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Emily Henderson

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by Emily Henderson
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Happy Thanksgiving. So this is what happens, huh? As children we see our moms happy-cry all the time and like most big things in life you don’t really listen or understand until it’s happening to you. So now, it’s my time. Saying I’m grateful for what I have in life is a massive understatement, but it’s Thanksgiving, and I really, really am.

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I get asked all the time in interviews what are our holiday traditions and I don’t really know how to answer and I want that to change. Sure, we see Santa, make cookies, build gingerbread houses but this is the first year that having them be slightly older – ACTUAL KIDS (at 4 and 6) we are ready for some big kid traditions and I’d love your help.

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What do you really remember from your childhood that imprinted? What felt special and personal to your family that you tell people you did? What do you do now that you are proud of? I want to know it all.

A lot of what I remember that we did as kids were facilitated by our church which is super helpful – huge potlucks, lots of service projects, caroling and making gifts. So in a general mid-life quest to ensure I’m doing everything with meaning and purpose I would LOVE to know what you guys do to do that.

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One thing we are starting this year (in my family is a service advent calendar) is 12 acts or days (or more – we are still formulating it) of service that are actually doable and meaningful during such a busy month. This is everything from making a gift for your UPS guy to caroling at a nursing home, donating toys. etc. You get it. I would LOVE to get suggestions from you guys on what service projects you think we should include. We are going to create one that is more kid-oriented, as a huge part of this is instilling this pattern in them, and one less kid-oriented, that is for grownups.

So if you have time today or over the weekend to share some your wonderful, family bonding, character inducing traditions I would be so grateful (as if I’m not already grateful for all of your and your constant support and feedback). Have a truly wonderful Thanksgiving and I can’t wait to read and compile all of your responses. xx

  1. My kiddos are 6&4 as well and the last couple of years we have picked from our church’s adopt a family gifts that are appropriate for their age and then they pick them out. This year we have a Spider-Man toy for my son to pick out and a craft kit for my daughter to pick out. I think a lot of it is also seeing you volunteer. I signed up families for the adopt a family program and then my oldest came along and gave out candy canes to the kids. The food bank probably does a holiday meal handout and could use some hands for that. I also would recommend scouts. I wasn’t a scout myself but my daughter joined in kindergarten I wasn’t so sure about it lol, but it has provided us some good service opportunities that we as a family have continued participating in after the scout event.

    1. Our family also really enjoys scouts. I have a son and daughter. We have a very service oriented troop that help facilitate service projects throughout the year and especially during the holiday season. Boy Scouts, now Scouts BSA, is open to both boys and girls if you want a group the whole family can be involved in.

  2. Love this post! I don’t celebrate Thanksgiving as much as I did growing up because I’m vegetarian now and my husband isn’t American anyways. So for me it’s mostly a signpost that I can officially start getting ready for Christmas 😀

    Dee ~ Vanilla Papers

  3. Every year, since I can remember, all my family gets together at my grandparents – I’m talking 35+ of us and we always make pies with my grandmother, we do a taffy pull with my great grandmothers recipe, we set the table and after we all eat we sit in a circle and everyone goes around and says what they are thankful for. It’s a really special tradition that I cherish ❤️

    1. A few of ours include having the kids decorate the mailbox for our mail carrier and leave a note and/or candy bar. We hide “dragon tears” round glass or small dinosaurs in the sandboxes of local parks for kids to find. We tape quarters to parking meters downtown. Another favorite is to go shopping with the kids to create a give away bag (hats, gloves, pb crackers) to keep in the car.

  4. We do the Giving Manger with our kids every year at Christmas!

    My family started a tradition where on Thanksgiving, my parents would give each kid a sum of money. We got to pick how we wanted to bless someone with it. We left gift cards to Target on the shopping carts, went into a restaurant and picked a random family to pay for, bought someone’s movie ticket, etc.
    We all went around town together doing this. It was SO fun to be sneaky and giving at the same time. We all loved coming up with different ways to spend our money. At the end, we all went to a movie together.

    1. I love this idea so much!!!

  5. My kids are 7 & 8 and for the last 3 or 4 years, we have spent our whole year saving dollar bills. Whenever we use cash, and happen to have a dollar bill, it gets saved. At the end of the year (typically the week before or after Christmas) the kids split however much money we’ve saved and they each get to decide what cause they want to donate their dollars to. Last year was the ASPCA and the local food CO-OP. They absolutely LOVE this tradition!

