Holiday Traditions to Try and Treasure
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Children, particularly in their middle years, thrive on routine. They like knowing what to expect as their day unfolds (not that they’ll always admit this!) The holiday season provides a unique opportunity to indulge this desire with traditions they know to look forward to year after year -- perhaps taking them into adulthood. Observing traditions expands seasonal merriment beyond the actual holidays themselves and provides an outlet for the anticipatory energy, which can threaten to burst the seams of excited youngsters. Some can also offer valuable lessons in the true meaning of holiday spirit as well.

Below are some of the more unique traditions our family has tried and treasured. Each can be altered to fit into whichever holiday your family celebrates during the season:

  1. Holiday Lights Contest: Each year, around mid-December, we drive around town to view holiday lights. To show appreciation for the magnificent displays, we came up with a Decorating Award. The kids make certificates from construction paper or colored note cards, which they decorate with holiday stickers, glitter, and markers. The wording is a bit different each year, but says something to the effect of: “We Voted Your House as One of the Best Decorated in Town! Thanks! --The Logan Family.” Several of these “prizes” are taken with us as we drive around and are placed in the mailbox or on the doorstep of homes we vote to be winners. The kids have fun making the awards, and it gives them a good feeling to do something nice for those who have gone to great lengths so we may enjoy their holiday displays.

  2. Secret Pals (for a home with multiple children): To increase holiday spirit between siblings, try a Secret Pal season. This we have traditionally held between Thanksgiving and Christmas, though New Year’s can be easily substituted. Each child old enough to participate (around 5) has his or her name placed in a basket. Everyone draws a name but does not tell anyone else who they got. They are now that person’s Secret Pal. (If there are an odd number of children, Mom or Dad can join in to even things out.) Each Pal then spends the season doing nice things for his/her selected person. This can include tidying up their things, doing their chores for them, leaving them little notes of encouragement or gifts, and doing their best to be nice to each other in their dealings face to face. Tokens should encourage the imagination, rather than cost much (if any) money. The trick is to remain anonymous... no one should know who each other’s Pals are! (one Pal typed notes or dictated to Mom so their writing wouldn’t be recognized!) Then, on the appointed day (Christmas at our house), we have a Secret Pal ceremony. Each person tells us about the nice things his/her Pal did that they appreciated. After everyone has shared, we then go around and reveal our identities! This can work so well your children may ask to do this at other times of the year.

  3. Advent Calendar with a Twist: We changed the traditional Advent calendar around by making us the givers, rather than recipients, for each day counting down towards the holiday. Our calendar begins empty; we have a basket next to it with slips of paper containing acts of kindness and good will. Each day, a slip of paper is drawn and clipped to the calendar. For instance, one day’s slip may instruct us to donate a canned item to charity, and another may tell us to give someone an unexpected compliment. On and on it goes until we have a month’s worth of good deeds to reflect upon. On the Eve of the holiday, the slip of paper is replaced by a token of good will from Mom and Dad to the children, such as a coupon good for “One Night Of No Chores” or “Late Bedtime.”

  4. Treasure Hunt: This alternative to handing out presents works equally well for Chanukah or can be used in lieu of stuffing stockings. Each recipient is given an envelope containing a clue to the location of a gift, which is hidden ahead of time. They must then find their gift! The older the child, the harder the clue... though some help may be necessary. Along with the hidden gift will be another envelope containing a clue to the next gift, and so on. (For Chanukah, the found envelope remains sealed until the next evening.) It has proven so much fun that I’ve had it requested for birthdays as well.
Don’t be afraid to experiment with ideas for new traditions and cast away those that aren’t successful. Some may have lost their enjoyment or involve too much stress to arrange to make it worthwhile. Replace these with new ones! Some may simply need to be postponed until your young child is older. My family tries to do something new each year. Some of these activities become faithful traditions, and others a neat pastime for that season. Either way, such activities mean we are spending time together -- which is perhaps the most important tradition of all.

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