5 ways to make the holidays meaningful

Turkey time is over, and holiday decorations are out in full force on the store shelves. Kids are making their wish lists, and parents are gearing up for the holiday rush.

Do you ever feel conflicted about the holiday season? I love the lights, the music, and the traditions, but all the planning, shopping, and scheduling can get a little overwhelming. Sometimes, I think that we cheat ourselves out of actually enjoying the holidays because we get too busy trying to make them “perfect.”

Last year, I realized during a little post-Christmas reflection that out of everything we did for Christmas, the thing my boys loved most was just sitting on the floor and having me give them my undivided attention as they showed me their new toys. To have a wrapping paper fight with them. To make them feel important. They didn’t care whether we had a fancy breakfast or cold cereal. They didn’t care whether they had matching pajamas or an old, holey t-shirt. The best gift I gave them was my time.

As the Grinch learned in Dr. Seuss’s classic tale, “Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn’t before! What if Christmas, he thought, doesn’t come from a store. What if Christmas…perhaps…means a little bit more!”

This holiday season, I challenge you to ask yourself what really matters to your family. Choose to participate in those activities and traditions that are most meaningful to you, and simplify whenever possible.

Here are five simple ways to make the holidays memorable this year:

Serve together

The holidays provide many opportunities to help those less fortunate. As I child, I remember going to the mall in December to pick out an ornament from the Salvation Army star trees. My parents would let each of us pick a star, and then we would scour the mall for presents to donate for the child described on the back. It was a fun family activity, a good teaching opportunity about the importance of helping of others, and my parents taught us to give the best we could when donating.

As an adult, I’ve been able to volunteer at soup kitchens, participate in food drives, and help with various sub-for-Santa drives. During a time of year when it’s tempting for kids to focus on what they are getting for Christmas, serving others is a great tradition that reminds us all of how fortunate we already are.

Attend holiday events as a family

Sometimes the holidays pull us in many different directions as families. Rather than playing chauffeur for different kids going different places all season long, try to pick one or two events that your family can attend together. In my hometown, we would always go to the Christmas tree lighting at City Hall where Santa arrived in a sleigh and hot chocolate and candy canes were served. Many communities have similar events. Participate in a Messiah sing-along, go to a holiday play, or attend a Christmas concert at a local school.

Even simpler, just go drive and look at Christmas lights (you could even make it into a fun scavenger hunt for the kids). There is something about piling in the car with blankets, cranking up the Christmas music, and oohing and ahhing over beautiful lights on a cold winter night. These activities don’t have to be expensive, but they will build relationships stronger as you get in the holiday spirit together.

Spend time together at home

As you plan your weeks of fun celebrations, beware of over-scheduling. There are so many opportunities: school parties, work parties, church parties, tree lightings, visits to Santa, and more. While many of these events may be worth attending, make sure to set aside a few nights to snuggle together at home.

Break out the caramel corn and peppermint ice cream, and watch your favorite holiday movies together.

Have a family game night marathon and play those games that have been gathering dust for awhile (or just play Risk…that’ll last you all month long).

Have a read-aloud—picture books for little ones, or try conquering The Christmas Carol with older kids. With my little boys, I’m planning to do a picture book advent calendar.

These quiet (and maybe not-so-quiet) moments at home can bring your family closer. Even when sibling squabbles get in the way of peace on earth, you might be surprised how these simple activities become traditions kids beg for again.

Pass on traditions from your childhood

My family has a lot of traditions. Growing up, we baked treats that had been passed down for generations, made gingerbread houses together, and decorated the tree a certain way. We always had crepes for Christmas Eve breakfast and soup and sandwiches for dinner. We always acted out the story of the nativity on Christmas Eve night, and then we opened one present before going to bed.

All these traditions became treasured memories for my family, and now I love experiencing them with my own children as well as incorporating some new traditions of our own.

Consider simple traditions that you can start that would be meaningful for your family. Perhaps it’s making an old family recipe or looking at old family photos. Maybe it’s taking gifts to neighbors or going caroling. Whatever the tradition, make it something that won’t be stressful for you and that the whole family can enjoy together.

Make presents meaningful, not massive

It’s always fun to see a big pile of presents under the tree, but don’t get carried away. Simplify gift giving as much as possible. Little kids often have much lower expectations than we think (they really just want the cardboard box, right?), and too many gifts end up being overwhelming. For older kids, make sure they have realistic expectations about what will be under the tree. Make them aware of the budget and ask them what they would like most. If you really want to cut back, try this four-gift challenge.

Make sure your kids also have the opportunity to give to each other. In my family, we always drew the name of a sibling that we were responsible for getting a gift for. This took the pressure off of getting something for everyone, and it enabled me to focus on finding something meaningful for that one person.

Consider this wisdom: if you want a good Christmas, spend half the usual amount of money but twice the usual amount of time with your children.

Whatever your choose to do this holiday season, may your days be merry and bright, and may you find joy in the simple pleasures of life with those you love.

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