    My kids also only receive 5 gifts from Santa. I am a school counselor at the elementary school they attend, and I am acutely aware that there are many children in our school who are lucky to have any Christmas gifts – much less the kind of Christmas my children get. So in that spirit – Santa brings 5 gifts – something you want; something you need; something to read; something to wear; something to share. This year my 8 year old very sweetly asked if we could ask Santa to add a 6th gift – “mommy can we askSanta if we can add something to give? I have so many things that don’t fit me anymore and I know there are kids that need clothes and my old toys.”

    Ask your sweet babies what they want to do to give back. We often find at my school, that the very best ideas about service learning projects come directly from the kiddos. They may come up with the best idea yet. Can’t remember the verse, but you’ll get the idea – …and a little child shall lead them.

    1. Just beautiful!

  6. My parents divorced when I was five and each fairly quickly remarried. They lived less than a mile from each other but the necessary logistics of having two homes, with extended family on each. Well. It’s like having in-laws your whole life. So traditions were always flexible and accommodating. We celebrated all the grandparents homes and each smaller family. Looking back nearly 50 years now, I’d say what I cherish the most is that flexibility. My parents (all of them) kept emotional drama low, made it easy for people to join if and when they could and moved the timing of things when needed. I realize that’s not precisely what you are looking for, but every year when I read all the articles about “doing it right” I like to point out how important it is to do it the right way. More practically, decorating sugar cookies was a whole family annual tradition I carried into my twenties with friends and still consider an essential tradition. Let it be messy and genuine and more the merrier. Also loved that our family used candles at dinner and got out table clothes and napkins. Mood is memorable. Keep it merry and light and just enough reverence and you can’t lose.

    1. I have no idea why but this reply made me tear up! Maybe it’s the pressure to “do it right” and make it so special. But you are right! It’s the mood & just being together that is important! Thanks for sharing 🙂

    2. This is so sweet. I needed to hear this.

  7. My parents would always invite guests for Thanksgiving dinner. We did not live close to relatives. My mom would ask me to make place cards for the table. When I got a little older, I got to set the table which I loved because of all the beautiful things. I thought it was fun and it did me to set a formal table! Sadly, I have had little opportunity in my life to set a formal table!

    Happy Thanksgiving to everyone!

  8. One of my bible study leaders shared this with me a few years ago, and it has since become my kids’ favorite and most talked about tradition.

    We put them to bed (on a school night Which makes this even more exciting), and then I start ringing bells or banging a pot with a wooden spoon shouting at them to come downstairs. We load up in our van all dressed in PJ’s with Christmas cookies and hot cocoa in their water bottles and drive around looking for the best Christmas lights. The surprise and never knowing what night is might occur brings them so much joy and excitement.

    My kids are not much older than yours and they just love it and about it all year!

    1. This is adorable!

  9. I have an 8 year old boy, and we have a bunch of holiday traditions. I grew up Catholic but now go to an Episcopal church, so some of our traditions are informed by that.

    1. Religiousy traditions: we have an Advent wreath and light candles and sing a song and say a prayer each night. I have a Fisher Price Advent calendar where you add a different nativity character to the scene each night. (Sadly, he has outgrown this and the lure of a chocolate advent calendar is real!) We also have a Manger and put a piece of straw in each night for good deeds or kind things we did. Jesus arrives on Christmas. These are all things I did growing up and remember fondly. Could be adapted by writing kind acts on little paper chains/ornaments to put on a small tree.

    2. Secular traditions: I taught preschool for years and had lots of holiday books. I wrap up 24 different holiday books, both religious and not, (supplementing from the library) and we would open one each night to read. This is evolving too…now my kiddo has outgrown lots of these books and we are moving toward chapter books, so I am trying to figure out how/if this will work now. We also go to different annual activities in our area: Scottish Walk parade, Boat parade, and water-skiing Santa. For service we buy gifts for children in need. We also start listening to Christmas music starting the week of Thanksgiving.

    Wishing you luck as you create your traditions. I LOVED Christmas time as a kid, and that is why I go a little overboard with this stuff. Lots of my friends think it is crazy, but we enjoy it and it makes the season special. Find things that you will enjoy and don’t feel like work, and they will stick. Have a great Christmas season!

    1. Lovely traditions. “The Best Christmas Pageant Ever” is a wonderful chapter book to read with an 8 year old. It’s funny, but also teaches valuable lessons. My daughter loved it. And I once read it to my 8 year old niece while she was sick while staying with us for the weekend. We finished the entire book, which made her laugh out loud, even though she was sick! The next time she wanted a story, she called me so that I could read to her – a great moment of aunt/niece bonding.

