Inside: Are you feeling the pressure to create a perfect holiday for your children? Here are easy and fun activities to make Christmas season more memorable for your family, minus the overwhelm.
Want to join me for a quick journey in time? Fast forward twenty years into the future and see your child all grown up sitting next to his or her future spouse, confiding childhood memories and family secrets.
Can you imagine their conversation?
“… my mom always got stressed around the holidays. She ran around like madwoman baking cookies, buying gifts, and screaming at everyone to get out of her way, so she could deck the halls.”
What Your Kids Actually Want for Christmas
Don’t worry! We can make a return journey now. You still have time to shape how your kids experience the holidays and what they will remember in twenty years.
Every family has its rhythm and its own way of doing things. Whether you gave it much thought or not, your family has some sort of routine for waking up, mealtimes, and bedtimes. You have traditions for celebrating birthdays, holidays, and other meaningful occasions.
Routines, rituals, traditions… really any kind of rhythmic activities are good for us. They provide family unity, give us a sense of comfort, add meaning to our celebrations, bring us closer together, and even make us happier.
Christmas-time is ripe with opportunities for creating these family traditions. Something as simple as a cup of hot cocoa in a Santa Claus mug on Christmas morning or as involved as a gingerbread house decorating marathon every Christmas Eve have the power to become priceless memories for decades (and perhaps even repeated for generations to come).
The point is, you don’t have to do anything the slightest bit extraordinarily in order to give your children wonderful memories. In the 2019 study of 2,000 school-age kids, 73% simply wanted more time with their parents. In other words, what your kids want for Christmas is you.
Creating moments of connection does take a little planning. One way to do it is to sit down each year with your children and make a list of things you want to do during the holiday season. However, even the most reasonable and well-intentional parents sometimes loose sight of the goal at this stage, which is to build moments of connection.
Here Is the Problem
Keeping the holidays uncomplicated is not that easy nowadays. From the extravagant lawn decorations your neighbors erect every December to over-the-top glittery crafts your friends post on social media to those overblown toy commercials – it’s easy to get thrown off-balance navigating all this. The message comes at you from every direction: “Not enough! Not enough!”
Given this environment, it’s not surprising that for many women, the holiday season is the most stressful time of the year. Unrealistic expectations, perceived social pressures, desire to execute the perfect holiday, and the specter of the unfulfilled to-do list cloud our thoughts. If you’re not careful, what your kids are going to end up remembering about the holidays is your frowned face and the negativity hanging in the air.
But the secret to a relaxed and happy Christmas is far more simple and attainable than most realize.
The Secret to A Relaxed Christmas
There are in fact many simple things you can do to make Christmas the most magical time of the year, and you certainly don’t have to do them all.
Instead of spreading yourself too thin, doing too much, and jumping from one activity to another, make a conscious decision to focus your energy on things that are important to you. And do them one at a time with all your heart.
The place to start is with the questions, What defines holidays for our family? What really matters? What’s important to do, and why and how?
This also means identifying things that unnecessarily drain your energy. The things that drain my energy will be different from what drains your energy. Personally, I hate winter travel, social media, holiday shopping, and holiday parties that demand small talk with people I’m never going to see again. My friend hates spending any time wrapping presents just so that they can be torn apart. You can probably see her point, but perhaps you love the beautiful paper and ritual of preparation. On the other hand, you might break out in hives at the thought of glittery crafts and mall crowds. Whatever it is, ask yourself, Is it necessary? Can I skip it, replace it with something else, or get someone to do it for me?
It generally also helps to turn off the TV and remove Facebook and Instagram from your smartphone. Looking at the glamorous, stylized pics on social media and the exuberantly happy people is a common cause of social comparison anxiety and misplaced dissatisfaction with one’s own life.
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The following holiday list is designed to give you some ideas and inspiration for simple things you can do with your kids to savor the moments you have together this holiday season. It’s a mix of long-standing traditions, occasional wins, as well as some new things we would like to try this year.
Simple Projects to Make Christmas Season Memorable for Your Family
Winter Science Experiments
It’s become one of our favorite traditions. As soon as one winter is over, I begin jotting down ideas for winter-themed science ideas for the next season. Bouncing Snowballs, Frozen marbles, Magic water trick, cranberries, snowmen, and so much more. This might be a bit involved for some, but my family gains energy when learning and experimenting.
