What exactly is the true meaning of Christmas? It’s hard to define just what makes the holiday season so spectacular. For me, Christmas has always been a time of giving, family, and holiday traditions. The festivities always include decorating the tree, listening to my favorite Christmas albums, eating large quantities of gingerbread cookies, and convincing myself that, “this year, I WILL like eggnog!”

While I enjoy all of these traditions and never originally planned to change them, I did recently attend an event that may become a new addition to my Christmas routine.

On December 10th, I was fortunate enough to volunteer as part of the Salvation Army’s annual bell ringing event through one of our corporate sponsors, The Rotary Club of Indianapolis. For those who do not know, each year the Salvation Army recruits volunteers to ring bells and collect donations in their red kettles. The proceeds then go to needy families in the area.

To be honest, when I signed up my only thought was, “Well, it’s a good cause, and you’ll be glad that you did it.” Surprisingly, what I thought would be a run-of-the-mill experience caused me to examine my own actions in a new way.

As I stood ringing my bell, trying to make eye contact with strangers, it was shocking to have people openly ignoring me. I watched well-dressed businessmen turn their heads as they walked by. Young twenty-somethings received such amazing text messages that they just couldn’t look up from their phones. All the while, I stood there, wearing my red apron and ringing my bell.

Then there were times when a mother of three had her child run over and put a dollar into the kettle. A group of rowdy teenagers came over and gave $5, wishing me a happy holiday as they left. After the hour had gone by and my shift had finished, I handed the bell off to someone else and headed home, reflecting along the way.

I realized that I am also guilty of walking by the Salvation Army bell ringers when I see them in front of the grocery store. I pull out my phone. I look away. I keep on walking as someone else’s “Happy Holidays” follows me through the door and into the store. As a person who believes that Christmas is a time of giving, why is it that when presented with the opportunity to give, I turn away?

Volunteering this year reminded me that giving means more than just purchasing gifts for friends and family. The true spirit of giving is giving back—whether that’s dropping a dollar in a Salvation Army kettle or contributing in some other way to the greater good of the community around us. When I signed up to ring a bell, I thought I was signing up for an hour of community service. In reality, I was signing up to be reminded of the true meaning of Christmas.