  10. ‘The lazy genius’ just did a podcast episode on this that I loved. #132 Ten Steps to Creating Your Own Traditions, http://www.thelazygeniuscollective.com/lazy
    Kendra is the best, you should check out out.

  11. We do pie making and food baskets at our church. My kids do a large picture of a turkey and i cut out different color feathers. This started when my oldest was 4. All 23 family write what they are thankful for, and in pin the tail in the Turkey blindfold. We read them
    With desert. I save them
    Every year and get ready eyed now that the oldest is 22.

  12. It’s not really holiday tradition but for my kids birthdays they each get a set sum of money (usually $20-30) and they have to think of someone in need or something kind and then I take them to spend that money and deliver whatever they chose to the recipient. One child wanted to buy backpacks for kids going to school who didn’t have a fancy one. Another child felt that all kids should have lucky charms and peanut butter so he used all his money on that and we took it to our local food bank. It’s fun each year to see what they think a need in our community is and to watch them fill it.

  13. We do a cute advent calendar (Gathre just released a darling one). We pick a night and go have “breakfast for dinner“ at a greasy spoon diner (Conrad’s in Pasadena), then get cocoa and drive around looking at Christmas lights. We also pick one night and watch Christmas movies and “camp out” under the Christmas tree. Then lots of cozy church activities and stuff. Merry Christmas!

  14. For the last five years we have participated in a kickball game every Thanksgiving morning with friends. Just got back from it! It’s a rotating group of 5–10 families—whoever is in town that year—and it’s so much fun. We meet early, 8 am, at a city park and play kickball (boys against girls and everyone plays) and have hot chocolate. We have done this in every type of freezing weather imaginable (we live in the Midwest) and it’s so fun. We do it early so everyone can get on with their Thanksgiving with family after. I love this tradition because although we have a lot of family holiday traditions, we don’t have many with friends at this time of the year. I definitely think my kids will look back in this fondly.

  15. Service projects are a great thing! I have done various things over the years, but none of them with my whole family. I think doing service projects together is fabulous.

    I married a man who had 3 daughters, and they lived across the country from us most of the time, so our time with them was short. Now most of us are in the same area but they spend the actual holiday with their mother, who is sick and alone if they wouldn’t be with her. So we always do our Thanksgiving and Christmas with my step daughters, not on the actual day, but a few days before or after. To me, the most important thing is to be with family. It may not seem like a big deal when you are all together all the time.

    Things we do that I think have become important to all of us: 1. I used to make several treats every year and some of them are so dear to their hearts that they now make them for all of us. We always have the “Thanksgiving potatoes” at any special meal we share. The ginger biscuits and the Heath Bar toffee, and the fudge they make for their dad because he once ate half a batch of it in a night. 2. With the grandkids, who don’t live nearby, we always make and decorate sugar cookies. Yes, you can make Christmas cookies in September! Or any time of year. I take pictures and we look back at all the times we have done this together. They don’t do this with their mom, who’s too busy with 4 kids ages 1-13. 3. We use the gorgeous Wedgewood china that my mother-in-law gave us for holiday meals. We make a beautiful table setting and always have fresh flowers. And take a picture of ourselves at the table, for memories. 4. We try to decorate the tree together, even buy the tree together, if possible. This might be on Dec 3 or Dec 27. We have appetizers spread out on the coffee table while doing this. 5. We make a big deal of what goes into the Christmas stockings and we all stuff them. I got my step daughters special stockings decades ago at a craft fair, and we still use the same ones. They have created a tradition of giving their dad a box of “Dobies”- dishwashing scrubbies. The stockings get so heavy their strings are severely stressed! We take a long time to dig the stuff out and show each other. One of my step daughters always gets each person some fun socks. We open presents one at a time, and show each other before passing out the next one.

    One thing I have done twice, is create a cookbook of favorite recipes. I use these books all the time, and they use them, too. One of the books has 1/2 of the recipes from my mom and her mom, and I gave them to all my siblings, step kids, grand kids, nieces and nephews. I include pictures and stories about the foods and the people. It’s a comfort to me to make recipes from my mother and grandmother, and I think it will be a comfort to them to make these foods when I’m gone (but that will be a long time from now, lol).

    I think it’s important to keep the focus on family time and to keep it simple and flexible. It’s not a disaster if we don’t get to decorate the tree together one year, or if we don’t do it until the 27th. Several years, we convened in Seattle and rented 3 apartments, moving all the dining furniture and dishes to one apartment. MIL brought a tablecloth from Portland, I brought my big roasting pan and chef knife and pre-measured spices from Cleveland, and we cooked turkey dinners, pies, everything. One year we got a Christmas tree and turned a bar stool upside down to hold it. Decorated with paper chains we made and lights brought in the suitcase. The night we got into town, we would always walk 2 blocks and get everyone the most delicious teriyaki. We still get teriyaki from this same place during at least one get-together each year, even though we have to drive 40 minutes to get it.