We love to tune in to the holiday music radio station in the car and sing along with reckless abandon. We also have a beat-up, scratched up, I-can’t-believe-it-still-works CD of Now Christmas. My kids always turn it on when we decorate the tree, and we also use it for random impromptu dancing parties during the long winter season. Music naturally tends to accumulate emotional memories. When we turn on a familiar song, we tune into not only the music but all our emotional associations, our memories, the Christmas spirit if you will. We turn on the music, and suddenly, as if by magic, Christmas is back, and we’re ready to decorate. Speaking of which…
Decorate a Tree
Nothing says “Christmas” better than a Christmas tree. Every year we wake up excitedly the day after Thanksgiving and walk to the nearby tree market to get our Christmas tree. But it doesn’t have to be a real tree, or big tree, or an expensive tree. Why not an 18-inch tabletop tree decorated with things you picked up in the park or in the forest? Or a paper wall hanging with paper ornaments tacked on it? A tree does not have to take much space at all to bring its symbolic power and comforting image into your home.
Make a Gingerbread Man
Gingerbread is a traditional Christmas treat in many places around the world. But if you’re tired of Gingerbread man cookies, try gingerbread ornaments, gingerbread playdough, and gingerbread books! Check out ten ways to play and learn with a gingerbread man and get creative.
Handmade gifts are always wonderful to give and making them can be so much fun for your kids, the process is gift in itself. Moreover, there’s a reason that we respond with such warmth when we receive a handmade gift, and why we tend to store them up in boxes for years… Simply put, they’re personal. Handmaking gifts takes time and attention, and that time and attention are part of the gift. This helps children learn that it is the thought, not the money, that counts. Don’t do it if it’s stressing you out, but if the mood moves you, why not start with these simple kid-made cocoa tubes.
Who doesn’t love a cup of hot chocolate during this cold time of year? According to The Surprising History of Cocoa, for thousands of years “chocolate was seen as an invaluable, sacred, even magical beverage — a symbol of power, a privilege of warriors and the elite.” Aside from how emotionally comforting a mug of cocoa is, there are health benefits to cocoa as well that support its status as a stress remedy. Our favorite mix is Starbucks Classic Hot Cocoa. It has only three ingredients – cocoa powder, vanilla, and sugar – and tastes delicious.
A Special Christmas Dessert
Baking enthusiasts like me go crazy during the holiday season. Christmas cookies, gingerbread bundt cake (our #1 favorite), and chocolate truffles are just the tip of the baking iceberg! And with all the magazines and youtube channels, and food blogs out there, there’s always wonderful new treats to discover that may just become a tradition. Lucky for me, all my kids caught my baking bug too, so we do it together. Last night we experimented with gluten-free Santa’s cookies, dividing up the batch of dough and adding different fillers like chocolate chips, craisins, and macadamia nuts. (You have to make a lot of test batches before Christmas Eve until you get it just right, eh Santa? 🙂
Reading books with your children might seem like playtime, but it’s enormously important for bonding and building literacy. Holiday-related books, in particular, are fun as well as meaningful and invite discussions on many important topics from charity to kindness to community and hope. I’m putting together a comprehensive list of my favorites for you to enjoy (coming soon!). For now, check out this list of 100 Great Children’s Books. There must be at least a few fantastic choices that you haven’t heard of yet!
Baby, it’s cold outside… but our kitchen is toasty, something delicious is baking in the oven, and the pile of games in the corner is calling our names. Our favorites are Star Wars Monopoly, Jurassic World Volcano Escape Game, and Escape Room Games.
Nighttime Family Walk to Look at the Twinkly Lights
Don’t let the cold stop you from enjoying the outdoors! There may not be flowers or green grass, but there’s sure to be bouquets of multi-colored lights and strings of sparkles. Go for a late evening walk around the neighborhood to check out everyone’s Christmas decorations. My kids like to bring their flashlights along. We all love a rigorous walk in the cold weather to clear out the cabin fever, and looking at the twinkling lights behind the windows makes it even more special. Bonus: it gets the kids a bit tired out before bedtime.
Giving to the Less Fortunate
Money, time, old toys, books, clothes, non-perishable food items, and even blood (if you have the ability) make a huge difference for the less lucky souls all around us. You can even organize your kids to have a yard party and donate all the proceeds to a good cause. It might seem much faster to pull out a credit card and donate to a charity online, or quickly pack and drop off the boxes with old clothes by yourself. However, it’s worth putting in some extra effort to teach empathy and raise generous kids.
Decorating a Gingerbread House
My kids love decorating gingerbread houses. One year I baked a vegan house, which we decorated with gluten-free, organic candy, and it only took two days to pull it all off! I still feel exhausted remembering the experience. So now I just buy kits, and the only rule is that no candy can be consumed. The amount of E-dye and artificial ingredients in these kits is well beyond my tolerance level, so do your own research to see if you ok with the kit.
