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As parents we of course want our kids to have great memories of their childhoods, which has nothing to do with toys, and everything to do with memories and family traditions. If you have older children, chances are they can’t remember the “big gift” they received from Santa when they were 5 years old, but they probably remember going to gramma’s house for Christmas Eve dinner and watching for Rudolph on the drive home.
One of the best reassurances I’ve had is a parent was hearing my 24 year old daughter say she had an “amazing childhood.” It wasn’t filled with “the best” of everything, although I certainly tried and our kids didn’t want for much, but it was filled with family activities and traditions and outings. You may be surprised to hear that my daughter who had an “amazing childhood” is also a child of divorce – so divorced parents out there, don’t fret. If you’re acting with your kids in mind & you love them more than you can’t stand your ex, you’re doing great and they will be fine.
The pressure is on for kids to have the newest, greatest, most expensive everything. They are inundated 24/7 with ads, their friends, and people on the street having things they NEED. <wink> Of course you know they don’t need any of this, but they want it and as parents it’s hard not to give our kids what they want. A few years ago my now 20 year old daughter was lobbying for a Canada Goose jacket. If you haven’t seen or heard of these, go ahead and click the link to see what a $900 parka looks like. It looks a lot like a $100 parka. According to my daughter, “everyone” has a Canada Goose jacket. Of course I know that isn’t the case, and needless to say, if she wants a Canada Goose jacket she can save for one for months and months and then buy one. I was very patient with the whole Abercrombie thing of 7th grade and the UGGS thing that lasted for years and the prom dresses that cost more than my car payment, but I draw the line at a $900 coat. My point is really that kids think they need these items, and they don’t, and they don’t remember them 5, 10 years down the line. What they do remember, though, is experiences.
So, how can you give your kids Christmases they will remember year after year well into adulthood?
DO THINGS WITH THEM!
It’s so easy. And it’s practically free. If it isn’t free, it can be super low cost. Starting traditions when kids are younger is perfect, but even if your kids are older you can still start new traditions. These are things to carry on for years, if not generations!
So let’s talk easy traditions.
Anything that takes loads of effort and time is going to be difficult to maintain year after year, so there’s no need to go crazy here. Keep it simple so it’s enjoyable for everyone, and memorable for you for the right reasons! Moms have enough on their plates and adding a few more things to the stack is doable, IF you don’t over do it. The idea is to create a few lasting traditions with your kids to remember after the toys have broken and the boots are outgrown.
My absolute favorite tradition with our kids is cutting down our Christmas tree. With 4 girls, half of them love it, one hates it and one tolerates it. Do I care that one hates it? Nope. I thought she’d get over it, but at 20 she’s showing no sigs of enjoying this tradition. This year is the first year in 24 years that we are not choosing a tree as a family, and I’m super bummed. But schedules were not working in our favor this year, we’re between houses kind of, we usually get our tree the Saturday after Thanksgiving, but this year we celebrated Thanksgiving on Saturday so it’s all screwed up. For the first time ever in my life I bought a fake tree for our apartment. I’ve had a fresh farm-cut tree for 42 years so this year is definitely an anomaly! (But it’s at least rose gold because I figure if I’m going to have a fake tree, I’m going to have a FAKE TREE. Go big or go home, right?)
Pretty much wherever you live in the US you’re within an hour of a country-esque setting. Even when we lived in Chicago we could be at a tree farm in 45 minutes. It’s worth the drive and it’s so much fun to make a day of it. When the kids were little we would pack hot cocoa in a Thermos and dole it out when we got to the farm. Then we started stopping at Starbucks as a treat. Now most tree farms have hot chocolate so that’s even more fun! (And let’s face it, the tree farmer benefits a lot more from our money than Starbucks.) We always went to our cottage in Michigan (where we live mostly full time now) for the thanksgiving weekends we had the kids. Those years we would get our tree in Michigan. The opposite years we would get our tree in Illinois at the tree farm I went to for years with my parents and brothers. Those years we always stopped for lunch at the cutest diner in the world – The Polka Dot Drive In. The kids loved it every year! A quick Google search of your area should turn up at least a few tree farm options.
If cutting your own tree isn’t your thing, going to the tree lot can be just as fun. Mix it up by getting hot cocoa, or lunch, or let the kids switch off picking out the tree each year. Trust me, you’ll look back and laugh at the years the tree was wayyyy too big for your space!
Tree Trimming Day
Tree trimming day is always fun and it’s something we still enjoy doing as a family. My husband drags everything out of the attic, we make a fire and decorate the house & the tree while listening to Christmas music. My kids have finally stopped fighting over who gets to put the topper on, but every year my husband takes a photo of himself hanging his & his brothers’ favorite ornament from childhood & sends it to his brother. Some things never change, even in your 50’s. 😉
Every year on tree trimming day we would give our kids a new ornament. This has been a wonderful tradition, and many years grandparents, friends and other relatives also gave our girls ornaments. The result is when they are ready to move out, they have plenty of ornaments to begin decorating their own trees! I bought each of the girls these Snapware ornament storage containers because you can add to them and they stack neatly to save space. As they get their own apartments I pass the storage containers on to them, but every year I continue to get them an ornament for tree trimming day. Some years I pick them up during the after Christmas clearance sales and some years I buy ornaments from wherever we are on vacation. Every year I try to pick ornaments each individual child will like.