    The important thing is to be with them, create a loving atmosphere and let them know they are dear to us. We carry these adventures and weird stuff we had to do to celebrate, as shared memories.

    Thanks for asking- just thinking about all of this is heartwarming! Have a great Thanksgiving!

    1. I am a daughter of a caring and loving stepmom. I have a couple of friends who were bullied by their stepmothers and the pain they still feel in their thirties is deep. Parents like you and my stepmom make a family whole. Thank you for sharing.

  16. I am not American and Thanksgiving has some mixed and funny memories for me, but I grew up with a traditional Christmas that was repetitive ad nauseam, yet, these are the fondest memories I treasure now. I made sure to implement all the repetitiveness in my own family live and every year we went to see “The Grinch” at the Old Globe Theater here in town. We usually had duck or goose and other European meals for Thanksgiving and Christmas. Our Thanksgiving was less American, but filled with tradition and now that my kid is an adult, that’s what she remembers and treasures the most: our little family traditions. And she wants to go and see “The Grinch” again :-). No matter what religion you are, no matter what you do on holidays, just make it your very own tradition and stick with it. Good luck!

  17. On Thanksgiving I craft gratitude ornaments and at Thanksgiving everyone writes what they are grateful for on them and we hang them on a Thanksgiving “tree” (some branches in a vase) on the table. Then whichever family member is hosting that year gets to keep them for their Christmas tree so it also serves as a hostess gift! We also have the cousins all wear matching pjs and they take a photo with their Great Grandmother so we can give her that framed photo on Christmas. It’s all she ever wants and she’s 98 now so each year it becomes that much more important.

  18. My twins are 33 now. We always did a gift exchange between the two of them on Christmas eve. I’d take one to shop for the other, leaving dad with the other kiddo, then rinse and repeat. They used their own $$ once they were old enough, and we’d have a hot chocolate/cookie break, and then home to wrap it ASAP. Some of my fave pix of the two of them are opening their Christmas sibling gifts. Its a tradition they STILL continue even living in different states now, they just mail stuff and open via Skype/What’s App.

    As they got older, we also started picking two “angels” off the Salvation Army Tree. I’d help them shop ( read: I paid for whatever they picked out ) and then they would wrap, and make a card/write a letter to the recipient. Taking those gifts back to the drop off point was always a “moment.”

    My kids say that doing those things impacted their lives more than any toy/clothes/gift they ever got for Christmas.

    Lastly, as a teacher, I sadly know that there are always kids in school who are considered “homeless.” They may be living in a motel, or living 10 people to a two bedroom apartment, etc. You can check with a local school district and connect with the homeless liaison about gifting for those kids. OR, adopt a classroom in a title one school district! (These are the ones where most of the kids get free breakie and lunch). They always need supplies ( copy paper, wipe off markers, etc) You can also check on Donors Choose; on Dec 3rd all donations are matched 50%! Here’s mine for this year: https://www.donorschoose.org/project/learning-easily-gets-optimized-with-lego/4633260/?utm_source=dc&utm_medium=page&utm_campaign=project&utm_term=teacher_3501790&rf=page-dc-2019-11-project-teacher_3501790&challengeid=20729784

    Happy T-day to you and yours. I’m off to hang my Target “Joy” wreath
    ( LOVE it!) and pop the turkey in the oven 🙂

    1. My kids have loved shopping for their siblings and for the gifts we choose from the school giving tree. These have both become important traditions. They have moved on from elementary school so we don’t have the school to facilitate the giving tree, but it’s fun and important for them to do some giving during a season with so much focus on getting.

  19. I don’t know if service around the holidays really brings home the message because the excitement of all the stuff sort of eclipses it. And day to day life is still one of complete privilege because of your race. We are in a similar position. I think the things that really resonate for our child were trips were we lived around people that did not have access to things (volunteering on trips thru our Unitarian church). Kids are not really permitted to do service work until they are 16-18yrs. So finding opportunities can be challenging. But we often participate thru church and scouts in service projects in other communities. I think actually visiting other communities (And meeting people) was helpful in making a real connection to poverty, and lack of resources around us. But I think the thing I am most proud of is we have really worked hard to make and maintain friendships with families that have kids that are not neurotypical (Autism, Aspergers, Dyslexia, etc) or struggling with mental health. They don’t get invited to birthday parties or social events. Our child is aware that people need people everyday and he’s kinder to people because he has personal experience. Probably more serious than you wanted, it’s not a goal that can be accomplished In a week or a few hours. Hope you find the right thing.

