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Dress Up or Dress Down? 6 Tips From an Arts Mom on Taking Kids to a Holiday Show

Arts is a much-needed escape to another world. How to get your kids in 'show mode' and make the most of it

Published on: November 29, 2015

Click! You did it. You finally got those tickets you’ve been thinking about. The holidays are almost here. You’re not going to get caught off guard. This year, you’re going to have the perfect holiday season. Right?

We are lucky to have a thriving arts scene around Seattle with loads of special holiday events throughout December and early January: The Sound of Music at The 5th Avenue Theatre, high tea at the Fairmont Olympic, an Impressionism exhibition of paintings at SAM, A Christmas Carol at ACT, George Balanchine's The Nutcracker at PNB, My Fair Lady at Village Theatre, or holiday concerts from the likes of Seattle Men’s Chorus, the Seattle Symphony, and Northwest BoyChoir.

Ugh. Do the kids have to dress up? Oh, you can get a family photo in the lobby! She can put on that gorgeous tutu skirt from grandma. Maybe he can wear that adorable little suit and tie one more time.

What? Be realistic. It's impossible to get them to dress up. Why bother? It’s dark in there, anyway. No one will see you. You just can’t fight with the kids about this right now. 

When it comes to dressing up for a holiday show, chances are you fit into one of these three categories.

1) This is the Northwest. No one cares. Just get there. 

2) Fancy attire required. Dressing up is part of the whole experience. 

3) Play it by ear. Sometimes yeah, sometimes nah. 

No matter what your answer is to these questions, remember this: Dressing up, eating out, taking pictures and re-creating memories can all be PART of the holiday show experience. But they are not the experience. This is perhaps the hardest part for parents of young children to remember: Art offers families inspiration and an escape from the everyday. 

And here's a little secret: Changing your clothes (but not necessarily dressing up) WILL facilitate your escape.

A visit to a museum can be a mini-vacation to another time and place. Dance performances can take you into another world. Music can change your mood with just a few notes and transport you to a different state of being. Changing your appearance, even in little ways, will help change your mindset and prepare you for the escape.

If you believe, like I do, that experiencing art is a necessary and critical part of a happy life, then you need to remember that it can happen in little and big ways. It can be free and it can be expensive. It can be unexpected or something you plan for weeks. But you need to be ready, willing and able to enjoy it.

What I've found is that getting dressed helps with the transition and prepares you to accept and enjoy art. In my family we call it getting into “show-mode.” Changing clothes into something fancy or comfortable helps us prepare for something special. I like to wear sneakers and a hat at museums. My pashmina shawl is always with me at the theater. Sometimes I just add a piece of jewelry or put on some lipstick. My pre-teen daughters don’t always “dress up,” but they always change clothes before a show. Sometimes they just change from one pair of jeans into another pair of jeans (to them  it makes a difference, I’m sure).

Getting into show mode for some kids might just mean washing hands and combing hair. As parents, we often let societal norms, or attempts to recreate a memory, stand in the way of a well-deserved and sorely needed passage into another world. And that is the real gift we get from holiday arts experiences.

Pacific Northwest Ballet's George Balanchine's 'The Nutcracker'

6 holiday show tips from an experienced “Arts Mom”

1. Changing your appearance helps prepare for the arts experience

It might involve wearing a shirt inside out, or a cape, or a tutu. Or maybe the kids just wash their hands and comb their hair. 

2. Don’t plan on taking a photo

If it happens, great!  But in general, save posed, dressed-up photo moments for a day when you’re not already planning a mini-vacation.

3. If your children fall asleep, let them sleep

It’s your child telling you that they want you to take a mini vacation without them.

4. If your child is loud for more than a few minutes, quietly leave.

There might be an option inside the theater: Many have cry rooms, standing room or stools in back that provide a temporary alternate option while the rest of your group finishes the show. Ask an usher or docent for help. 

Or, just go home. Perhaps this wasn’t a good day for an escape. Try again another time. Don’t make holiday shows a struggle. You risk damaging a future art lover. Many theaters offer discounts if you see a show twice. Save your ticket stub and ask at the box office before you leave.

5. Don't overestimate the power of snacks ...

A few M&Ms or fruit snack can often get you through the last 10 minutes of a long show such as PNB's Nutcracker or The Sound of Music. Open the bag before the show starts and be ready to quietly hand over one or two at a time.

6. ... Or of a little physical activity

A short brisk walk outside beforehand or at intermission helps “shake the beans out.”


Star Wars gingerbread village display, Sheraton Seattle
Star Wars gingerbread village display, Sheraton Seattle

Free or almost-free holiday outings around Seattle

- Neighborhood light shows

- Carolers , performances at Seattle Center's winterfest

- Public art in city buildings and libraries

- Children’s art in school hallways

- Musicians and buskers in hotels and on downtown streets such as Pike Place Market

- Holiday window and gingerbread displays, such as Sheraton Seattle's annual display

- Craft shows and holiday bazaars

- Church architecture and holiday crèches, such as this international nativity collection in Lake City area

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