Has this wholesome and heartwarming tweet shown up in your feed lately: “As a grown-up, I’ve learned that all the ‘Christmas magic’ I felt as a kid was really a mom who loved me so damn much.” So much of the holiday magic has roots in the passing down of traditions from parent to child, from one generation to the next. And for some, the magic is in the creating of new traditions for their family to help make the holidays special for their own children.
This year’s season is forcing a reimagining of holiday traditions, of finding creative ways to stay connected to each other, and giving back where we can. We’re keeping all this in mind with this year’s holiday bucket list.
1. Donate Thoughtful Selections to a Local Food Pantry
Rather than clean out your unused pantry items for donations, think about what your own kids and family like to eat, and buy extras on your next shopping trip to gift families in need what they would really enjoy. Or visit the organization’s website to see if they have a wishlist you can shop and ship directly to their facility.
2. Write a Couple Heartfelt Holiday Notes
Greeting card companies are now automating everything from addressing your envelopes to fully mailing out cards to your entire list. I’m all for outsourcing to make our lives easier, but some family, friends, and even strangers could probably use a warm holiday note this year. In addition to friends and family, consider writing a handwritten note to your local delivery person, an older homebound neighbor or nursing home residents, troops overseas, your child’s teacher—we could go on. But receiving just one heartfelt note can really brighten someone’s day.
3. Make a Commitment to Shop Small and BIPOC-Owned Businesses
We know small businesses are struggling, and this holiday season may be a make-or-break moment for some of your local favorites. We all love Amazon for its ease and convenience, but shopping early and small, including BIPOC-owned businesses, can have an immediate impact—and delight a gift recipient with something unique!
4. Try the One-in-One-Out Santa Toy Policy
If your family celebrates Santa, have your child choose a toy they no longer play with and leave a note for Santa to take it with him to pass onto another child. If your family has an Elf on the Shelf, it could also be a good excuse to donate more than one toy if your kid asks the elf to carry more than one donated toy off to Santa.
5. Make a Homemade Gift for the Grandparents
Time away from extended family right now can be especially brutal for the grandparents who are used to seeing their kids and grandkids around the holidays, but who are also in the high-risk age group. Enlist your kids’ help in making something extra special this year, like handprint (or footprint) art, a homemade ornament, or even a video montage.
6. Stay Connected With a Virtual Holiday Event
“Safe and small” is the mantra for holiday gatherings this year, which can leave many of us missing out on some traditions from years past. Try reimaging those traditions with a virtual white elephant, holiday movie watch party, or cookie exchange. Even here at The Everymom, we’re using the app Elfster to facilitate a Secret Santa gift exchange amongst our team.
7. Find an Outdoor Light Display
Depending on where you live, your local zoo, ballpark, botanical gardens, or another venue likely has a holiday light display happening. Check websites before you go to make sure you don’t need any extra appointments or planning to follow their safety guidelines. Additionally, local online groups will often post neighborhoods and streets with festive home displays, which can be a treat to bundle up and walk around.
8. Make an Indoor Winter Display
Twinkle lights, fake snow, and paper snowflakes can turn any room into a winter haven that would make Buddy the Elf proud. At our house this Halloween, we created a haunted house in our unfinished basement. For this season, we’ve swapped the black lights and spider webs for Christmas lights and cut-paper snowflakes hung with paper clips from the ceiling. I imagine we’ll leave it up all winter long as a cheerful play space for my kids.
9. Thank Your Mail and Delivery Drivers
We have relied so much on essential workers this year, and the holiday rush is sure to put additional stress on them. Make sure your sidewalks are shoveled, put a thank you sign in the window, leave out gifts of store-bought water and treats by your front door, or add an extra tip as a small way to thank them for their work this year.
10. Teach Your Kids About Other Cultural Holidays and Traditions
My 8-year-old has been asking about Hanukkah, and truth-be-told, I can never come up with details beyond what I learned from Adam Sandler’s Hanukkah song: “Hanukkah is the festival of lights; instead of one day of presents, you get eight crazy nights.” So this year, I’m adding books about Hanukkah, Diwali, and Kwanza to our library list so we can all learn more together.
11. Dress Up for an At-Home Date Night
Loungewear is everything right now, but if you’re missing the fun of getting all sparkled and glammed around the holidays, choose a night to put the kids to bed early and dress up for an at-home date night with your partner. Plan a meal to make together or order takeout from your favorite restaurant. Single-parenting this holiday season? Plan a virtual or socially distanced date with friends. Either way, we all deserve a toast to making it this far through a challenging year.
12. Bring on the Nostalgia With a Simple Winter Outdoor Activity
Build a snowman, make a snow angel, sled down a nearby hill, skate on the local pond—recapture the simple joy of the snowy season with an activity the whole family can enjoy outdoors.
13. Decorate Holiday Cookies, But Make it a Competition
My kids have been obsessed with the Netflix reality show Nailed It, which is essentially a competition show about baking #pinterestfails. As an at-home activity this fall, we looked up a bunch of creative cupcakes and tried to replicate them. It entertained the kids for a good hour, and I loved seeing their creativity come out. I’m planning to do the same thing for holiday sugar cookies. Plus, everyone can win a custom award like “Closest to the Picture,” “Most Creative,” or “Tastiest.”
14. Have a Pajama Night Movie Watch Party—Without the Kids
Turn on the tree and cozy up together under a blanket after bedtime. Pour yourself a festive drink and enjoy watching one of your holiday favorites films. Perhaps choose one that’s not necessarily kid-appropriate (i.e. Bad Santa) or a classic favorite your kids may not fully understand (i.e. It’s a Wonderful Life) or an old stand-by you just want to enjoy without interruptions and snack requests.
15. Make a Family List of Gratitude and Goals
This year has certainly put a focus on the important things in life: family, health, home, and hugs. Talk about the things you’ve been grateful for this year and write them down. Even better, talk about some family goals and action plans for the new year. What are your family’s priorities? What are you looking forward to? Where do you want to focus your energy? My oldest has constant concerns about the earth and all its creatures, so we’ve made a commitment to start composting as one small step our family can do to help the earth in the upcoming year.