  20. My mom would always give my sister and I $20 to donate or somehow help others in need. Some years I bought pet food for a local animal shelter, others we’d give to a friend in need. It was really cool to have control at a young age to decide where we wanted to put our money. It was also especially powerful for me because we were poor ourselves and yet my mom always set the example that sharing what we had was more important than having a extra present under the tree.

  21. I’m at the older side of 9 kids (aged 30-15) and growing up we would do nightly prayer during Advent including Christmas songs and lighting an Advent wreath.

    But we also had a stocking for Jesus. And in preparation for His birthday, every night we would write down what each member of the family was thankful for, as a birthday gift for Christmas.

    My parents still do this with whom ever is at the house (even guests participate) and my brother does it with his kids too.

    Happy Thanksgiving!

  22. I work at an assisted living – in Loma Linda, CA – and our residents love visits from children. Christmas is especially hard for them, as many have outlived their spouses, relatives, and, in many cases, their own children.
    I’ve worked in this industry for 15 years and the number of visits from children has dwindled considerably over the years. I’m constantly calling nearby schools and churches and they come through for us every once in a while – they are busy and we understand and are extremely grateful for the time they do make. (Teachers have to coordinate with parents to help them when they make these visits and that’s a logistical nightmare in itself!)
    Children remind them of when their children were little and this brings back happy memories for them. Homemade cards and just talking with residents is always a big hit. They also LOVE cookies and sweets! I recommend calling first and speaking with the programs coordinator to schedule a visit.
    Many of our residents are still active in their churches, they still drive, and they are involved in and outside of our community. We have former teachers, engineers, physicians, and a lot of WWII veterans. These are people our children need to know -the WWII generation is dying out and they are truly a group of people worth knowing. I say all this because we often get people coming in who actually talk down to them or treat them as though they are children.
    Just an F.Y.I. : Skilled nursing communities are for those just coming out of the hospital and are still recovering. Assisted Living is for those who need assistance with dressing, showering, and med management, or escorting. Some who live in assisted may not need any of these programs, however. Independent communities offer none of these programs. Memory care neighborhoods are generally not open to guests, as visits are disruptive to those who suffer from memory loss.
    Thank you for reading. Blessings to all of you!

  23. I did a really big toy drive for two Pasadena area kid charities and it was so gratifying.

    If I had kids now I’d do it every year and volunteer

    1. I have a seven and four year old and am still forming holiday traditions. When I think back to the Christmas traditions I participated in growing up, they are a mix of silly things and service oriented opportunities. Many things my siblings and I came up with on our own. Like our Christmas nest. Each Christmas Eve, we’d gather blankets and pillows into one big pile and all the siblings slept together. This was one of our favorite things. My parents initiated thoughtful service projects we could participate in. For many years we would do the twelve days of Christmas, doorbell ditch a family in our church or community with gifts and treats. It was always exciting to get to be the person to leave stuff on the porch. We also invited over widows we knew that didn’t have holiday plans to share Christmas dinner and activities. I’m still working on how to instill a spirit of giving and holiday magic on my own kids. Looking forward to all the responses.

  24. We always went to pick a bunch of toys to donate and our son picked them, took them from the car and put them into the donation bins! That was huge for him. Also volunteering at Thanksgiving dinners for under-privileged was huge for him. He has carried these things into his adult life.

  25. My mom started the tradition of having our Santa photos taken every year and hanging them up for all to see how we’d all grown up. I took it one step further and I have purchased The same ornament Frame annually for each of my 8 year old twins and I hang them on our garland on our staircase each year. Everyone who sees them comments on them.

  26. Oh and I forgot a huge one!! We all get together for an annual cookie bake. The kids have loved it…depending on how many kids we have, each kid picks 1 – 3 fave cookie recipes and everyone helps bake them!

  27. Every Christmas Eve we stayed home, ate finger foods and played board games. We still all do this with our own families today, even if we’re not all together.

  28. I love that you want service to become a tradition and I totally agree that it is a meaningful way to create memories !! I know you’re no longer a member of the church, but there are some great kid-friendly Ideas here and most are based on being a good, kind person vs something strictly religious. https://heyfriendshop.com/2019/11/light-the-world-2019-one-by-one/

    Excited to hear what your family tries!!

