https://firstthings.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/12/pexels-any-lane-5728314-scaled-e1608644747912.jpg241600Mitchell Quallshttps://firstthings.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/01/ftf-logo-300x186.pngMitchell Qualls2020-12-22 08:46:162021-12-21 17:45:2825 Holiday Conversation Starters for the Whole Family
Here we are at Christmas, supposedly “the most wonderful time of the year.” Children are wide-eyed in anticipation. They’re excitedly telling their parents what they want Santa to bring them. On the other hand, parents may be reeling from stress with too many unanswered questions.
Let’s don’t even talk about finances. Or the pressure to make sure everything is in stock and ordered early enough to arrive on time.
Give Something Different
Can we press the pause button for a minute? I think it might help to take a step back, breathe, and think about a few things. There are lots of voices telling your children what they should ask for this Christmas. While some of those Christmas gifts may be awesome, what your child really wants for Christmas and what you actually end up giving them this Christmas may be two very different lists. And for good reason.
I’ve been down the road of being really proud of myself for getting some of those begged-for items, only to see them sitting in the corner a few weeks into the new year.
After several years, it occurred to me: Maybe those things aren’t really the best Christmas gifts I could give my child. That sent me down the trail of thinking about what I could give her that wouldn’t break, sit abandoned in the corner, or be returned to the store. Challenge accepted.
Give Something Meaningful
Here are some of the things we gave her through the years instead.
Coupon book. We made a coupon book with 20 or so different coupons for things like an ice cream date, getting out of a chore for a day, making a favorite dinner, popcorn and movie night, dessert before dinner, staying up past bedtime, and extra video game time.
Membership or passes to a children’s museum, aquarium, zoo, rock-climbing, zip-lining, or other attraction to stimulate both the brain and body.
Vision book. We asked people who knew our daughter well – teachers, friends, coaches, grandparents, neighbors – to write her a short note. In it, they wrote about the qualities they saw in her and words of encouragement. I put all of the messages in a scrapbook and gave it to her. She’s all grown up, but that book is still with her.
Scavenger hunts and experiences. A wrapped box under the tree with a clue in it that led to the next clue somewhere around the house… which after numerous clues would lead to the gift. One year it was tickets to a concert we attended as a family. Another year, it was a weekend daddy-daughter trip. The goal was to create lasting memories instead of temporary excitement. We still talk about those experiences today.
Back to hitting the pause button. After a few Christmases, I realized that each year around September, I started feeling significant stress about Christmas – shopping, finances, and attitude over buying the wrong gifts. I actually began to dread what was my favorite time of the year. Something had to give. That’s when we decided to do things differently.
Give Something That Lasts
In the end, not giving our daughter all the stuff on her list might have been one of the best Christmas gifts we gave her as her parents. You can’t buy the conversations and laughter around those memories. And they are there forever.
They won’t ever put this on their Christmas list, but what children really want for Christmas is to know their parents love them. Don’t expect a huge thank you for not getting everything on their Christmas list. That won’t happen for a long time – maybe never. But, coming up with creative ways to celebrate your child, creating memories with them, and showing them your unconditional love truly will be priceless. You’ll never regret giving them that. And you don’t have to break the budget, wait for it to arrive in the mail, or get it at the mall.
Even before Halloween is over, store aisles are packed with Christmas everything. Mail catalogs arrive and television commercials promote things we supposedly can’t and shouldn’t live without.
Ikea is one of the stores getting into the Christmas spirit with a commercial called The Other Letter.
Ikea had children write a Christmas wish letter to The Three Kings and a second letter to their parents. The letters to The Three Kings were filled with items the children really wanted for Christmas, but the letters to parents were quite different.
The children didn’t ask for things at all. Instead, they said things like:
I want you to spend more time with me… that we do more experiments at home.
I’d like it if you would have dinner with us more often.
Read us a story.
I’d like us to be together for a whole day.
I want to play. I want you to play cowboys with me.
What their kids said they really wanted for Christmas didn’t surprise the majority of parents. But most of them read the second letter through tears. One said she couldn’t read anymore.
Parents thoughtfully acknowledged their children’s wishes by saying:
To spend all the time we have with them is the most we can give to our children.
You want to give them the best you can and the best is yourself.
The feeling of trying to substitute that vacuum with a toy.
