How we did on the holiday fun list

img_2336New Year’s Day is rapidly approaching, which means it’s time to look back on my 2016 holiday fun list. This is the list I make annually of activities that make the season feel festive. So how did we do? Very well, for the most part! Here’s how it all sorted out.

The literary Advent calendar. The kids opened all 23 books. I’ll admit that we lost a bit of steam in the middle and doubled up some other days, but it was nice to have a reason to read a story with the big kids (even though 2 of 3 can now read to themselves). I also did a toddler supplement, and have had a number of nice minutes sitting in the rocking chair reading Little Blue Truck’s Christmas, Merry Christmas Daniel Tiger, and so forth.

Sassy the Elf. He, or possibly she, appeared at the beginning of December. We encountered a slight logistical issue in that many nights my 9-year-old wound up going to bed later than I did, which can be a problem for elf mobility, if you get my drift. Sometimes Sassy would move when I got up at 5 a.m. with the toddler. Fortunately, the toddler doesn’t know the rules, so there was no shrieking about touching Sassy.

Advent services and the Christmas Eve pageant. On Christmas Eve, my 9-year-old read the story of the Wisemen to the congregation, while my 7-year-old was a Wiseman, and the 5-year-old got to be the star. She was a very good star! I made it to 3 of 4 Advent church services, and went to church on Christmas itself, too, which I think makes up for my absence on the 3rd Sunday (when I was speaking in Cancun — yes, I have a tough job).

Breakfast with Santa at Longwood. We drove there in an icy wintry storm for our 8:30 a.m. reservation, but we made it, darn it. Next year I’m setting my alarm for the moment the ticket sales open so I can get the 10 a.m. seating.

Baking cookies and the gingerbread house. No one ate the gingerbread house, but we did make it. Various relatives made cookies with the kids, so while I never personally made cookies, the cookies got made. All good.

A Christmas concert. I attended the Young New Yorkers’ Chorus concert in NYC in mid-December. The music was stunning as usual. The drive home through pea soup fog was also stunning, but not in a good way.

The Nutcracker. I took the 9-year-old, 5-year-old, and my mother-in-law to a matinee performance of this today. The 5-year-old was fidgety, but the 9-year-old loved it, and I am always awed by virtuosic ballet technique. The 9-year-old was quite intrigued to learn that I danced in a performance of the Nutcracker once when I was in 8th grade. Ah, roads not taken.

An adults-only NYC trip. My husband and I went into NYC a little over a week ago, ate at Aquavit, and stayed in a hotel overnight so we didn’t have to make the usual 11 p.m. dash to Penn Station. We saw art and went window shopping, neither of which are fun to do with children. I’d like to make this an annual tradition.

Involve the kids in giving. I had the kids all pick out an animal from the Heifer catalogue, and they were excited to do that, but I probably could do better on this one. I’d love suggestions on how people have gotten their kids involved in giving, or volunteering, and how they’ve imparted lessons on generosity (during Christmas, or any other time for that matter).


12 thoughts on “How we did on the holiday fun list

  1. My three simple suggestions for giving during the holidays – ring bells for the Salvation Army and have your kids pick out a new toy and donate to toys for tots. We have rung bells for the past four years and

  2. People seem more likely to give when kids are ringing. My third suggestion takes place prior to December but the last three years we have packed shoeboxes for operation Christmas child through Samaritans Purse.

  3. I love your Holiday fun list!! In the spirit of high value leisure time, I made one too this year. Many of the items involved a bit of logistical pain, but the memories were so worth it. Regarding the generosity issue, I liked The Opposite of Spoiled by Ron Lieber. He suggests meeting together as a family a few times a year to discuss charitable contributions and volunteer work to allow the kids to have some say in it.

  4. When my kids were young we held a birthday party for baby Jesus. Several families did this together. There was a birthday cake, each child brought a gift they picked out and was donated to toys for tots, and we made the little bird feeders out of pine cones, peanut butter and birdseed to hang outside. They sang happy birthday and enjoyed a piece of cake but didn’t have any “gifts” to take home. We did this for several years and even had a small cake on Christmas day since that is the birthday. When they got older we started doing Heifer international and they would do chores to earn money to donate to the cause, whatever they chose that year. We did this with a Sunday school group a couple of years and the parents matched the kids total.

  5. I highly recommend sponsoring a child through Compassion International. Arthur C. Brooks has a great op-ed in the New York Times today about the 1 > 1 million axiom. I believe this is what makes sponsorship a meaningful philantrhropic activity to do as a family. My kids enjoy writing to and receiving letters from our sponsored children.

  6. We left gift boxes (with a cash tip inside) for our garbage and recycle collectors. My daughters were SO excited to see them get their boxes. My girls (and the men!) couldn’t stop smiling and waving. Surprisingly, this turned out to be my favorite memory this Christmas season because they truly “got” the joy of giving in such a tangible way.

  7. My husband and I tithe, so I think one good way to involve kids is to have kids also tithe their allowance (if they get one). And you can talk through with them where to tithe it and explain to them where you donate. Or at Christmas, you can “tithe” to charity some of the money you’d be spending on their presents, and explain it in a similar way. I think kids also respond well to things like going shopping for a new refugee family or a family that can’t afford to buy Christmas presents, and we’ve done this too although generally I think cash donations are much more useful to organizations than in-kind contributions and because I want our charitable contributions to be more about the people we intend to help than about us/the kids, I have shied away from this more and more towards talking to the kids at the holidays about tithing and why we do it.

  8. I started using a personalized Advent calendar this year. I got one from Etsy that has little drawers for each day and wrote messages from “Santa’s elf” in each one. Some were just for fun, like “take a car trip tonight to see Christmas lights” or “kiss under the mistletoe” but some were about giving: making cards, donating to a charity of my kid’s choice, or collecting canned goods. I was really happy with the results and it helped me commit to all of those Christmas activities throughout the month. (I’d sometimes switch the messages around at night if I needed to adjust the schedule, putting the quick ones on busy days!)

  9. We made a list too (well, the 7yo wrote it with input from all of us) and did great after said 7yo prompted us in mid-December that we hadn’t yet done very much 🙂

    One activity that might resonate with kids re: giving is to find a “giving tree” and pick a few tags to shop for. Ours at work often has things like “winter coat” or “warm socks”, which I find heartbreaking but I think would be good things to shop for without kids getting distracted by all the shiny toys.

    My favorite charity is Donors Choose, where you get to sponsor a classroom project, purchase or trip, and I often choose a preschool, K or 1st grade class in a high-poverty area and talk to my kids about the donation. Not as impactful/hands-on for them, but they were thrilled to get the “thank you notes” that one class drew us after they went to the local pumpkin patch.

    Our Nutcracker adventure went stunningly well. I was sure my 4yo wasn’t yet ready, but reading your post about it last year emboldened me to take her anyway. She was enraptured by the whole thing, and only a tiny bit fidgety at the end because it was past her bedtime. We did not have to leave or shush her at all 🙂

  10. We have an “angel” tree at church and each of our kids pick a kid to get gifts for. They get to pick the kid and the gifts, with guidance.

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