Here’s a challenge. Think back to your childhood and try to remember all the toys that you received every year while you were growing up for Christmas. While you probably can remember one or two over the years, chances are you don’t remember each one in detail. Now think back to some of the holiday traditions that you and your family had over the years. I’m guessing that these left a much stronger impression on you (at least they did for me).
These days it’s tough to avoid the continual commercialization of the winter holidays and the expenses that go with it. Although toy manufacturer’s will spend millions of dollars trying to convince you that their latest gizmo is what the holidays are all about, when you sit back and think critically about what you (and your family) want, your common sense should tell you that it isn’t the toys. One of the cruelest advertising come-ons that gets blasted throughout December is that without this or that hot toy under the tree, your children will have a disappointing holiday.
The fact is that money has little to do with creating a meaningful and unforgettable holiday season. For children, it’s not the toys under the tree near as much as the entire process that is important. While children will tend to focus on the here and now, it’s the traditions that you create year in and year out that will have the lasting impression. It’s to your benefit not to get caught up on this particular year, but create your holiday with a long term focus.
When you allow this year’s TV commercials to dictate what your holiday is supposed to be, you can be assured that it will mean an unfulfilling and expensive holiday season. If you take the steps to decide what you want the holidays to be — and what you want your children to get from them beyond the gifts — then you’ll find that this season can actually cost very little.
Before anything else, you need to sit down and take a critical look at what you want the holidays to mean to you and your family. Most people let the TV and commercials become their default image of what Christmas is supposed to be. You won’t be able to head in another direction until you know what you’d like the holidays to mean for you, your spouse and your children.
One of the easiest actions you can take to make the winter holidays more meaningful is to create traditions. All it takes is a little imagination and you can create as many traditions as you want. It’s these traditions that you and your family will fondly look back upon in later years. The best part is that these traditions can be incorporated into every aspect of the holiday season from preparation to packing everything away. Here are a few simple ideas to get you started:
Decorating Traditions: Decorating can easily be made into a family traditional event. Choose a day for the family to go on a hike into the woods. As you go on your newly created traditional walk, make it a point to gather all the wonderful natural decorations that you find: brightly colored leaves, pine cones and branches, nuts, mistletoe, holly, berries, etc. Once you return home, spend another day turning all your natural found treasures into your holiday decorations by adding sparkles, ribbons and cotton balls (snow).
Get out paper, crayons, scissors, glue and let the kids make holiday decorations. For older kids, go to the local library and check out a book on making intricate snowflake patterns or origami for them to make decorations. Let the family create the holiday decor.
Make decorating the Christmas tree a family event. Start with making a tradition of getting a tree. This may be going to the mountains to cut your own or to a local lot. We started a tradition a few years ago to buy our Christmas tree at a local nursery (while it isn’t a “traditional” pine each year, the tree ends up in our garden when the holiday season is over and the planting of the tree is part of the holidays) Decide as a family the type of tree you want to find and make a tradition of hunting until you find the perfect tree.
Once set up, make a tradition in decorating the tree. Whip up a big bowl of popcorn and let the kids make popcorn strings to hang over the branches (and fill their tummies). Have everyone create a new ornament for each year with each person placing their ornaments from this year and past years on the tree in turns. Turn out all the lights in the room and have a countdown before switching on the Christmas tree lights.
Cooking Traditions: There are a lot of traditions you can create with cooking that will be great memories and take some of the cooking load off of you. Make baking cookies for Santa a children’s tradition without (or the appropriate amount depending on their age) adult help. Have the kids in charge of popping the popcorn for decorating the family tree. As one of the children’s gifts, let them choose a special dish to eat on Christmas morning. The more you include your children in the preparation of holiday meals and snacks, the more involved they will be with the entire seasonal spirit.
Gift Traditions: While this is the area that worries parents the most due to the costs, starting gift traditions can be a low cost way to exchange memories that will last a lifetime. By doing so you can change the focus of the Christmas morning away from store bought presents to the yearly traditional gifts.
Have each person make their yearly memory album for all the other members of the family. Focus it as the crowning point of each Christmas by exchanging the albums last and discussing the memories from the past year together. Make one of your traditional gifts a letter to your children telling them how much you love them (a gift that can never be given often enough) and what you learned from them in the past year. These are gifts that they will treasured long after all the store bought toys have been broken, lost and forgotten.
Help your children create time capsules. Have them make several each year for different periods in the future for themselves and write the date on the outside of when they want to open them. Then in future years they have already made gifts that they created for themselves and will easily become the centerpiece of opening gifts. You’ll be amazed at the happiness they will bring to even the moodiest teenager when they look back at what they wanted to give themselves when they were young.
Make giving away old toys part of the holiday tradition so that it isn’t focused solely on receiving. Make the entire process a tradition from choosing the items, wrapping them and taking them down to give to the toy drive together. Not only will it help clear out their rooms of no longer needed items, it will teach them the joy of giving.
General Traditions: There are an abundance of general tradition you can create for this time of year. Pick a favorite holiday book. An hour before bed, turn down the lights, build a fire in the fireplace and light candles. Read a chapter of the book and watch as the kids anticipate the story each night as they become more drawn into it.
Make a tradition one evening to load everyone into the car and drive around and look at all the holiday lights on display in your town. Discuss what you like and don’t like. You can even take it a step further and rate the houses. The next day, have your kids go the the house they liked best and give the owners a homemade award for being the best decorated house. Not only is it fun to discuss what each family member likes best, it also will be greatly appreciated by the people who spent a lot of time decorating their homes for the season.
Instead of defaulting to whatever is on TV, have family nights to watch holiday movies. This allows you to set up a viewing program that will teach the wonders of the holidays instead of its commercialism. Have the kids make the snacks for the movies, turn down the lights and take in the true spirit.
These are just a few ideas of possible tradition you might want to begin, but far from all the possibilities out there. The best way to get your creative juices flowing in starting these traditions is to think back to your childhood and what you remember most about the holidays. That is the perfect launching point for creating your own traditions and a good bet is that memories are not about the toys you received.