Mt Lebanon Magazine

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Pittsburgh, PA 15228

Mt Lebanon Magazine

The official magazine of Mt. Lebanon, Pennsylvania

Simple Ways to Spread Joy This Holiday Season 

This year, I am trying something new. I started a Cheer Jar. Now, people who know me would certainly not describe me as “cheery,” but I wanted to make an extra effort this year to demonstrate selfless acts of kindness to my kids, in a hope that one day they would stop pulling each other off of the couch, tackling one another down the stairs or stealing toys from each other like the Wet Bandits. I have to be honest, I am almost starting to get “cheerful!” And they have dwindled down on our excessive use of Band-Aids and stage-five meltdowns, so the prospect of this experiment is somewhat promising. Now I just have to figure out how to elongate December.

Here’s how it works: Each night over dinner, we chat about the day’s deed: What we liked about it, how we hoped the recipient was reacting and if there is anything we wanted to add or change. Then, we pass the jar filled with rolled up “Cheer Acts” for the next family member to blindly pick. And no matter how challenging, how inconvenient, or messy the act is, we have to complete it the next day. *I found out the hard way to make sure to ALWAYS have cookie dough on hand … It’s also a good general life rule* 

While these ideas aren’t earth shattering—and I am sure you have heard some before—they are bound to put a smile on someone’s face, and consequently your own. Here are some examples of our “Cheer Acts,” or ways to to spread some holiday joy:

Surprise your Family

  • If my 4-going-on-16-year-old and two-year-old terror can make homemade candles without burning down our house, you can too! We made homemade candles for each of their godparents and dropped them at their door.
  • Since caroling isn’t exactly ideal this year, and our family is so musically talented (but not at all though), we’re going to record ourselves singing some classic Christmas tunes and hope that it brings someone laughter (and hopefully a submission or two to the funniest home video vault).

Be Gracious

  • My son and daughter both pitched in to make a “thank you” sign for our delivery drivers.
  • We pre-made a bag of cookies for the garbage, recycling and mail delivery people.
  • We sent flowers to the nurse’s station at our local hospital, so they could distribute to those who need them most, even if that’s actually them.

Celebrate Service

  • I don’t know about everyone else, but Instacart has almost single-handedly saved my sanity, and my entire household, from eating takeout every night of the week. Yes, sometimes they sub the wrong thing, or you end up with large flannel pajamas instead of broccoli, but most of the time, they are doing their best. And who doesn’t want free pajamas? We decided to put a card and cash tip out for our favorite Instacart shopper of the week.
  • We sent a letter to the local fire and police stations and EMT, thanking the workers for their dedicated work in serving others. Thankfully we have not needed any of these services, but we are very thankful for them, and in the event we make homemade candles again, I want the firemen to know that we appreciate them.

Thanks to Teachers and Caregivers

  • Now my kids are not in school, but I know there are countless creative ways to thank the teachers who are going above and beyond their normal responsibilities. Gift cards to local small businesses are a good play here.
  • We also decided to draw pictures and send our Christmas card to nursing homes nearby.

Donate Locally

  • Homeless shelters, your local church, animal shelters, a soup kitchen, Toys for Tots—I could go on and on. Pick your favorite charity, non-profit, or need-based organization, and donate. It doesn’t have to be money, it can also be your time. But they don’t just need your help now, so this year we’re changing our typical giving approach to a rotating ongoing donation of our three favorite places.


  • I finally figured out the mute on Zoom and no one has complimented me yet?! This one is for the adults in the room. However you telework, compliment a deserving coworker’s work to a manager or on a comment card—a little recognition goes a long way. Hint Hint…

Share Neighborly Love

  • I don’t quite comprehend it, but painting rocks is more fun than an iPad in this house. My daughter chose to paint rocks a vibrant red and green and deliver them to all of our neighbors—or at least all of our neighbors that we could physically walk to without freezing.
  • Plain and simple: Shovel your neighbors sidewalk, driveway, she-shed entrance. C’mon, it doubles as a workout, just don’t wear visible legwarmers.

Friendship Circle

  • Usually we’ll get together with a few friends and do a cookie or wine exchange. This year, we decided to switch it to a snail mail gift card exchange and give that money to small businesses instead.
  • Since we have very limited places to go, I often find myself toting three kids in the car for a joyride. To make those more exciting, I put in the Cheer Jar the idea of driving to a friend’s or family member’s house and leaving candy canes on the windshields of their cars. Friends + Family: if a candy cane is stuck to your car and you are reading this … it wasn’t me.

Happy at Home

  • I am kind of terrified for when this one gets pulled, but doing someone else’s chore before they get a chance to do it was a good idea conceptually. In reality, I don’t want my two-year-old emptying the dishwasher.
  • Since spelling isn’t exactly a skillset in our home, both for my kids and husband, we’re adding the act of putting surprise sticky notes with nice pictures on the wall of someone else’s room. I limited the amount of stickies to three, don’t fret.

If this list doesn’t inspire you to at least buy the person’s coffee behind you in line, I am sorry. Because you may not be able to see my smile, but I am smiling. And I’m more cheerful this year thanks to these simple acts we’re doing as a family.

Have other suggestions for selfless ways to spread joy? Comment below!


  1. Author’s gravatar

    Beautifully written Shannon!

  2. Author’s gravatar

    You are doing Christmas right! You are teaching your children so many valuable lessons. Merry Christmas to you and your family.

  3. Author’s gravatar

    American ingenuity and goodness on display! Thanks for the concrete examples in your article. One of my favorite gifts received as a teacher was a gift card for the car wash!

  4. Author’s gravatar

    These are absolutely wonderful ideas and I hope people take your suggestions to heart and continue them for many years to come. You are a very talented writer and we all know where you get that from. Merry Christmas!

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