If your kids are not happy with the idea of not eating candy while they are decorating, it’s a good option to provide an alternative – some good chocolates, a few cookies, a cup of cocoa you get the idea.
Attend at Least One Special Holiday Event
The Nutcracker Ballet, a local school winter show, or the festival of lights on your town’s Main Street. To avoid Christmas overkill but still maintain a little participation in your community, pick one special event this holiday season and make a big deal about it. Make it special. Dress up all fancy and take lots of pictures, inviting friends along, and maybe even eating out on the way home. Over time, your kids (and you) will look forward to the event for months before, and it won’t feel like a burden at all.
Random Acts of Kindness
Performing acts of kindness with your children is a perfect holiday activity. Ideally, it’s something we do all year, but Christmas is a perfect reminder. Jot down three things that appeal to you and your kids and do them together. With any luck, they’ll become a habit your kids retain even after the Christmas season. Here’s some inspiration:
If you’re going through a busy streak, Christmas cards can feel obligatory. Try to think of them as a stress-relieving artsy retreat after dinner or one lazy Sunday morning. Let your imagination go wild and show your love and appreciation for someone in a creative way. For something a little bit more out there, try this Glow-in-the-dark Christmas card idea.
Handmade Tree Decorations
I have quite a few gorgeous heirloom ornaments. However, you’re not going to see them on our tree for a while. For the moment they’re in storage because I don’t want to ruin my kids’ day by shouting, “Be careful!” And “it’s expensive!” every time they come close to dropping one. When raising kids, I think the Christmas tree shouldn’t be a precious hazard threatening small feet with broken glass. That’s why our ornaments are a mix of handmade and store-bought unbreakables. Last year we made a glow in the dark ball-shaped ornaments. When all the lights are off, they look fantastic! Now my kids love pulling the old ornaments out of the box and exclaiming, “Here’s mine! I made this one!” This year, we’re making LEGO decorations! We’re still brainstorming the process… Maybe some LEGO snowmen, LEGO reindeer, LEGO wreaths …
Gingerbread, cranberries, snowman, light, ice sculptures, St. Nicolas, Santa Claus, and Christmas trees. Christmas is celebrated all across the world, and in its journey, it has mixed and blended with so many fascinating cultures that have all contributed beautiful rituals and symbols. For instance, did you know that Christmas trees come from Germany, and came to English through Queen Victoria’s husband, Prince Albert? Holidays offer so many fun opportunities for learning something new. To get started, check out Montessori Inspired Themed Units on the Variety of Topics.
Host One Holiday Party
I used to get over-enthusiastic about holiday parties. Cookie-exchanges, holiday potlucks, and a storybook Christmas. Nowadays, I’m smarter. Similar to my advice about holiday events about town, I’ve scaled down to just one party, and it’s a potluck, so we get to hang out with our friends without breaking a sweat.
A Screen-Free Existence
Commercials for toys and junk food, trash shows, doubtful role models, demanding and mixed messages. No, thank you. This is one you’ve no doubt heard before. Why not take Christmas as an opportunity to try a screen-free existence. Replace that screen time with some stuff from this list. My family doesn’t watch TV or play on iPads. We have a family movie night, plus an occasional documentary night, and everybody is happier for it, and ironically, we do watch something, we enjoy it more.
There’s something so pleasant in eating comfort food on a cold day… rich stews, creamy soups, potatoes, stuffing, pudding, cranberry sauce, pies, oh my! I find the act of whipping together a delicious, healthy meal tremendously satisfying. For me, it’s stress relief, not stress-inducing. The key is to find recipes you really like. I like elaborate recipes and getting creative. For someone else, something more straightforward might be a better choice. What I love most about cooking is the idea that when my kids grow up and think back on what they ate when they were little, they will remember yummy food made with love!
Hilarious Christmas Games
These are not competitive games so much as they are creative ways to fill your home with laughter. Our favorite game (and it’s the funniest game we know) is to tie an empty tissue box around the waist (with the box just above the bum), fill it with ping pong balls (or golf balls) and dance until you shake all the balls out. You have to shake your bum in very creative ways to get them all out. It’s hilarious!
Watch a Christmas Movie
We still love Home Alone the best. It’s hard to beat, but it doesn’t stop us from trying. I know for some families it’s Miracle on 34th street or It’s a Wonderful Life. They’re movies to come back to you, to watch together cuddles up on the couch with blankets and cocoa.