Local Christmas Lights
We were pretty lucky to live in an area that takes Christmas decorating seriously when our kids were little. There is a section of town where entire blocks in one of the neighborhoods string lights across the streets from house to house. It is so beautiful when it snows! There is another section of *huge* houses that is fun to drive by, too. They always had tons of lights! But our favorite sight was in the town next door because for about 1 mile the entire main street is lined with lighted reindeer that we called “Reindeer Lane.” One year there were well over 100 deer! The kids always loved trying to count them. When they were little we would surprise them and go for “not-so-hot hot chocolates” from Starbucks in their jammies to go see the lights. Of course they were so excited to have hot chocolate and stay up a little later than usual!
Advent calendars are so much fun! I am so bummed that I missed out on the cheese advent calendars at Aldi this year! My kids would have loved those! In the past we’ve done everything from basic grocery store calendars to Starbucks calendars and even DIY calendars. (If you look on Pinterest you can find TONS of DIY advent calendars!) Of course when the kids were young they could not resist eating more than one piece a day, lol! Advent calendars are a fun tradition to start, and they can cost as little as $4 at the grocery store. The kids will never know. 😉
St. Nick’s Day
This was always another fun day for our kids, and I’m not embarrassed to say that at 20 & 24, they still get a little St. Nick’s gift every year. (Every year I say I’m going to stop the little holiday gifts for St. Nick’s, Halloween, Easter, Valentine’s Day, etc., but every year I can’t seem to stop.) On the evening of December 5th, have your kids leave their shoes out for St. Nick. He will come during the evening to fill their shoes with sweets. (If sweets aren’t on the menu at your house, little toys work just as well!)
This is so much fun for children who still believe in Santa. Making reindeer food is a fun weekend afternoon activity in the days leading up to Christmas. This is a great recipe for animal safe reindeer food. Chances are you will have most of what you need on hand, too. This recipe also has a cute printable you can attach to the bag making this a cute gift for your kids to give their friends. The idea behind reindeer food is that it is sprinkled on the lawn on Christmas Eve and the lights from the city, the stars or Santa’s sleigh make the food glisten to attract the reindeer. Kids love any excuse to go go outside just before bed and this is a sweet tradition to start.
If you’re on Pinterest you’ve probably seen pins of 24 wrapped books to read for Christmas. This can be used as an alternative to the traditional advent calendar, or in addition to a calendar. If you work in the evenings, or you’re just busy (or let’s face it, too tired) to read a book every single night, don’t do 24! 24 is a suggestion, but you do you. You can do the 12 nights of Christmas, or the three nights leading up to Christmas, or even what I did, which was read “The Night Before Christmas” every Christmas Eve from the book I had as a little girl. Some day I’ll pass it along to my first grandchild. <3 If you are looking to supplement your Christmas book collection, Everyday Reading has a great list to look through! Your local library will have loads of Christmas books, too!
The Elf on the Shelf
I soooo wish the Elf on the Shelf was a thing when my kids were little. I would have elfed the heck out of that shelf! Fortunately, I got a second chance when we were foster parents. I absolutely loved setting up our adventurous elf each night! The Elf on the Shelf gets a lot of flack. It’s too involved. People forget to move it. It’s just one more unnecessary thing for kids. And on & on. And it’s fine if that’s your thought. But the kids LOVE the Elf on the Shelf. I’ve never known a kid who doesn’t love it. If you don’t want to commit to 24 days of elfing it, don’t! Do 15 days. Or 12. Or 10. Or 7. It doesn’t matter. What matters is your kids will LOVE it and let’s face it, they are only interested beginning when they are about 4 and most kids stop believing between 7-9 years old. It’s a short window and like I said, I would have LOVED being able to do this for my kids. It is so much fun. And since the elf has been around for a few years now Pinterest is loaded with easy ideas for your elf, so it’s really not very much effort!
Our town has an “angel tree” at village hall. The tree holds Christmas wishes from local kids who’s families have fallen on hard times. Every year we would choose a child, a couple children or sometimes a family if we could to shop for. It is so important for kids to have a giving heart. If you’re not familiar with this in your area you can check your village hall, local churches, schools, etc. to see if such programs exist. And if they don’t, maybe you could start one with your local village board!
When my kids were junior high age and younger, we always took a “mental health” day from school to spend together doing our holiday cookie baking. It may not be popular to miss school for something as frivolous as baking, but that never bothered me. It was one day, and you know what? My 24 year old ended up going to culinary school for baking and pastry, so this tradition had a lasting effect on her! Baking for family and friends is a lovely way to spread some Christmas cheer and get kids into the habit of doing things for others. It’s always fun to receive a little holiday treat!
Now that you have some ideas I’d love to hear your favorites! Do you have any traditions with your kids or from your childhood to share? I’d love to hear all about them in the comments!
Ready for more holiday inspiration?
Check out our Holiday and Seasons section on the blog for more ideas! You’ll find our 10 Christmas Mantles (+bonus decorating hacks!) post, Winter decor post – Decor to Last the Whole Season and 10 Perfect Christmas Tablescapes for Christmas Dinner.
And don’t forget to start planning your dinner menu! These 10 side dishes are perfect for Christmas dinner AND you can make them ahead of time. 🙂