While the children’s letters were thought-provoking, the biggest surprise came when the children were asked, “If you could only send one of these letters, which one would you choose to send?” Each child chose the letter to their parents.
Before your blood pressure goes sky-high about how to give your children everything they “want” for Christmas, consider their true wishes. Perhaps the most valuable gift you could give your children is your time.
As you prepare for the holidays ahead, consider these ideas:
Make gift certificates for special outings with family members.
Buy a game to play together like Clue, UNO, Skip-Bo or Catch Phrase.
Learn a new family hobby together.
Make a video scrapbook by asking family members questions like, “What’s your favorite family memory, family vacation or family tradition, and why?” Tell your children how things were different when you were little. Open and watch it on Christmas Day.
Schedule a family progressive dinner in your own home where each family member is responsible for a course. Have the courses in different rooms, decorated by each preparer.
Create a family photo album. Include old photographs alongside more-recent pictures. People rarely make family photo albums anymore.
Write a letter to family members. Tell them why they are special and what they mean to you. Put the envelopes on the tree for Christmas morning.
Families who spend time together make memories and feel a sense of belonging you can’t buy in a store. Funny things happen when you laugh, start traditions and really get to know each other as family members.
People long and crave for intimacy in their own families. Store-bought gifts will never fill the void of precious time, so give it freely. It’s what kids really want for Christmas, and it’ll last for a lifetime—no batteries or assembly required.
It was the first Thanksgiving she and her husband spent with her son, new daughter-in-law and granddaughters. Although looking forward to seeing them, Deanna was quite uneasy. Her daughter-in-law was apprehensive, too. The stress and tension on both sides caused a huge explosion. That’s why that particular holiday is remembered as hellish by both women.
There have probably already been a few interesting discussions about this year’s holiday gatherings with the in-laws. While a first holiday together can be awkward for everyone, you may also be dealing with the stress from annual pressure from both sides of the family. Maybe each side wants you to be there because, “It just won’t be the same if you aren’t here.” Yet trying to please everyone can make the whole season miserable.
If you are the in-laws, remember what holidays were like when you were newlyweds or raising children. What would happen if you backed off on the pressure to be at your home on a certain day? Everybody might enjoy celebrating the holidays more when there’s a little flexibility.
For couples trying to navigate the holidays with in-laws, Brann offers tips to help you create great memories instead of misery.
Have realistic expectations. Hope for the best, but be realistic. Families are families – and they are going to act how they act.
Don’t take it personally. Stressful times and tension can cause behavior to be exaggerated. Remember that your in-laws’ indiscretions are more about them than they are about you. And your mother-in-law is probably not trying to get on your nerves. Keeping this in mind can help maintain the peace.
Be a team player. Remember you really aren’t on opposing teams. Different opinions about certain aspects of the holiday are okay. Find ways to share the workload. Plan fun outings that can help keep people out of trouble.
Hunt for humor. Finding humor in situations can help maintain your sanity by helping you create enough emotional distance so you won’t take people’s words and actions so personally. Plus, you’ll have some great stories to tell your friends.
It’s just one day. You can make it through one day of just about anything. Knowing that there is an end to the evening – and that soon you’ll be seeing their taillights (buckling your seat belt) – can make all the difference. If you or your guests are staying overnight, you can close the guestroom door soon enough.
Plan your exit strategy in advance. Visiting couples should agree beforehand how long to stay – and then leave at the predetermined time. If you’re traveling, getting a hotel room or staying elsewhere can lessen the stress.
Don’t let others steal your joy. A little advance planning (along with a good attitude) can help you make holiday memories, not misery.
Looking for more? Watch this episode of JulieB TV on this topic!
***If you or someone you know is in an abusive relationship, contact the National Hotline for Domestic Abuse. At this link, you can access a private chat with someone who can help you 24/7. If you fear that someone is monitoring your computer or device, call the hotline 24/7 at: 1−800−799−7233. For a clear understanding of what defines an abusive relationship, click here.***
As Christmas approaches, some eagerly anticipate celebrating in the same way they always have. Others are ready to shake things up a bit and do something a little different. There are so many ideas for celebrating Christmas that you probably haven’t tried!
The thought of buying presents for all of their children and grandchildren overwhelmed Terri and Bill, especially when nobody really needed anything. After several conversations about what to do, they finally decided to give their family a special gift of time and togetherness. They started planning mystery destination trips.