Christmas Nature Crafts
I truly wish there were an extra couple of hours in the day just to do crafting. I have an endless list of ideas I want to try: pine cone sculptures, driftwood tree ornaments, a nature door wreath. Just take a walk in the park and you can be inspired to bring some of that beauty into your home, as simple as a few pine or willow branches to put in a vase. If you’re looking for some serious inspiration, check out 18 Nature Crafts for Christmas.
Pick a Sunday and wear pajamas all day. ‘Nuf said.
To set up the holiday mood and create a cozy spot for reading, we like to hang garlands, stockings, and set out mini Santas on our living room mantelpiece. The best way to have fun decorating with kids is to let go of preconceived notions. Things might be a bit crooked, and the arrangement might fail to earn any artistic awards, but your kids will be delighted by the fun of decorating together with you, and they’ll feel proud of their work.
Each year, the moment the temperatures begin dropping, my kids start asking about eggnog. Even though our stores don’t begin selling it until Thanksgiving Day, we like to make a healthier dairy-free version ourselves a lot sooner. There’s no reason why the recent (and justifiable) aversion to dairy should mean you have to deny yourself this decadent Christmas treat. Our recipe is very similar to the linked recipe here.
Have a Candlelit Dinner
Did you know, that Scandinavian countries are ranked the happiest in the world? They also have some of the longest, coldest, darkest winters anywhere. The secret? Well, apparently, they also burn more candles there anywhere else in the world. It’s no coincidence! My kids adore candles, so candlelit dinner is a special treat for them. They pick the menu, set the table, and help me cook. It’s a fun and memorable activity all around!
Kiss under a Kissle-toe
Do you know that mistletoe is actually a pretty nasty parasitic plant? Not the most responsible thing to encourage its cultivation. Ever since we learned this fact, we hang a decorated paper heart at the threshold instead and call it a Kissle-toe! Why not make your kissle-toe from an origami heart; or simply cut out a paper heart, fold it in half down the center, and cut out designs the same way you would with a paper snowflake!
Play in the Snow
If you live in colder climates, play in the snow. It’s important to keep your body active and your blood pumping in these cold winter months. No snow? No problem! Make artificial snow with just two ingredients – baking soda and hair conditioner and have lots of snowy fun inside!
I have one friend who can’t think of a worse torture than wrapping presents. It seems like too much time investment for something that will be ripped open and discarded. I, on the other hand, love wrapping gifts with holiday music playing in the background. Now that my older kids became enthusiastic wrappers, I actually have to get in line to have a turn at wrapping! One tip: to avoid throwing out vast amounts of wrapping paper (which because of the metallic decorations cannot be recycled) get brown butcher’s paper and decorate it yourself using stamps. It’s beautiful, personal, and can be recycled.
We didn’t tell our kids that Santa exists, but we didn’t tell them he doesn’t exist either. We left it up to them to decide. They have pretty heated discussions among themselves on this topic. Perhaps the first practice as philosophical debate, eh? I do encourage letters to Santa, though. It gives them nice writing practice and gives me good ideas about what they want for Christmas!
Leave Cookies for Santa
As I mentioned above, my kids are not really sure that Santa exists, but leaving cookies for Santa is one of the most anticipated and debated events of the season. Will the cookies be eaten? Why did glitter move from the living room to up the stairs? Can Dad sneak downstairs and eat the cookies without anyone knowing? Why did Santa – if it was really him – skip milk last year? What food do reindeers love? And of course, we have to test many different recipes before everyone agrees which cookies we’re leaving for Santa this year.
Take a Family Photo
I certainly remember a few years when taking a family photo seemed like a chore (heavily pregnant or holding a newborn). But now that my youngest is a toddler, I’m looking forward to our holiday photo marathon. We used to pile up boxes and positioned the phone just so, but now we use a nifty tripod to make the job easier.
Countdown to Christmas
When I was a kid, I made a paper chain with 31 links and took one link off each day in December. There was something so special about counting off the last days of the year and then … puff… just like that! The numbers changed, and the year was gone forever. I do it with my kids now, only we countdown to Christmas, and our paper chains have 25 links. We tried many different ways to countdown, but paper chains tend to make a regular comeback. And they look so festive and colorful around the house.
Again, Christmas should be focused on family, love, connection, tradition, and building memories around that. Do you want your kids to remember your perfectly decorated house, expensive gifts, and you looking overwhelmed under the pressures of the perfect holiday? Or do you want your kids to remember the joy of the season, your happy face, and the fun you all had together? Here we share easy activities that you and your kids will love AND that will help you make the most of the holiday season without driving yourself crazy.
Are you looking for more Christmas inspiration? Celebrate Christmas is a round-up of Christmas ideas hosted by Rock Your Homeschool. Check it out!