  29. No one will like this suggestion, but as a former director of a homeless shelter, I can tell you that the one time we ( and other not for profits) don’t need anything is Christmas . Plan service projects for your birthday and spread the giving through out the year, to insure that social services receive donations when they need them most.

    1. This is such helpful Insight. Thank you.

    2. I volunteer at a homeless family center annually over MLK weekend, and they say the same! Most of what we do is organize and filter the massive donations from mid-Nov to late-Dec. They encourage us to tell everyone with a scout troop, etc to instead organize donations in Spring and Summer.

  30. When we were growing up, my mom would take us shopping for gifts for our family members and the first stop would be at the giving tree. My mom, sister and I would each read through the cards and choose a kid in need to shop for. Then we got to pick out their present all on our own. It was a great lesson in the joy of gift-giving and got us to reflect on our good fortune as well. Even if we were tight on money, we would participate. It was always my favorite part of Christmas and I can’t wait to start it with my son.

  31. My all time favorite tradition is the Christmas morning scavenger hunt. The first clue begins on the tree (hidden in/on an ornament) and then each clue would take me somewhere outside in the cold, around the neighborhood, in the house, yard, until I found my gift. My dad started it when I was around 5 and I loved it so much it continued all through high school where the clues escalated to calculus and chemistry questions! It really extends the togetherness of gift opening, makes it super interactive and a team effort when the clues get tough (getting to help my younger sister with hers!).

    For a milestone birthday of my dad’s a few years ago, I planned a father/daughter trip to Scotland and I set up a similarly elaborate scavenger hunt for the surprise. I felt like I got to take one of my favorite things he made possible from my childhood and give him the fun in return.

  32. When I was growing up, our local library had a Christmas tree decorated with a bunch of tags. Each tag was for a local kid whose family didn’t really have the means to buy Christmas gifts. My mom took my sister & I to the library every Year and we each got to pick one kid to get a present for. I don’t know of any programs exactly like this in LA, but DPSS and CHLA both have adopt a family type programs. We would also normally each get to pick out a stuffed animal to donate to Toys for Tots.
    Beyond those more outreach type things, White Elephant was a big tradition for our larger family celebration and I looked forward to that game every year. Baking Christmas cookies was always a favorite as well

  33. Two ideas: donate to a women’s shelter or help serve food at a soup kitchen. My children’s school collects toothbrushes and other toiletries as well as makeup, socks, etc and donates it to a local women’s shelter. Also, we have helped out one weekend preparing and serving food at a soup kitchen.

  34. Christmas stockings have always been of major importance in my family…both growing up and with my kids. A personalized needlepoint stocking for each family member based upon their personal important holiday symbols whether secular or religious is number one. I’ve made over 40 for in-laws, nieces, nephews, spouses of family members…their children, each different. We spend lots of time picking out stocking stuffers for each family member and take our time first thing opening them to ooohhh and aaahhh over each one. Always look forward to the stockings.

  35. My favorite activity that my family still does is we each individually decide what amount of money we can donate – matched by my parents – to a general “fund.” The 8 of us then pile in the car and go to Aldi or Meijer and buy however much food & supplies (from a soup kitchen preferred donation list ie soups, hamburger helper, brownie mix, dish soap) that amount can buy and deliver it to a local soup kitchen. We usually donate around $1500 of food and it’s fun to shop together for the cause as a family.

    We’ve also adopted several families in need and shopped Target for them – winter coats, toys and pajamas, then dropped the packages at their home or apartment so they can have a nice holiday.

