From our marriage & parenting contributor, Mary Carver.
We took our girls to get their picture taken with Santa the weekend before Thanksgiving. And just like that, the race was on. I’d already liked and shared a local mom blog’s list of holiday events around the city, and don’t even get me started on my mental debate about Christmas cards.
Every year I swear I’m going to do less; I swear off holiday bucket lists. I vow to focus on what’s really important, to truly take to heart the idea that being present is so much more valuable than any present I could make or buy or wrap in pretty, pretty paper.
And every year I still manage to drive myself – and my family, at times – a little bit crazy anyway.
Despite my tendency to go a little haywire during the holidays, I keep trying. I have to! It matters too much to quit. I know the importance of meaningful holiday experiences, and even more than desiring them for myself, I want to create them for my children. So today I sat down with my seven-year-old, and we brainstormed a few ways to turn this wish list into reality.
Here are 10 Ways to Make the Holidays Meaningful for Your Kids:
1. Remember (or research) the meaning of the holiday.
Read the Christmas story from the Bible (or the story of the holiday you celebrate). In the past couple of years, we’ve loved learning about the origins of lots of the holiday traditions celebrated during Christmas and Hanukkah by watching Why Do We Call It Christmas, a video with funny puppets and catchy tunes.
2. Take time to give back to others.
For the past few years my daughter and I have enjoyed shopping for items to fill an Operation Christmas Child shoebox. But there are plenty of different ways you can give during the holiday season. Whether you buy gifts for a child in foster care or drop a handful of change in the red Salvation Army bucket outside the store, serve dinner at a homeless shelter or buy an extra set of blocks for Toys for Tots, giving to those in need is always going to help us remember both to be grateful for what we have and to focus on others instead of ourselves.
3. Change the kind of gifts you give.
For me, giving gifts is one of the most fun parts of the holiday season. I love finding the perfect present for the people I love. But I realize that sometimes more is not better if my goal is to make the holidays meaningful for the young people I love!
Several of my friends have chosen to only give each of their children four gifts: something they want, something they need, something to wear and something to read. I love that! I’ve also seen floating around Pinterest lots of non-toy gifts. Beauty and Bedlam and Raising Memories have great lists of ideas!
4. Decorate with intention.
This was my daughter’s idea! When I asked her for ways to make our holidays meaningful, she said, “Well, Mommy, holidays aren’t all about decorating…but decorations are nice. So…maybe if we decorated with Jesus things??”
She recently received her first nativity set from my parents and is excited to find the perfect spot to place it in her room. So she might be a little biased with her advice, but she still has a good point. I don’t have anything against ceramic Santas or Frosty mugs, but I also love pulling out my own nativity sets and placing them in a place of prominence in our home. And anytime I have a chance to use my Jesus is the Reason for the Season platter, I take it!
5. Add meaning to your countdown with an Advent calendar.
A simple activity each day in December can keep your focus on what’s most important to you and your family. Whether that’s reading a Bible verse, performing an act of kindness, or completing a craft project (or a coloring sheet, for the less-crafty moms like me), taking time out of the holiday craziness can remind kids and grownups alike why we’re celebrating in the first place.
My daughter and I love doing Truth in the Tinsel, which incorporates crafts and scripture to create meaningful conversations and experiences. You can find a 12-day schedule for Truth in the Tinsel here, and the ebook also includes four alternate schedules as well: Just the Basics (with 6 activities), By Book of the Bible (6+ activities), Characters (10 activities) and Prophecy (7 activities). (And if you’d rather not tackle craft projects during this busy season, you can also buy the printable ornaments. Easy peasy!)
6. Read a book a day.
Speaking of a simple daily activity…we tried this one a couple years ago, and it was a blast! I wrapped Christmas books – from our own collection and from the library – and we opened one each night. And this is one you can start at any point during the season.
7. Plan a family date.
For as long as I can remember, my parents have made a point to plan a Christmas date for our family. Even as adults, we made room in our calendar for this outing for years. These days, my daughters have taken over as their designated Christmas dates, but that’s okay. My husband and I are excited to start this tradition with our own family, planning an outing with our girls. (Probably a trip to see Santa and a stop for hot chocolate this year. Nothing fancy, but still special for the season.)
8. Plan a family night in.
Christmas movies. Slice and bake cookies or a bag of microwave popcorn. Sticking label and stamps on the holiday cards. Trying on new, matching pajamas and playing Uno. In a season of busyness, a night at home with the people you love most is a gift in itself and just might do the trick to center your minds and hearts on that meaning we’re all longing for.
9. Consider your calendar carefully.
I try to stick to one “festivity” during the week and one during the weekend in the month between Thanksgiving and Christmas. For my small, easily overwhelmed family, that’s just about all the extra fun we can handle. Others might be able to do more, while some families might be better off cramming everything into one crazy week. You can’t do everything, so consider your calendar – and capacity – carefully when making your plans.
10. Just say no.
Whether this is your last resort or your go-to response, saying “no” is an option – even during the holidays. We can say no. We can! We can say no to the light display or the homemade goodies or the elaborate countdown rituals or the open house at your house or the cookie swap at someone else’s. We can say no to the expectations and the demands and the stress. Whatever doesn’t work for your family, whatever takes your focus too far from the true meaning of our holidays – you can say no to it. Go ahead, give it a try!
How do YOU make the holidays meaningful for your family?