12 Nights of Kindness PRINT INSTRUCTIONS
12 Nights of Kindness is a fun family experience that teaches kids to be givers of kindness by pairing them with someone in their own neighborhood who needs a little holiday cheer. Leaving a small gift every night for 12 nights on the porch of someone in need offers a delightful lesson in compassion, and leaves both giver and receive with memories they'll treasure for life. Click here for free instructions and printables.
I came across this tradition years ago and embraced the opportunity to help our kids learn the joys of giving. They loved the notion of sneaking around the neighborhood, and we adopted the tradition as our own.
As a family of six, we were on a budget. Thankfully, everything we needed was found at our local dollar store. We took home our supplies, and I got to work printing the poems while the kids prepared the bags.
The next matter to settle was deciding who would be our recipient. A few months earlier, neighbor Tom lost his wife to breast cancer, and we all agreed his home could use small doses of nightly cheer.
The matter was settled.
On the evening of December 13, my two youngest elves bundled up and we headed out into the cold night air.
Trudging softly through the fresh snow on our way to Tom’s, the silent neighborhood transformed into an enchanting winter wonderland. When we reached his house, I watched from the street while the kids snuck to his front door. Our daughter quietly placed the gift on the porch as our son rang the doorbell. Hiding in the shadows until the coast was clear, their muffled giggles was a sound I’ll always cherish.
Returning home, we warmed our hands around a hot mug of cocoa and our hearts around the notion that our little gifts of kindness might cheer Tom through his season of mourning. With our first night now behind us, we eagerly looked forward to each evening. Secretly, I treasured memories in the making.
The next eleven nights flew by and soon it was Christmas Eve, the 12th day when we had to reveal our identity.
Truth be told, I was nervous. Not having experienced loss myself, I worried our nightly treats had been a bit too much for Tom’s fragile emotions. But there was no backing down now. We had to finish.
That afternoon we arranged a dozen home-made cookies on a festive plate, covered it with red cellophane, taped the final poem to the top and—not trusting my children to walk two blocks with a plate of goodies—we drove to Tom’s house. We climbed out of the car, gathered on his front porch, and rang the doorbell.
When Tom opened the door, our next task was to sing:
We wish you a merry Christmas
We wish you a merry Christmas
We wish you a merry Christmas,
and a happy new year!
I’ve been accused of being tone deaf, but was determined to set a good example for my kids. I exuberantly sang the first few words until realizing I was solo—my choiring elves just stood there with eyes wide open and mouths frozen shut. I had no choice but to finish on my own, tone deaf and all. That’s when I saw tears in Tom’s eyes.
Oh, dear. Was my voice that bad, or was our mission just one big flop?
I decided to quickly explain that we were the elves responsible for the nightly gifts, hand Tom the tray of cookies, and leave. After all, it was Christmas Eve and here we were intruding on his very tender emotions.
But I soon discovered I had nothing to fear at all. Tom was crying because he loved the nightly gifts, and now they were coming to an end! It turned out not only did he enjoy the element of surprise, but the nightly anticipation was a wonderful respite from the constant sadness.
That first year proved a wonderful experience, and we continued the tradition of choosing a different neighbor each year until 2009, when tragedy struck our own family.
At summer’s end that year, our now 15-year-old daughter was killed in a car accident. Caught in my own fog of grief, I had no desire to carry on the family fun. With a broken heart, our beloved tradition came to an unexpected end.
In the years since losing our daughter, our family has learned to laugh again but I’ve never forgotten how bleak those first holidays felt.
I’ve also learned that helping others helps my own heart to heal, and how the power of small acts of kindness can go a long way.
Two years ago, when our grandson was 9, we reinstated the old family tradition. He was the perfect age to become a secret elf, and I wanted him to learn the joys of giving. Just as it had in years past, it proved good fun and enriched our holidays beyond measure.
No matter who you choose, the real beauty of the 12 Nights of Kindness is that it is more than just a little holiday fun.
It’s a magical way to teach children the joys of giving, it transcends all ages and situations, and offers important lessons in compassion and kindness.
Perhaps most important, it leaves both givers and receivers with memories they’ll treasure for life.