Novelty and spontaneity are grand, but don’t forget that tradition has a very important place, especially for children. Our traditions give us a sense of security and a link to the past while we look forward to the future. Even though we’re living in tough economic times, one thing that any family can afford to do is start a new tradition. In fact, when talking to others about their favorite family holiday rituals, I find that many of them were born out of a need or desire to make something special out of not a lot. You don’t have to be struggling to see the value in initiating traditions that place the emphasis on togetherness and creativity instead of conspicuous and wasteful consumption.
Here are three inexpensive and easy to do holiday traditions that you can tweak to suit your own family’s taste, resources and current abilities. Don’t be surprised if you find yourself enjoying the same activities with your grandchildren 40 years from now!
Start an Ornament Collection for Each Family Member
I have five sons and so decided early that having them each buy a gift for each of their brothers would quickly become expensive and unwieldy. Instead, I have them exchange homemade ornaments. Each boy makes ornaments according to their own ability and interests for his brothers. I mark each ornament with the recipients initials so that when they are ready to move out, they will each have a collection of ornaments for their first tree.
You can adapt this general idea in many ways. Some families prefer to do store-bought ornaments. Others make ornaments but don’t include them as part of the gifts. You might prefer to make disposable crafts instead like Advent chains or fresh wreaths (if you go this route, do take pictures!).
Search online for hundreds of great ideas for ornaments or visit your public library and flip through all the crafts books. Many ornaments can be made with recycled materials and/or common household goods, but do keep a look out for coupons that can be used in online or bricks and mortar craft stores.
Write Cards and Letters
Unfortunately, it seems like writing cards and letters by hand is a dying art. You can help keep it alive by encouraging your little ones to make cards or write letters to family members, friends, teachers or other important people in their lives.
You can make the annual holiday card and letter writing event more fun by using beautiful stationery (you could make it yourself), fun pens and setting out a cookie and cocoa buffet. Let your child pick out the stamps at the post office and put the letters in the slot.
Alternatively, you can call a local nursing home or hospital to see if they would welcome hand-made cards for their residents. This is a great way to show your child that they do have the power to make somebody else’s life a little bit happier.
Start a Running Gag
My husband’s late father used to delight in providing elaborate proof that Santa had visited in the night, even after all of his children were too old to really believe the fairy tale. My husband has carried on that tradition by hiding silly clues on Christmas eve for our sons to find the next morning. He goes well beyond just nibbling at the cookies and drinking a sip of milk – we’re talking dusting flour on the floor in front of the fireplace to make footprints, hanging dozens of strings of lights in the living room on Christmas eve and even nailing a carrot to a beam in the ceiling (I’m not sure why a half-eaten carrot would get stuck in a ceiling beam, but the kids loved it). I do not see him stopping this tradition, even after the kids turn 30.
Depending on the age of your kids, you can do something like Elf of the Shelf (you can make your own), hiding Santa’s pipe, a gag gift that gets re-gifted every year, an ugly sweater contest or a white elephant gift exchange. Injecting a little humor into the holidays is a great way to keep the pressure off and really enjoy the time you spend together. Families that can laugh together and let down their guard have the resilience to get through anything, even tough times.
What are your favorite family holiday traditions? Are you planning to start any new ones this year?
Btw, there's a pretty nifty tool that motivates your kids to do chores. It's called MyJobChart.com. With a free account, they can earn points for finishing jobs you assign them, good towards free merchandise. Give it a try. It's completely free!