  36. I grew up Mormon but no longer believe and only participate for family/social reasons on a limited basis. There are a lot of traditions and things facilitated by the church/gospel that I miss but that no longer hold the same meaning for me. So, I’ve had to find ways to try to recreate the parts I loved, in a way that makes sense for me now. For example, as a kid, my family used to read scriptures in the morning and pray over every meal. So with my kids (6 and 4 years), before every meal, we light a candle, sing a song or recite a poem we’re working on, go around and say what we’re grateful for, say the best and worst part of our day and say a little prayer in our post-Mo way. I love the routine of coming together in love, stillness and gratitude before every meal. I love how it recreates something I appreciated as a kid, that held a lot of meaning for me, in a way that fits where I’m at now. For Holiday Traditions, as a kid, my favorite one that felt special and unique to my family, is that on Christmas Eve, we would open a gift from “Heavenly Father.” It was a spiritually minded gift (ie. usually purchased from Desert Book), things like books from Sheri Dew or John Bytheway, EFY CDs, a Jack Weyland or “Tennis Shoes Among the Nephites” novel, or a new journal. I haven’t quite figured out a perfect substitution, but, I sew my boys pajamas every year and they get to open them on Christmas Eve. Since they’re handmade (aka pretty wonky, but full of love), it feels special and my kids really look forward to it. Another tradition I loved as a kid, was this felt advent calendar my mom made when I was little. Everyday, we got to pull out a felt ornament to place on the felt tree and it was SO exciting! So, for my kids, I made an advent calendar where they get to pull out a real ornament and put it on the tree (someday I’ll get around to making a cute felt one). With each ornament, we either read a Bible story to go along with it or talk about a Christmas symbol and then sing a Christmas song together as they hang it up. A new tradition we’re trying out this year, is one from a Visiting Teaching Sister from my former life – she used to wrap up 25 Christmas books (most from the library), and every night, her kids would get to unwrap one, then she would read it to them by the light of the Christmas tree. I’m really excited about doing it this year with my kids. Another tradition I loved growing up, was singing Christmas hymns at church and participating in the Christmas program. So we still go to our ward’s Christmas program each year. And this year, I found some other Christmas musical programs at other churches and community events that we’d like to attend. I also loved the ward Christmas party growing up, (I love community) so we still go to our (or our friend’s/family’s) ward’s Christmas party each year. I wish you a wonderful holiday season and hope you can find some meaningful traditions your kids will love! xo

  37. Thank you for posting this question. Everyone’s comments are reminders to me that there is so much good in the world. 💛

  38. This is more Thanksgiving related, but we had a tablecloth and each year would write (fabric paint) what we were thankful for. We just brought it out this year to revive the tradition and it was hilarious, sentimental, and sweet! Highly recommend!

  39. On Christmas, everyone opens just one present per hour. It keeps us in the moment and slows down the craziness of the day.

  40. Some things we do for others:
    Blessings in a back pack (so kids who need it can go home on the weekend with food)
    In the same vain, blessing bag for the homeless (it feels good gathering/buying items for them)

    For ourselves:
    Anyone we know who lives here but has no family with them, we invite to thanksgiving dinner.
    We make the same Christmas breakfast that we get ready the day before.
    We take a walk on the beach every xmas.
    There is a huge house in the area that does one of those crazy light shows/music extravaganzas and we go every year.
    We made our own advent calendar that we take out every year and fill with not just candy but how we can do something nice for others or an experience to go on that day/week.

    I think I need to grow for the others list!! Happy holidays!

  41. At school we took part in an annual charity shoebox appeal. We’d fill a shoebox with donated toys, little chocolates or treats, and wrap it up to be sent to another child. It was great to encourage a clear-out before Christmas, and even when I was very young I remember recognising that I had so much and I felt proud to be able to pass on things to other children who would need them more. I loved it, and have kept up a tradition of an annual clear-out and donation to charity every year since. It’s something I will pass on to my own children.

  42. My Dad and I always went on a tree finding expedition together. My Mom always had projects and my brother complained so it became our special holiday tradition. We created a set of criteria that worked for our home and looked at many options before selecting the best of that year. We drove home chatting about the day, drinking the last of the hot chocolate and often spontaneously started singing Christmas carols.
    Not everyone has snowy woods hike through to harvest a tree, however I think one could adapt this to any tree search. The important part was that Dad and I shared the day, the decision-making, and the adventure. It was extra special because it was typically just us two.
    We lost him suddenly this August. Last year, we took my little son along for the first time, and I am determined to continue the tradition in a similar way.

  43. I’ll be following the comments and looking forward to a summary post in the future. My kids love doing Sibling Secret Santa, so last year I tried to put that energy towards giving tree recipients instead. They were onboard with the idea, so I got tags for kids same age/gender. The challenge was that the tags had very specific items (which I completely understand!) which were much easier for us (me) to get online. And they want them unwrapped (again, understandable) so my kids weren’t even able to wrap the gifts. I was very glad to have purchased gifts for foster kids, but in the end my children had zero involvement.

    I may instead have them each pick out a book to donate to a local organization that gets books to low income families. Our local public library had that as a reward for completing the summer reading program, and my kids really enjoyed thinking about what another child would like to read.

    They *really* love making ornaments and treats for teachers and neighbors. I appreciate that they look forward to doing something for others rather than only honing their own wish list. We make glitter ornaments (clear plastic globes + spray adhesive or floor polish + glitter), which is easy for kids to do with minimal help but looks genuinely beautiful and impressive in the end. It’s sweet to hear them really be thoughtful about the color choice. (We use a ~35 color set of glitter, which has lasted several years). They make the cookies, cover them with more icing and sprinkles than the average adult would want, box them up, and deliver them to neighbors. We did hand pies one year, although that took a lot more work. We’ve discussed doing chocolate ganache truffles.

