It’s official… the Christmas season is definitely here.  There are Christmas decorations everywhere, twice as many people in the mall as usual and nothing but Christmas carols on most radio stations.  With Christmas parties all over  and the end of the fall semester behind us, it seems that everyone is getting into the “Christmas spirit.”  But what does that really mean?

For students like me in Gannon’s social work program, the start of the Christmas season means that we’re serving hundreds of people at the annual Christmas Dinner.  We invite people from the Erie community and many of the people who come are from low-income families. 

On the day of the event, they all come to Gannon’s Hammermill Center.  Student and faculty volunteers decorate the gym with Christmas trees, tinsel, and lights and we play Christmas songs for background music.  We serve everyone a warm meal and sit down to eat with them.  There are crafts and activities for the kids and Santa even makes an appearance every year to visit with them for a while.

The people who come to the dinner are lonely, disadvantaged and might not be able to afford to give their kids gifts for Christmas.  By bringing them in to the gym and throwing a Christmas party, we can help them to forget about all of that for a few hours and enjoy the holiday season.

It’s a good experience for the student volunteers because we get to interact with people that we wouldn’t normally talk to.  Some of them are homeless, some are low-income single moms on welfare and some are living with mental health issues.  They’re the people that society trains us to ignore, but they’re all very friendly.

For the social work students in particular, we learn about diversity in the Erie community and gain experience working with people who come from different social, racial and economic backgrounds.  When I sat down and talked to some of them, I realized that we’re really not that different from each other after all.  We want a lot of the same things and we like to do a lot of the same things.  We just grew up in different life situations.  Serving others at an event like the Christmas Dinner is a learning experience.

To me, the spirit of Christmas is about counting my blessings and giving back to the community that I’ve been living in since I came to Gannon almost four years ago.  But it doesn’t have to end at the end of the Christmas season – the spirit of service can last long after we take down our Christmas lights.

We don’t need to limit ourselves to helping out only once a year.  There are always people out there who are less fortunate than we are, and we always have the opportunity to make a difference in someone’s life.  Try doing a little something extra for someone this holiday season, and let the spirit of service carry through the whole year.

Merry Christmas!

Are you trying to get in the Christmas spirit? Let us help with our other posts about Christmas