In the midst of all the year-end holiday hullabaloo, children (and parents) can often lose sight of the significance of the giving season. Putting a spin on the “Twelve Days of Christmas” song, the following list offers a dozen ways to connect and create more meaningful family holiday celebrations. No gift receipts required.
One of the best ways to make your holiday more meaningful is to “adopt” a family in need through a local charity. When you call the charity, ask for a family with children your own kids’ ages. Then, if you normally give your child five gifts, suggest giving them three and let them pick out two for each child in your assigned family.
(Explore local places and ways to give to families during the holiday season.)
Have each family member take a slip of paper and secretly write down one non-monetary thing they want to work for, wish for and pray for in the coming year. Then, put it into a decorative envelope or ornament and attach it to the tree. On Christmas morning, family members take turns reading their aspirations and then discuss ways everyone can help each person work toward their goal.
Incorporate the “Twelve Days” theme into a family fitness routine. Decide on one activity you can do together each day to stay fit — walk around the neighborhood and look at lights, jump rope to a favorite holiday song or play a game of basketball while the pie is baking.
Family photo tree
Decorate your tree with individual photos of family members taken throughout the year. Mount images on construction paper, felt or foam; for each photo, write the date it was taken on the back, attach a ribbon and hang it on the tree. Don’t celebrate Christmas? A photo garland would make a festive decoration for a fireplace mantel or a bookshelf. Keep photos year after year and add more as you go to remind kids of how blessed they have been throughout their childhood. When your children are grown, pass along the collected pictures so they, in turn, can carry on the tradition with their own children.
Every year, select one country and research how its citizens celebrate the holiday season. Make mock passports that can be used year after year for your holiday “travels.” Find out what the culture and traditions of the country are like, learn a few words of its language and explore its foods. If you have extended family members from other parts of the country or world, have them share insights and tell stories about their holiday celebrations and memories.
Make an Advent calendar of character traits you want to instill in your family. Pick one virtue each day, discuss what it means and talk or read about someone in history who exemplified it. Then, decide how you and your children can put that virtue into action in your lives. For example, practice kindness by raking an elderly neighbor’s leaves.
Families so often forget to share positive and encouraging words with one another. Have your family sit in a circle and pass a fuzzy teddy bear around. As you do, have the person holding the bear say something he appreciates about someone sitting to his right or left. This will set the tone for an uplifting celebration and teach your kids how to express their gratitude for others.
Appreciation for essential workers
It has been another tough year for everyone, but it has been especially hard for essential workers such as nurses and doctors, mail carriers, grocery store staff, etc. Show your appreciation by sending cards to show your appreciation or leave some treats out for delivery divers over the busy holiday season.
The holidays are a great time for grandparents and kids to connect and share some holiday cheer. If you aren't all together this year you can still use apps or games to connect with grandparents. Or get your kids to interview their grandparents over a video call and ask them to share their own family memories of the past. Here are some ideas about how to set up the interview and what to ask.
Decorate the boughs of an outdoor tree with pine cones rolled in peanut butter and birdseed, a popcorn and cranberry garland, and orange and apple slices that have been attached to pipe cleaners or opened paperclips. What a cheery way to attract and take care of neighborhood wildlife!
Reuse holiday wrapping paper to cover another gift or line a drawer, or let kids doodle on the reverse side. Christmas cards can be recycled, too. Cut them in half and use the blank side to jot down reminder notes, or let your kids cut them up to make new cards for next year. You can also recycle Christmas trees: Take them to state parks for recycling or give them to the scouts for their annual tree drive rather than sending them to the curb for trash pickup.
Family video newsletter
Let each child take turns being the anchorperson while you record, but make it more than just reading off the news. Take footage of the kids’ bedrooms as your kids show a favorite stuffed animal or in the yard as they perform a newly acquired skill. Attach a fun family video file to your annual holiday-greeting email to friends and family.
Editor’s note: This article was originally published in 2019, and updated in 2021.