I’ve always liked the holidays but I must confess, I fell truly, deeply in love with the season after becoming a parent. There’s something about experiencing the joy and the newness of it all through the eyes of your children (or grandchildren or nieces and nephews) that just gives it entirely new meaning. Kind of like everything in life, right?
Plus, of course, we now have far more peppermint bark in the house. And that is never a bad thing.
I’m asked a lot for ideas of things to do with the family from my readers and really, my perspective can be summed up in one idea: Making memories. With that in mind, here are my favorite tips for things to do with the kids this holiday, plenty of them free.
Spend time learning about holidays in other cultures.
Whether you’re showing your kids how your own holiday is celebrated in another country, or introducing them to a holiday that they may not know about at all, learning is always fun. Kids love ALL kinds of celebrations and it’s so magical to think about other children around the world doing other fun things too.
In fact, we had fun doing image searches on Bing for holiday cookies around the world, especially when we came across this gorgeous slide show at delish.com. My girls were drooling over the spice cookies from Belgium, the Austrian Linzer cookies and the puffy Zalabia from Egypt for Hanukkah. (Although I may have just been roped into 3 straight weeks of baking.) Fortunately, Bing offers the full recipes on the search page, saving me the time of realizing that I’ll never in a million years make that one recipe with the 137 foreign spices.
Celebrate the spirit of giving.
I’m a big fan of taking advantage of the more altruistic aspects of the holiday season. You can get even very young children involved in a charity they’re excited about, whether it has to do with helping other kids, or doing something benevolent in your own community.
I asked my own daughters what charities they’d like to support this season and one decided she’d like to help animals and the earth; the other wanted to help girls in other countries who can’t go to school. We looked around for just the right ones until they felt good about them. Now, when they do extra things around the house, they each get money toward their charity, which they’re super excited about.
Kids really do love the feeling of giving–sometimes even more than receiving, believe it or not.
Embrace the mythology!
If you’re a Santa fan, my feeling is, just own it. Find the local lap-sitting opportunity with the big guy somewhere near you, or use online resources like the NORAD Santa tracker, powered by Bing Maps, to follow his “trip” throughout the day on Christmas Eve. It builds up so much suspense and fun, and your kids get a geography lesson along the way. (“Hey look! He’s in Mumbai now!)
Create your own traditions.
I remember feeling like the traditions I had growing up had to be my traditions now. The truth is, it’s been fun evolving them into something that’s all our own.
Whether it’s making gingerbread cookies and biting one arm off of each one (like we do), making handmade holiday cards and gifts, caroling, or lighting the Menorah for eight nights–and fighting over who gets to pick the candle colors for eight nights–it’s lovely to give your family something uniquely their own to look forward to each year.
You can search for a local performance of the Nutcracker (I think every community in the country has at least one nearby!) or search for top holiday family movies to rent and introduce the kids to a favorite from your own childhood. Or just poke around for local listings of family-friendly events, sporting events and museum exhibits and you might be surprised to discover something completely new to all of you that becomes your annual tradition.
In fact, I’ve found the traditions that stick are rarely the ones we expect to.
Enjoy downtime together.
Holidays can be a lot of go go go! While we can all get super busy (and with good reason), it’s easy to forget that our kids just love being with us, whatever it is we do together and however neatly the presents manage to be wrapped. Or not.
The togetherness, in my mind, is the most underrated aspect of the season.
You don’t even have to do something big or fancy or expensive together at all. Read a book together. Play a game. Hand the kids your digital camera or phone and let them take pictures of the Christmas lights around your neighborhood, however blurry. Or hey, just spend a half hour in front of the TV in pajamas, watching your favorite animated special and drinking hot chocolate.
And of course, don’t say no when the kids ask for extra mini marshmallows. It is the holidays after all.
Liz Gumbinner is the Editor-in-Chief and co-Publisher of CoolMomPicks.com and CoolMomTech.com, the popular review and trend-spotting websites for parents. She’s happy to be working with Bing.com to help families spend less time searching and more time celebrating over the holidays.