Welcoming Refugees During the Holidays: 30 Ideas

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Note: This post was originally published a year ago. Since I have a lot of new readers who may be looking for resources for welcoming refugees during the holidays, I thought I would share it with you again this year. If you have suggestions in addition to the 30 listed here, feel free to leave them in the comments!

The holidays can be an especially difficult time for refugees and immigrants who are far from home and familiar traditions and may also be separated from family members. Our own holiday traditions and celebrations can provide an amazing opportunity to welcome the stranger into our homes and introduce them to the American holiday of Thanksgiving or the American cultural aspects of Christmas. It is also a great time for us to learn more about our refugee friends and to ask them about their holiday traditions. Here is a list of ideas for welcoming refugees during the holidays. Pick one and make welcoming refugees and immigrants one of your family's holiday traditions.

Invite Your Refugee Friends to Join You for an Existing Family Tradition

  • Invite your refugee friends to join you for Thanksgiving.

  • Decorate for Christmas together - indoors and out!

  • Bake Christmas cookies or other sweets together.

  • Go to a tree lighting in town, or a Christmas parade.

  • Pile into the car with hot chocolate and popcorn and drive around town to look at Christmas lights.

  • Make gingerbread houses.

  • Make Christmas decorations or ornaments (wreaths, paper garlands, etc.).

  • Make advent calendars to countdown to Christmas.

  • Go Christmas shopping together.

  • Read some classic Christmas books together.

  • Watch your favorite Christmas movie.

  • Have a Christmas meal together (sometime during December).

  • Treat your refugee friends to a Christmas play or concert.

  • If you live in a cold climate, build a snowman or go sledding or ice skating.

  • Make a birthday cake for Jesus.

  • Make lists of all the things you have to be thankful for.

  • Make Christmas cards.

  • If it doesn't snow where you live, but there are mountains with snow nearby, take your friends to see it (many refugees have never seen snow).

Teach Your Refugee Friends About Your Traditions

  • Share the story of the first Thanksgiving. The Pilgrims had a lot in common with refugees fleeing religious persecution!

  • Do some research together on the history of Christmas traditions (this book is a great resource for this).

  • If you have a special advent tradition (advent wreaths, devotionals, etc.) invite your friends to learn why it is important to you.

  • Invite your refugee friends to your church's Christmas Eve service (learn more next week about the best way to do this).

  • Teach your friends a Christmas carol or two and then sing together!

Learn About Your Refugee Friends' Holiday Traditions

  • Find out what special foods your refugee friends eat during the holidays - learn to make them!

  • Ask about any other traditions they might have.

  • If your refugee friends are Christians, ask them what the birth of Jesus means to them.

  • If your refugee friends are not Christians, ask them about their special religious holidays.

Give Back Together

  • Go through your homes together to find items you can donate.

  • Put together a Thanksgiving or Christmas basket for a family in need.

  • Find a soup kitchen or other ministry where you can volunteer together.

  • Organize a donation drive of some sort for an organization.

  • Ask your local resettlement agency if you can host a Christmas meal for a refugee family who has arrived in December.

I hope that this list of ideas serves as a way to get you thinking about how you can invite your refugee and immigrant neighbors to be a part of your holiday traditions and celebrations. It doesn't have to be complicated - a true welcome comes from the heart. Next week I'll give you some tips to ensure that your holiday interactions with refugees and immigrants remain respectful and nuanced. Make sure you subscribe below so that you won't miss it!