Holiday traditions are part of family culture. They create space for memories to be made. Many families bring in and blend their traditions from their families of origin, seamlessly defining their own new family identity. Whether it’s divorce, deaths, or strapped for cash, some of us have to work a little harder to make the season merry, memorable, and our own. Here are some of our favorite ways to enjoy the season.
Christmas code names
Years ago I learned this fun way of labeling gifts. We assign each of our children a secret code name and address all of their gifts to that name. The owner of each code name is revealed on Christmas morning. We usually go with a theme for the names such as holiday treats, reindeer names, or, like this year, we’re using Star Wars characters. Every year, at the beginning of the season, we tell our kids what the code names are, and they have great fun trying to figure out who each belongs to all month long. I will never forget the laugh we all had a few years ago as our oldest son discovered he was “Sugar Plum.” Good stuff!
Don’t forget an Advent calendar. This is a tangible way to help younger children pace themselves through the long wait. There are many options to choose from. This year, to go with our Star Wars theme, we are using Lego’s Star Wars Advent calendar. Each night we spend time together as a family and check off one more day of expectant waiting, counting down the days until Christmas. Y’all, the real fun is in anticipation. Rev it up!
There is a great series of books written by Arnold Ytreeide that we use for Advent reading. These are exciting stories written cliffhanger-style from the perspective of children at the first Christmas. If you love to put the nativity at the center of your Christmas celebration, you should check these out.
- Mr. Willowby’s Christmas Tree by Robert Barry is a great hit around here. This is a cute story about a tree that kept on giving.
- Don’t forget about The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats. It’s not a Christmas book, but it’s a snuggle-up, wintry story that captures the wonder of childhood.
- I absolutely love Owl at Home by Arnold Lobel. In this book, there is a story called “The Guest.” It’s a cute story about a silly owl who feels sorry for Winter and decides to let him come inside to warm up for a while.
My kids know we’ll be watching these seasonal favorites all December long:
- Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas is a classic must-have for every family. This movie gives kids a gentle reminder that Christmas means a little bit more than presents and decorations.
- No list is complete without the original Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.
- Home Alone, of course!
- Ernest Saves Christmas is a win for kids that love goofy humor.
- A Charlie Brown Christmas.
- Elf, the story of a human adopted by Christmas elves.
- With some parental discretion, check out National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation, if it’s not already in your arsenal.
- Check out The Muppets Christmas Carol; it’s on Disney Plus!
Holiday Activities and Crafts
Paper snowflakes are great fun. Simply fold a square of paper three times, cut a V-shape at the top, and make triangular snips to reveal unique designs. We tape ours to the windows for snowy décor.
Paper chains are a great way to help kids count down the days until Christmas. Cut long rectangular pieces of paper, label them by number, and tape or staple them together to form a long chain. Snap one away each day.
Have a cookie decorating party! Gather some frosting, crushed candy cane, and sprinkles and make cookies to deliver to friends and neighbors — after eating a few yourselves.
Listen to classic Christmas hymns. Print out the lyrics to your favorites so everyone can follow along.
Go see the lights! We don’t do any outdoor decorating, but we know how to enjoy the displays. Grab a cup of cocoa on the way!
Make Christmas cards for family. If your kids are already drawing tons of beautiful Christmas pictures, they would probably love to decorate cards as well. Sign and send.
Make your own ugly sweaters. If you’ve got teenagers like me, they probably have a hopping social calendar this month. Buy a cheap sweatshirt and hit your local fabric store. Arrange some bells, bows, felt cutouts, or pompoms for an original design.
There are many systems we’ve tried for gift giving for our kids. Definitely budget and pay attention to what you spend. It can get out of control with the hustle and bustle. I keep a list of what I have purchased and how much I have spent. In addition to that, I try to give shareable gifts as well as things that can be personally enjoyed. As much as I remind my kids that the presents are not the point of Christmas, I have to remind myself too.
Whatever the holidays look like for your family, make sure to make space to enjoy your the people you love. Be together and make memories. Don’t let the business and pressure steal away the peace and joy of this wonderful season.