Jewish tradition decrees that all Jewish people are obligated to eat Chinese food and watch movies on Christmas. Well, okay, that’s not officially true – but sometimes it seems that way!

On a more serious note, for people who do not have family or religious obligations on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, the holiday offers an amazing opportunity to give back and volunteer. The world’s needs do not stop for the holiday – hunger, poverty, and other challenges continue on as always. With much of the country’s citizens spending their days celebrating with loved ones, the need for Christmas volunteers – in soup kitchens and pantries, at hospitals and senior homes, and elsewhere – is particularly great.

Celebrate the season of giving! This year, in between bites of vegetable lo mein and heading out to see Monsters, Inc. 3D at the local movie theater, make time for service. Here are some ideas to get you started:

  • Help Hurricane Sandy Victims Do you live in NYC? Join the Family to Family network and get paired with a family in need for a week (or more!) to provide them with support in making their holiday special. Or sign up to host a family in need at your holiday table. You can also make a hurricane relief donation from anywhere – via UJA-Federation, Nechama, or the Mayor’s Fund.
  • Find a shelter. The National Coalition for the Homeless offers ideas and resources to help plug into volunteer opportunities, and links to a few national databases so you can locate a shelter nearby.
  • Find a soup kitchen. Feeding America, an anti-hunger organization lets you search by zip code to find a soup kitchen near you. And FoodPantries.org helps you locate a nearby food pantry that may be accepting volunteers on Christmas.
  • Find an animal shelter. The ASPCA’s website features a shelter finder database. Spend Christmas day playing and walking with the adorable dogs and cats at a shelter nearby.
  • Visit a hospital or senior center. For seniors and hospital-bound patients without family members, Christmas can be a particularly lonely time. Head to a nearby hospital or senior center and spend time with a resident or patient. Bring an instrument, a game, or just a smile and a listening ear. There’s no better way to make someone’s holiday.

Do you and your family have a tradition of service on Christmas? Let us know in the comments below, or by tweeting us @repairtheworld.