    In the same vein, I have them help me brainstorm gifts for grandparents, and spend an afternoon making something for their grandparents. (Typically a card, but sometimes we’re more clever).

    My oldest asked me to make a little booklet of carol lyrics so that her and her friends could go caroling during recess. I chose only secular song, since it’s a public school. She has used those a couple of years now. I don’t know if that could be considered a public service though 😉

    Our primary family bonding tradition is cutting snowflakes to cover our front picture window. We all look forward to it! We use coffee filters from the dollar store, which work perfectly. It’s fun to sit together cutting them out, appreciating results, and see the kids improve. The result is decretive/festive… and functional to screen the front window when it gets dark earlier and we are eating dinner in a well-lit fishbowl, haha.

  44. On Christmas morning, our family meets at an assisted living facility with any friends who want to join, and we go caroling up and down the halls, in meeting rooms, and in a few residents rooms (sometimes directed by facility staff). We bring homemade cards to give to every resident and often bring other gifts approved by the facility staff. One year we made homemade scarves for all 80+ residents. The kids loved doing this with the scarf looms(?). Another year, we brought little packages with tissues, socks, nail files, etc. It kicks off the day in such an outward focused way and has become a tradition for some of our friends. Then, friends and family are all invited to my parents house for a buffet style breakfast with waffles, frittata, etc. After breakfast, friends head off to other holiday gatherings, and our family opens presents together. We’ve done this since my youngest was 3. My kids are now 25, 23, 17 and 14, and every year when we ask what holiday tradition do we need to keep for the coming year, this is top of their lists.

  45. We don’t celebrate thanksgiving where I’m from but for Christmas one of my absolute favourite things we did was go for a midnight big Christmas food shop. My mum would bring me, my sister and my best friend every year, a couple of days before Christmas. It felt so exciting to be food shopping after midnight. We definitely were older than 4 & 6 though. There was one supermarket in the suburbs that did a late night shop, it had a great atmosphere and everyone was surprising chilled out while shopping. Some even in their pyjamas.

    Another thing we still do to this day is wait to give out our gifts until after Christmas dinner but before desert. We start with youngest in the family and they give their gift outs one by one from youngest to oldest. The person opens their gift and everyone watches. It takes a long time! But every gift is truly appreciated and shared around the room. We definitely learnt patience as children!

  46. So many wonderful traditions in these posts. Thank you for sharing!

    I imprinted heavily on children’s books about Christmas, learning that some families made Christmas cookies, and learning that other families collected special ornaments. I did both traditions with my daughter, and included my nephew and nieces as they came along. And of course I read those books to her, along with other Christmas stories.

    I always wanted my daughter to know that many people were not as fortunate as she is, so every year she picked out gifts for a family that we “adopted,” or for Christmas giving programs. She loved it. Now that she’s an adult, we give through on-line programs, with Heifers International as our favorite. We shop for a gift for a family in need, such as a flock of chickens. In the Heifer program each family celebrates the receipt of their gift and then passes it on to another family. The chicks grown up, lay eggs, and when the new chicks are old enough the family passes some of them on to another family in need.

    I’m a film buff, so Christmas movies are my jam, and we watch our favorites annually. I love The Bishop’s Wife, with Cary Grant, Loretta Young, and David Niven, from 1947. Cary plays an angel who writes a Christmas Eve sermon for the misguided Bishop. I tear up at the sermon every year, because it clearly references the problems that caused WWII, and that still damage our world today:

    Christmas Sermon from The Bishop’s Wife

    Tonight I want to tell you a story about the empty stocking.

    Once upon a midnight clear, there was a child’s cry, a blazing star hung over a stable, and wise men came with birthday gifts. We haven’t forgotten that night down the centuries.

    We celebrate it with stars on Christmas trees, with the sound of bells, and with gifts.

    But especially with gifts. You give me a book, I give you a tie. Aunt Martha has always wanted an orange squeezer and Uncle Henry can do with a new pipe. For we forget nobody, adult or child. All the stockings are filled, all that is, except one. And we have even forgotten to hang it up. The stocking for the child born in a manger. Its his birthday we’re celebrating. Don’t let us ever forget that.

    Let us ask ourselves what He would wish for most. And then, let each put in his share – loving kindness, warm hearts, and a stretched out hand of tolerance. All the shinning gifts that make peace on earth.

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