Everything surrounding the holidays becomes a little more magical again once you have kids of your own, doesn’t it? Moments like marveling at the holiday lights, decorating the tree together, watching holiday movies favorites through their eyes, and seeing pure joy on their face after opening a gift from the top of their list are part of it all.
So much of the holiday magic also 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.
Hopefully your family is able to safely come together this year or are finding creative ways to stay connected to each other. Plus, with the season of gratitude and giving back upon us, we wanted to share some kid-friendly ways to help others (and the Earth). Here’s hoping our annual holiday bucket list sparks some ideas for your family this year.
1. Donate Thoughtful Selections to a Local Food Pantry
Rather than cleaning 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 wish list 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 holiday 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 child’s teacher, an older homebound neighbor or nursing home residents, troops overseas—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 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. Let Your Kids Decorate Their Own Tree
Another thank you to Target for always having cute and affordable Christmas trees in their Wondershop or dollar spot. For me, watching my kids decorate their own trees for their bedrooms makes me feel better about my own urge to rearrange their ornament placement on our living room tree after they go to bed.
5. Try Some Sustainable Gift-Wrapping
Get creative with your wrapping this year to avoid excess waste. A little Google search will reveal plenty of ways to be more sustainable this year—from reusing antique finds like jingle bells, tea towels, or old maps to foraging for evergreen sprigs to use instead of bows. Or choose sustainable wrapping paper that can be easily recycled.
6. 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.
7. 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.
8. Thank Your Mail and Delivery Drivers
We have relied so much on home deliveries 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.
9. 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 I’m adding books about Hanukkah, Diwali, and Kwanza to our library list so we can all learn more together.
10. Find a Reason to Dress Up
Loungewear is everything, but some of us might miss the fun of getting all sparkled and glammed around the holidays. Maybe you’re attending holiday parties in person this year or can plan a winter-themed date night.
Still staying safe at home? 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 an outing with friends. Either way, we all deserve a toast to making it this far through a challenging year.
11. Enjoy 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.
12. Get the Kids Involved in Holiday Tasks
Your to-do list is pretty long around the holidays, so put the kids to work like Santa’s little elves. It’s best to accept that any task assigned to them will take longer than if you were to do it yourself, but putting on a little holiday music can make it a special shared experience. Stamping the holiday card envelopes or getting pieces of tape to help wrap the gifts are both jobs young kids can handle (probably).
13. Purge Your Closets to Donate Boots, Coats, and Mittens
The changing weather offers a perfect opportunity to look through last year’s winterwear and decide what to save and what is in good condition to pass along to someone who needs it more. Or while you’re out holiday shopping, grab a new pair of mittens or hat to donate.
14. 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.
15. 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), 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.
16. Make a Family List of Gratitude and Goals
The pandemic has certainly put a focus on the important things in life: family, health, and home. 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 take to help the Earth in the upcoming year.