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8 Memory-Making Christmas Traditions

If Christmas is the backdrop for some of your fondest childhood memories, you are not alone. Many people cherry-pick their very best holiday recollections and carry them into adulthood. A recent poll found that Christmas is overwhelmingly the most popular and widely-practiced of all holidays. Regardless of religious affiliation, 9 out of 10 people celebrate some form of Christmas.

Since most people cite simply spending time with loved ones as their favorite holiday activity, it’s surprising that we’re increasingly allocating precious resources on activities that we don’t actually enjoy. Statistics show that, year over year, we’re spending more money and time on stressful obligations that don’t contribute to our holiday bliss.

Ironically, experts tell us that keeping Christmas simple makes it more magical. Our pleasant childhood memories come from warm feelings or pleasant experiences. A reassuringa study out of Knox College confirms that most people feel the greatest holiday joy participating in soothing activities with loved ones.

Here are eight inexpensive suggestions for creating a meaningful holiday your kids will hopefully pass on to their own children:

1. Exchange stocking letters of appreciation. To place the focus on connections, fill stockings with letters of appreciation. The letters might outline what makes each family member special. You might also mention any enjoyable memories from the previous year or what made you proud of the recipient. Even small children can draw a picture that expresses their appreciation. Many people keep these letters forever.

2. Enjoy a cozy night of holiday movies and books. A fun way to encourage both the activities and the togetherness that researchers found important is to host a holiday movie and book night. If possible, invite extended family. Make popcorn, s’mores, and hot chocolate. Snuggle up in cozy blankets or matching pajamas. (Don’t forget to take photos for next year’s holiday mantle.)

Take in sensory sights and sounds. Sensory details help cement fond memories. Pile into the car, crank up the music, and take in the sights and sounds of the holiday. Some families visit the same destinations every year, while others like to explore new locations. Many communities, schools, and organizations host holiday-themed plays, events, or shows which are either free or inexpensive. Some families attend annual religious services.

Enjoy a stress-free meal together. Many families work hard to prepare a feast on Christmas day, so it’s fun to enjoy a labor-free meal before the big day. Visit your family’s favorite restaurant, order in, or share a simple dinner. (This tradition is also beneficial for blended families who may have multiple homes to visit.) With your family at the table, use this opportunity to tell your kids about your own holiday memories and to talk about what Christmas truly means to each member of your family. The conversation may surprise, touch, and reassure you.

5. Give to others. Whether it’s choosing an angel from an angel tree, making a meal for others, or visiting someone who could use a lift, allow your kids to feel the spirit of giving. The winter holidays are the perfect time to remind children that it can be more meaningful and lasting to give than to receive. Even better, giving feels good and will install lasting values and memories that can broaden your family’s definition of the true meaning of Christmas.

Create a sense of wonder. Barbara Kilikevich, author of A Mindful Christmas: How to Create a Meaningful, Peaceful Holiday, assures families that Santa can be an important part of Christmas, since he “represents wonder, imagination, and maybe most importantly, belief.” Many families will limit Santa’s contribution to one special gift. Some suggestions for enhancing a child’s sense of awe: Leave ink-smudged ‘coal’ fingerprints as proof of Santa’s snack. Spray-paint red ‘sleigh’ landing strips on the lawn. Ring sleigh bells at bedtime. Use apps to track and communicate with Santa. (Older siblings love setting up these experiences for younger kids.)

Make decorating a group effort. It may seem more efficient to leave holiday decorating to the adults, but joint family decorating offers a unique opportunity to create a festive environment as a team. Some families use a children’s tree or wreath to safely include kids in the process. Others string popcorn or make paper snowflakes. Another idea is to allow kids to choose or make an ornament that reflects their accomplishments or experiences for that year.

8. Get creative with gift-giving. To demonstrate that the thought behind a gift is more important than the price tag, many families find inexpensive but creative ways to limit spending and to maximize meaning. Examples include drawing names and mandating that all gifts for adults be either hand-made, contributions to charity, or under $10. These limitations mean that thoughtful effort goes into gift giving, which makes the exchange more meaningful.

Most of us want a holiday that is about “connections, family, and caring for others,” says Kilikevich. Very few of us still have the possessions of Christmases past. Instead, we have lasting memories that will always warm us. With a little creativity, we can provide the same for our own families.

Author Shannon’s favorite Christmas gift last year was a $10 pair of vintage bobby pins that were similar to a pair owned by her grandmother.

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