank a Sunday School teacher for her lesson. Thank the crosswalk attendant for keeping your children safe. Thank your mother for getting up early and helping you prepare for school.
On the 10th day of service, pay a specific compliment to someone for a smile, an attitude or a sense of humor. Look someone in the eye and give him a moment to shine. Then repeat as many times as possible throughout the day.
On the 11th day of service, share your testimony with someone about the true meaning of Christmas. Express your love of the Savior and invite someone to share what Christmas means to them too.
On the 12th day of service, sit with your family, no matter how large or small, and review the 11 days. Ask, what do you remember? What would you do differently? Who benefited most from your service: you, your family or the people you served?
Finally, if you choose to tackle the 12 Days of Service, consider challenging another family to participate with you. If each of us dedicated ourselves to 12 days of service, just imagine how much service might perform on the other 353 days.
Merry Christmas, and happy service!
Jason F. Wright is a New York Times best-selling author of eight books, including "Christmas Jars," "The Wednesday Letters" and "The Wedding Letters." He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or www.jasonfwright.com.