This is a fantastic time of year: parties, presents, friends and celebrations. Whether we’re all ready or not, the holiday season is officially in full swing. However, one of the biggest issues with the holidays is that many of us are caught up in the festivities rather than taking the time to remember and acknowledge what the season is all about: spending time with our loved ones and being grateful for another year.

Connections, bonds and a sense of belonging are what all of us crave, and those without, get the full weight of their absence. According to the Huffington Post, even the best of us are affected by loneliness during the holidays.

For veterans without family and friends to celebrate with are oftentimes affected more negatively than the rest of us.

It’s important for everyone – regardless of economic status, zip code, religious affiliation, political leaning and profession – to have a place among family and friends, where there’s love, respect and value.

For veterans and active duty service members that aren’t blessed with these necessary ties are the most vulnerable this time of year. Their sacrifice, dedication and bravery, all in the name of what we all value the most, goes unappreciated and unrecognized without family, friends and neighbors to celebrate with.

During this season, we need to pull ourselves out of the seemingly perpetual haze of gift-buying and fancy parties, and truly remember what the holiday season is all about. We need to celebrate those closest to us and honor those who we’ve never met, but have touched our lives, nevertheless.

Everyone – family and strangers, alike – have made our world a better place.

And, above all things, it’s important to teach our children to give back and give selflessly. After all, that’s what our veterans did and our active duty men and women do for us everyday. Without our veterans (and active duty service members, of course), we wouldn’t have been able to celebrate the holiday season so freely.

How to Celebrate the Season by Giving Back to Our Veterans

  • Instead of unwrapping mounds of gifts, take your family to your Veteran Affairs (VA) hospital to spend some time with veterans, spreading holiday cheer.
  • Contact your local church and offer to drive veterans to services.
  • Bring a homemade pie or other holiday dessert to you local VA hospital (always check with the VA staff beforehand).
  • Ask your family and friends to donate to a veteran’s charity or an organization that supports active duty service members in your name instead of buying a gift.
  • While you’re rummaging through your old holiday decorations, instead of putting out the out-of-date wreaths and garlands in the trash, donate them to a veterans’ organization so that they can create a festive atmosphere at their facility.
  • Volunteer at a soup kitchen that helps homeless veterans.
  • Donate a living holiday tree to a VA hospital or a veterans’ residence. Your simple, living gift will remind the men and women everyday that you care about them.
  • Round up your children and have them sing carols and holiday songs to veterans.
  • Donate gently used coats, scarves, gloves, boots and sweaters to veterans in need. Check out your local USAgain or Goodwill for locations.