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Making Holiday Magic: Not Your Usual Bells and Tinsel

The holidays are here! You’ve planned and prepared but the holidays can be a hectic, often chaotic swirl of shopping, entertaining and traveling. Kids may be looking forward to doing absolutely nothing during the holidays. They may be a little burnt out from the structure and regiment of school, tutoring sessions and sports activities. If we aren’t careful, we can overbook the holidays too. It’s easy to get swept up in the shopping, gift-giving, parties and the cousin chaos of extended family. We may even schedule an elaborate holiday vacation to get away from it all.

In an attempt to create the ‘perfect holiday,’ we busy ourselves to the point of forgetting to enjoy the simple moments of the season, and we teach our children how to stress over the holidays rather than how to enjoy relationships. Zig Zigler may have communicated it best: Love = time to a child. Why don’t we create magical holiday moments by slowing down and making a concerted effort to spend some simple one on one time with each one of our children individually?

One on one time with each child can fuel strong lifelong bonds and create holiday memories for years to come. It may seem counter intuitive to keep a list of possible ‘spontaneous’ holiday activities to cultivate but the truth is, many of us aren’t good at letting go, truly attending our kid’s emotional needs and having fun.

Here are some ideas for spending one on one time with each child that doesn’t require a big budget and may be shared regardless of age or gender:

1. Holiday baking. Let your child lead the way. Find a recipe with simple ingredients they can follow without a lot of fuss. Or buy a tube of cookie dough from the grocery store and keep it simple. Talk and listen to each other while you are decorating cookies. Give some to your neighbors to introduce community building and talk about holiday values.

2. Play outside! Play in the snow with your child, and enjoy your child’s smiles and giggles with no agenda or time limit.

3. Organize old family photos into a holiday album or start a scrapbook of a beloved family holiday. Talking about the memories can help kids relive the experience and draw you closer.

4. Homemade Season’s Greetings. Buy a new box of crayons and construction paper. If you are really adventurous, buy glitter or glitter glue. Make New Year’s cards. You may get really wild and make homemade ornaments. Put on some Christmas music, if that’s your tradition, and sing along while you create. Music is proven to enhance memory. If you sing off key and giggle, even better!

5. Volunteer together. Let your child pick the activity that means the most to them. Provide a list of volunteer activities and let your child choose. You may choose to walk or bathe a dog at a local shelter. You may choose to volunteer to pack family food boxes at your local food bank or organize clothing racks at a local homeless shelter. You may want to gather gently-loved children’s books to donate to a local non-profit. You may enjoy staying close to home and shoveling snow for a neighbor. Or encourage your child to think of their own volunteer activity.

6. Movie day! Ask your child to pick their favorite holiday flick: Home Alone, Charlie Brown Christmas, Frosty the Snowman, Rudolph or other. Make popcorn and binge watch, snuggled up on the couch together - just you and your child. You may even string popcorn while you watch.

7. Holiday book binge. Go to your local library and check out holiday-themed books. Make hot chocolate and sit and binge read together, one right after the other. Be sure to ask your child which are their favorite holiday books and why. Talk about the stories. Take turns reading out loud and use funny voices to animate the characters.

8. Holiday storytelling. Tell stories to each other with the listener providing the first lines; some story ideas: Rudolph, the Untold Story; Frosty’s Vacation; the Zoo Holiday.

9. Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree! Put on your favorite Christmas music and rock out together! Get your groove on and give your child a spontaneous dance lesson. They may find out how cool you are.

10. Holiday lights tour. Take an evening drive before bedtime in your pajamas. Pipe in holiday tunes and drive around town looking at Christmas lights. ‘Ooh’ and ‘ah’ over what you see. (This one has become a tradition for me and my daughter.)

Add one on one kid time to your holiday to-do list. Print out this article and put it on your refrigerator as a reminder to seize the holiday moments and simply enjoy each other. Some activities may only take 10 minutes, others, an hour. Perhaps you will pick more than one for each child. Think about which of your children might enjoy a particular activity. Then add to the list to make your own holiday homespun memories. Who knows? It may help you remember the fun and purpose of childhood and parenthood!

Laura Reagan-Porras, MS, is a family sociologist, parenting coach and parenting journalist. She can be reached for parenting resources through her website,

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