When the time came, they told their family what kind of clothes to pack. Then on the morning of departure, everybody learned where they were headed together. Sometimes they took a trip to the mountains for a weekend, and other years they did something more elaborate. These experiences helped create memories that will last far longer than many of the gifts they had given in the past.
If you’re ready to add some variety to your festivities, here are some things you might try:
Expand your knowledge and your palate. Some families like to learn how other cultures celebrate the holidays. Consider letting your children choose a country and create your Christmas celebration around those customs and traditions. You can even change up your usual dinner menu to include traditional dishes from that country. As a bonus, you might even get extra help from the kids in the kitchen.
Play games. How about starting a tradition of giving your family a new game that everybody plays for the first time at your Christmas gathering? Speak Out, Heads Up!, Apples to Apples, Family Feud and Catch Phrase are likely to create lively conversations without the drama.
Go offline. Maybe you could ditch the technology and ask everybody to come prepared to share a talent or a hobby as you gather together.
Be more active. Resurrect the annual family football game. There’s nothing like some healthy competition to work off the big meal and make room for the next. If you can’t do football, sack races, three-legged relays, a scavenger hunt or a hike will fill the bill!
Share family history. Many younger family members don’t know much about their family history, and the holidays are a great time to learn about it. Try having your guests bring a baby picture, then shuffle them up and guess who belongs with each photo. As you connect the pictures to each family member, that person can share a little-known fact about their family history.
Create together. Have a gingerbread house building competition. Purchase kits, but have some additional candies and supplies on hand. Divide up into teams and set a time limit for the creations. Then, designate a judge and let the fun begin!
Treat yourself (and someone else). If you don’t enjoy cooking the Christmas meal, eat out for a change! When going out though, remember that employees are working on a holiday instead of being with their own families. You might even show extra Christmas spirit and bless the wait staff with a large tip.
As you make plans, don’t forget those who work on Christmas Day.
Some people are alone for the holidays, too. If you don’t celebrate with family, consider taking homemade breakfast or Christmas dinner to first responders. You might even take food to a hospital waiting room or to someone who can’t leave their home. Or, you can really brighten someone’s day by inviting them to celebrate with you, especially if you know they are lonely.
You don’t have to break the bank to celebrate Christmas! Here’s a quick list of ways to make memories. It’s so easy, you can’t afford NOT to take a look.
Make decorations for your house and the Christmas tree as a family. Gather nature items outside (now before it snows!) and make them into a garland for the tree. Make Christmas ornaments together.
Get in the kitchen and make Christmas cookies or candy as a family, then take a few plates to neighbors and sing Christmas carols while you’re at it.
Attend a free/cheap concert or play in your community each year.
Go sledding, build a snowman, or have a snowball fight.
Read Christmas stories from the library or have Mom and Dad talk about memories of Christmas from the good ol’ days.
Have a fun sleepover a few nights before Christmas in front of your lit tree. Watch a Christmas show, read Christmas stories, or listen to Christmas music.
Have a gingerbread house or cookie decorating contest. Then donate the houses or cookies to your local Festival of Trees event, if you have one.
Turn off all the lights on Christmas Eve and use candles as you tell the story of the Savior’s birth. If you have young children, act out the Christmas story from The Bible.
Talk about the most significant event that happened to your family this year and how that has helped you grow closer.
Write special memories from the past year and keep it in a Christmas box that you open each Christmas to see how you have changed over the years.
Write a family Holiday letter and then send it to loved ones.
Require that all gifts be homemade and be sure to draw names so each person is only focused on making one gift.
Run in a Christmas 5K event together.
Do the 12 days of Christmas for a family in need.
Put together a few boxes for Operation Christmas Child.
Serve the homeless at your local shelter.
Drive around and look at Christmas lights, and, if you feel like it, find someone you can bring home for the evening to share the spirit of Christmas.
If you live near a Festival of Trees event, attend and/or donate a tree (you probably will have to start this several months before the event). Attend another charity event if you do not have a Festival of Trees in your area.
Instead of Elf on the Shelf, buy some Kindness Elves* and discover all the wonderful things you can do for each other this Christmas season!
Purchase a few toys and donate them to Toys for Tots.
Volunteer at a local senior citizens center. Make cards, sing songs, or just visit with the elderly for an evening.
Let the kids pick out 3 toys that they would like to give to another child in need.