The 2016 holiday fun list

Time passes whether we think about how we are spending it or not. Since the holidays tend to be relatively busy (or "full" to use a word I like better) it is easy to wake up one morning around Christmas and realize you haven't done the things that make the holidays feel like the holidays.

So a few years ago, I started making a holiday fun list. This is a list of things I want to do between Thanksgiving and New Year's to feel appropriately festive. It has some similarities to the summer fun list, and is one of the lists I make in my planning process. Here is the 2016 version:

The literary Advent calendar. The kids open one book a night between the start of December and Christmas. Most of these books are repeats from last year (after 2 years of this, I am starting to have a good library of Christmas stories!) though I will add in some new ones too.

Sassy the Elf. He (or possibly she) appears around the beginning of December and continues appearing daily in new locations to report back to Santa. Fortunately, Sassy knows that the only rooms he/she is allowed to visit are the kitchen and living room. Sassy knows Mommy does not want kids tearing through the house hunting for the elf while she is trying to sit quietly and have her coffee. I will say, I am a wee bit nervous on this one. Mommy is traveling a great deal during December so we shall see if Sassy moves daily as expected or experiences occasional back injuries precluding movement.

Advent services. I will not make all four Sundays, but I will make most. Also, my kids will be in the Christmas Eve pageant again.

Breakfast with Santa at Longwood Gardens. I had to sign up for this in October! We will use the occasion to see the poinsettias, trees, and train as well.

Cookie baking. I am not so much into Christmas cookies themselves, but oh, I love the dough. We will also make a gingerbread house at some point (we have the kit!)

A Christmas concert. Not sure exactly which one yet. I like hearing brass and choral music. Worst case scenario I will play some old CDs.

The Nutcracker. The 9-year-old and 5-year-old want to go, so this is a reminder to me to buy tickets.

An adults-only trip into NYC. See the lights, eat somewhere festive. My two other grown-up nights in December will be my birthday dinner, and my husband's office Christmas party. I guess those could go on the list as well, but they tend to happen regardless of whether I make a list.

Involving the kids in giving. The older kids are big enough to think about giving presents, not just getting them. So this year I'm going to have them think about presents for each other and the grandma who will be spending Christmas with us (even if I'm still paying for the presents) and also about causes we can donate to. We've done Heifer Project in the past, and they like the idea of giving families goats or chickens. Of course, they may use the occasion to bring up (again!) that they want me to get them a dog or cat for Christmas. But I'm kind of tapped out on caring for living critters around here.

What's on your holiday fun list this year? And I welcome more suggestions for the literary Advent calendar.

Photo: Festive fall color

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  • I love dogs and cats, but I stood firm against my kids' (and husband's) pleas. I said no pets until the kids were old enough to pick up poop on their own. I changed too many diapers in my life to deal with more poop! :) We got a dog when the youngest was 4. I have to say that I never had to do that ugly chore; I stood firm and the kids (and on rare occasions my husband) did their part. Of course, I still had to deal with the vet appointments, medications, etc., but I'm so glad we welcomed a dog in our family ----- at the right time.

  • Does your oldest still enjoy the picture books for the literary Advent calendar? My oldest is 7 and he still loves holiday picture books but I am wondering if that will come to an end. Some of our books: Mr. Willowby's Christmas Tree Olive the other Reindeer Polar Expresss Olivia Helps with Christmas Home for Christmas (Jan Brett) The Nutcracker The Little Drummer Boy Santa's Favorite Story The Grinch Gingerbread Pirates Christmas Tale of Peter Rabbit

    • @beth- my oldest doesn't like simple picture books so much, but if they're interesting kids books (like The Day The Crayons Quit, or Dragons Love Tacos -- not that those are Christmas stories, but books like that) he's fine with it. I probably won't have books aimed specifically at the toddler. Or maybe he can get his own small pile of books. Hmm...

      • Are you familiar with Peter Spier's Christmas? It is an amazing picture book. I would also recommend Cranberry Christmas by Wende and Harry Devlin.

  • I keep my 3 grandkids (11, 7 and 6 months) every other Friday night thru Sunday night while my daughter works her 12 hours shifts at hospital. This year I'm writing down what I want to experience with them instead of just thinking "We need to do this before Christmas" then it's after and we never made gingerbread cookies! Have them cut out and decorate gingerbread people. I'm having a themed Christmas this year - snowflakes (we live in south and rarely get snow) so have them make homemade snowflakes to tape to all windows. Go to Christmas parade. Go to river levee at night and see the Christmas displays. Decorate my Christmas tree. (traditionally done Thanksgiving night) See a Christmas concert (been wanting to do this for about 5 years). Take a Christmas photo for my card - I usually end up using pics taken throughout the year because I never get around to taking one special pic - I have already bought fake snow for the special pic. Buy and shoot fireworks.

  • Growing up in 1970s England I read and re-read all Laura Ingalls Wilder's books many times. I always particularly liked the Christmas chapters and often re-read them before Christmas even now. I see there is a collection available on Amazon of all the Christmas chapters in one book and would thoroughly recommend them. Just right for the older two of your children I would have thought.

  • I recommend Milly and the Macy's Parade as a great Christmas book. I think the older children will really like it.

  • Down in DC, we do the live production of A Christmas Carol at Ford's Theater, followed by dessert at CoCo Sala, a chocolate restaurant.

  • Going to the Nutcracker with my mom is one of my favorite Christmas tradition memories from my childhood. This year I am thinking of taking my mom and my 3-year-old daughter (partly as a Christmas gift for my mom). Do you think 3 is too young? She sat through a live Peppa Pig show with her dad last spring, so I'm hopeful, but at the same time the tickets are expensive enough that I'd hate to have to leave early.

    • @Elizabeth - you know your daughter best, but I can speak from personal experience that taking my 4-year-old last year was not 100% pleasant. She was alternately good and not good. I brought cheese and fed it to her as bribery. I had her Kindle for pre-performance waiting and intermission. She would ask to leave, but then get into it again for a while. I wrote about this here: http://lauravanderkam.com/2015/12/the-discipline-of-joy/ On the whole, I think it was good to bring her, and she wants to go again this year. I think at 5 she will be more patient. You might show your 3-year-old videos of the Nutcracker beforehand so she will be excited about things she knows are coming.

  • Happy Thanksgiving Laura! On this day of thanks, I would like to express my appreciation for your blog! I also wanted to let you know that Charity Navigator rates Heifer Intl. 3 out of 4 stars. This doesn't make it a bad charity, but it is something to consider. You can look at the site and see their criteria and make your own decision. I find the site very useful.

    • @Karen- thanks! And thanks for the reminder to always look at this on Charity Navigator. I do imagine that any charity with a big consumer facing side (producing "catalogs" and such) is going to spend more on admin and fundraising than charities that don't do that. We give to a wide variety of causes, and this one is partly about having something the kids can understand.