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 through their eyes, and seeing pure joy on their face while opening the most desired gift on their list are memories you’ll never forget.
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 creating new family traditions. Here we’re sharing our annual holiday bucket list to inspire some of those new traditions and foster meaningful connections with friends and family to tap into that holiday spirit. With the season of gratitude and giving back upon us, our list also includes 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 something they’ll really enjoy. You could also visit the organization’s website to see if they have a wish list you can shop and have shipped directly to their facility.
2. Write a Couple Heartfelt Holiday Notes
Greeting card companies have begun automating everything, from addressing your envelopes to mailing out holiday cards to your entire list for you. We’re all for outsourcing to make our lives easier, but some family, friends, and even strangers could probably use a warmer, more personalized holiday note this year. In addition to friends and family, consider writing a handwritten note to your child’s teacher, nursing home residents or an older homebound neighbor, 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
The holiday season can often be a make-or-break time of year for some of your favorite local or small businesses. So while we all love Amazon for its ease and convenience, shopping early and small (and not neglecting 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 artificial Christmas trees in their Wondershop. 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 brief 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 on to another child. If your family has an Elf on the Shelf, it could also be a good excuse to donate multiple toys if your kid asks the Elf to carry more than one donated toy off to Santa.
7. Make a Homemade Gift for the Grandparents
Enlist your kids’ help in making an extra-special gift for the grandparents this year. Even if your little one is just a baby, creating handprint artwork, making a DIY photo ornament, or putting together a photo book or video montage can be so memorable and appreciated.
8. Thank Your Mail and Delivery Drivers
We’ve relied so heavily on home deliveries in the past few years, 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
While my family celebrates Christmas, my 8-year-old has been asking about Hanukkah. Truth be told, I can never come up with details beyond what I learned from Adam Sandler’s Hanukkah song. So I’m adding books about Hanukkah, Diwali, and Kwanzaa 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 glammed up around the holidays. Maybe you’re attending work parties or friend festivities or planning a wintry date night.
Not worth finding a babysitter? 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 another year of parenting in the books!
11. Enjoy an Outdoor Light Display
Depending on where you live, your local zoo, ballpark, botanical gardens, or other venue likely has a holiday light display. Check websites before you go to see whether you need an appointment and to make sure you’re aware of 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 (probably) handle.
13. Purge Your Closets to Donate Boots, Coats, and Mittens
The changing weather offers a perfect opportunity to look through last year’s winter wear and decide what to keep and what’s 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 lights and cozy up together under a blanket after bedtime. Pour yourself a festive drink and enjoy watching one of your favorite holiday films. Perhaps choose one that’s not very kid-appropriate (e.g., Bad Santa), a classic favorite your kids may not fully understand (e.g., 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 past few years have 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? Capture your family’s ideas so you can look back at the end of next year and celebrate what you’ve accomplished.
This article was originally published at an earlier date but has been updated for timeliness.