What do you want your children to remember about family Christmases?
The world is a pretty diverse place so Christmas will mean lots of different things to us, but I bet your list has ‘love’ on it, and something about having a lovely time together.
The reality for lots of parents, of course, is that as well as all that good stuff, Christmas can bring money worries, and long, stressful ‘to do’ lists, as we battle thousands of our neighbours for carparks and places in the checkout queues in the busiest shopping season of the year.
This year, if you are interested in making a big deal of the love-and-family side of Christmas, and downplaying the spend-lots-of-money side, here are some simple ideas to help you create the family Christmas you want your children to remember.
Tip #1: Give fun, but not necessarily toys
Remember when your toddler loved nothing more than pulling tissues out of a box or playing with clothes-pegs? Remember how the wrapping paper was more interesting to your babies than the treasures it revealed?
Toys are awesome. I wish every child in New Zealand had Lego, puzzles, blocks, and dolls to play with at home. But if your home is already full of great toys, maybe the best thing to give your children this year might be something different.
Lucy Aitken Read at lulastic.co.uk has 60 brilliant ideas of things to give children that aren’t toys. Some of her examples include:
- The ingredients for biscuits, along with cookie-cutters, all ready for them to get busy in the kitchen.
- A story about them, printed or written out on.
- Seeds and garden tools, or a fruit tree to nurture.
- A box of op-shop clothes for dressing up.
- A voucher for a day out with you, doing whatever they want.
- A ball of brightly coloured wool and a lesson in finger-knitting.
- A knife, a hunk of wood, and a lesson in using them safely.
See her full list here.
Tip #2: Adopt or create an Advent tradition to spread out the fun
Traditionally, Advent is the month leading up to Christmas Day, when the church gets ready for celebrating Jesus’ birthday.
Anyone who celebrates Christmas – for any reason, religious or not – can make their own Advent tradition. It helps make sure Christmas isn’t just about one big day – which might be an anti-climax, or really stressful. Make your own Advent calendar, or just a list of small, fun things you can do together throughout December.
You could write the ideas on notes inside envelopes and open one every day, or peg them to a string hung up along the wall.
Some ideas for your list:
- Wrap up a bunch of your favourite books, or collect them in a basket or box, and have a special storytime every night.
- Make a baking date, and whip up some treats to deliver to some special people.
- Give your kids some money to go grocery shopping for a food bank or other charity, and drop off the food together.
- Get out the felts and stickers and make some Christmas cards.
- Take a tour of Christmas lights.
- Make some decorations for a Christmas tree, or your windows.
- Have a singalong – Christmas songs or just your favourites.
- Go charity-shopping together to find gifts for family members.
- Play a game on the lawn or at your local school playground.
Tip #3: Turn your jobs into family fun
What are all the things you have planned to get ready for Christmas? Can some of them be special family team activities?
Most children love to have meaningful work. They may not like being bossed around, and they don’t like interrupting their play to do a job at the exact time an adult wants them to do it, but it’s a different thing to get them on board to do a project together.
So instead of trying to fit all the present-wrapping into times when the children aren’t around, make a big deal about you all doing it together.
Children can help with packing the camping gear, making up the guest bed for Grandma, baking, and shopping. Give them some age-appropriate responsibility, and involve them in deciding when to do things.
And remember, the thing most children prize above all things is time spent with their parents and favourite adults.
Thalia Kehoe Rowden was a Playcentre kid before attending St John’s Hill Kindergarten in Whanganui, New Zealand. Some time later, she became a Baptist church minister, then a mother and a writer. She now lives with her husband and two small children in Wellington, New Zealand, and knows more about dinosaurs and astronomy than ever before. You can follow her on Twitter, Facebook, and her parenting, spirituality and social justice website, Sacraparental.