Every family has a set of holiday traditions that are uniquely their own. They make the season special and create wonderful memories and moments for your children.
Are you looking for a few ideas to create your own unique traditions that your family can partake in, year after year? Here are a few of our favorites.
Bowl of Blessings
This game helps people open up to telling stories and sharing what is on their hearts and minds.
Collect an assortment of small trinkets that are reflective of the season. Alternately, you can draw pictures or craft them out of clay. You want the same number or more than you have people at your gathering. Place them in an attractive bowl and bring them to the dinner table. You can use it on a special day or multiple days during the season.
Pass the bowl around the table at the beginning of the meal. Everyone picks out an item that calls to them. Give participants a few minutes (or the duration of dinner) to think about what they want to say concerning the trinket. It could be a memory, story, blessing, or positive experience in their life that can be connected to some aspect of the trinket.
For example, if I pulled out a mouse, I could say that I am grateful for the little things in life that make me smile, express admiration for a quiet friend who always knows when I'm having a bad day, or tell a story about when I was little and my dad tried to catch mice in the basement.
The Perfect Gift
This idea came from a friend of a friend, whose family uses this super creative, sweet, and often hilarious gift exchange every year at Christmas. It is a great way around the white elephant gifts, the $25 max family name draw, or all the things you do just so there's something to open. Maybe you'd like to do gifts, but there are just too many of you to manage or afford it. This is especially good for groups who are still getting to know each other. Fabulous conversation starter.
Preferably a couple weeks before your gathering, instruct everyone to think of The Perfect Gift for each person. It can be as expensive, unrealistic, extinct, or fantastic as you like. So for your 5 year-old nephew, his own dinosaur park full of real, but harmless dinosaurs. For your mom, dinner with Nelson Mandela at Noma. For your grandma, a 3-story red oak paneled library attached to her sun room. I would want a robot that picks things up off the floor and chases the person who dropped it while playing that person's least-favorite song. You get the idea. Find (or create) a picture of your Perfect Gift and wrap it up. Any size box or bag, or just roll and put a ribbon on it. Everyone does this for everyone (most fun) or exchange names if you need to.
At gift time, you get to see how everyone likes your ideas and get to bask in the wonders of your own perfect gifts. Just like real gifting, but without the consumerism, waste, returns, guilt, and cost!
Pick someone you'd like to delight and enlist your kids to do a nightly drop. We used to do the 12 days leading up to Christmas, with twelve things on the first day, 11 things the second day, etc. down to one small "box of love" on Christmas Eve, with accompanying cheese poem, of course. It was the greatest of thrills to prepare each night for "the drop." We'd run up, ring the bell, drop, and beat it to the van, which was waiting with the door open. Nothing beat the thrill! I'm surprised I didn't become a bank robber. I continued to do stuff like this for my friends in college and beyond. But seriously, you should try it with your kids. They will grow up with excellent morals.
Some ideas for things to include: chocolates, cookies, ornaments, bells, craft kits, jams, small toys, five golden rings. You get the idea.
Imagine the fun of a rollicking stocking-stuffing and dance party after the kids are in bed. In my friend Laura's family, the local siblings all spend the wee hours at their parents, because that's where these unique stockings live. When her mom was young, she made stockings for herself, her siblings, and her parents. Instead of putting everyone's name on them, she numbered them one through five. So her dad was one, her mom, two, and she, five. When she got married, her husband became six. Her siblings got married and added their families. Everyone kept going with it, so that my friend is 16, her husband 25, and her little kids are now 29, 33, 38, and 42.
In homes across the country, seemingly randomly-numbered stockings are hung with care. When someone gets engaged or gets pregnant, the big question is "what number will they be?" Sometimes this results in excited anticipation for certain numbers. It keeps the family in touch, since you have to know what number you're on. Linda (#4), her husband, and her son were all even numbers and when she got pregnant again, she was most distressed to find that her sister was pregnant as well and might beat her to #14. She famously got stuck with an odd number. When Uncle Nick (the fortunate #14) grew up, he became concerned that his cousin would beat him to the alter, thereby snatching number #23, a number he greatly wanted for his own wife because of his love for Michael Jordan.
Stockings one and two are hung every year in veneration and memory of great grandpa and great grandma. Grandma, who fashioned the first five all those years ago, now takes her place on the mantel next to her parents. Numbers one, two, and five now preside over the annual opening, the tissue paper fights, and the shouts of joy. Grandma waits quietly for the day that some little child will say "I'm 103!"
Instead of getting piece of chocolate every day, get a bit of human love and kindness. You can brainstorm your own list with your family or use a pre-made one like the one here. If you make your own, just come up with a series of 25 totally doable, nice things you can do for people, ways to brighten someone's day or give back to the world.
Some ideas are: Give a genuine compliment to someone who needs it, point out a strength in someone, do a chore without being asked, point out when someone is markedly kind or forgiving, donate toys/books/clothes, take food to a food shelf, write notes to loved or lonely ones.
Write your ideas, one per day, on the calendar or make your own calendar with little doors to open. This way, you start each day with a good intention and add more kindness wherever you go.
Spirit of Giving
Instead of getting gifts, give them! Give each child the amount of money you would spend on their gifts and help them shop for a family in need. My parents did this every three years when I was growing up. It was very satisfying to shop with actual money for actual people who needed it.
We didn't really miss gifts. Santa still filled our stockings, and grandma and grandpa still had something for us.
Some ideas: Talk with the parents beforehand to make sure it's appreciated and find out what kinds of things the kids need or want. You can do a ding, dong, drop or give all the gifts to the parents in secret so they can be from mom and dad or Santa. You can also get other families in on it to help with costs.
Image credits via Flickr CC: Markus Spiske; Amy Aletheia Cahill; Shari's Berries; Bonjour, Beau. ♥; Abi Porter