Jump off the Stress Express–Bring Back the Holiday Spirit with Family Christmas Traditions

By Chris Wondra

Twas the week before Christmas and all through the house everything was in shambles. Too much to do and not enough time. More shopping to be done, presents to wrap, cookies to bake and decorating await. Oh the hustle and bustle, the extra work and the stress. Is it any wonder you feel like the Kranks?

If your holiday season rings in more stress than joy, you’re not alone. Consider these facts:

  • In a recent survey, 96% of 8-12 year olds included a flat screen TV in their wish list. This despite 73% of parents wanting to limit their children’s TV time.
  • It takes an average of 4 months for a credit card user to pay off what they buy during the holidays
  • Americans plan to spend $1,564 per household during the holidays. $1,042 for gifts.
  • A national survey suggests that 70% of Americans would like less emphasis put on spending and giving gifts

Helpless to resist the pressures of a “Spend it” society, many people feel obligated to get on the frenzied commercialized Christmas train—and they don’t know how to get off.

If your holiday season tends to exhaust rather than uplift, maybe it’s time to wrestle the holidays from the clutches of commercialism. Pump joy and love back into your holiday filling it with the true spirit of Christmas.

What do kids really want?

The crowds, the cash, the Christmas Crunch. The wrapping, the toys, the noise. It’s burning you out—right? So why do we do it? For most, the typical answer is not surprising, “We do it for the kids.” For many people Christmas is about children and bringing them as much joy as possible But think for a moment about your own childhood. What made the holiday seasons special for you?

Not sure your answer best represents the feelings of most kids? Think again. We asked the kids. A recent survey of 7th graders reveals their fondest memories related to the holiday season and Christmas in particular. You may be surprised to see what they had to say.

“The thing I like the most is being able to see all of my relatives. We get together at my grandparents’ houses and have big meals, which leads to another good part. The food. We usually have big hams and mashed potatoes and other good stuff. Then I feel like I won’t be able to eat for another week.” Ryan, age 12

“I always have a good time at Christmas. On Christmas Eve we stay up late and play video games. Then in the morning I get my stocking. Then I wake up my family and we open up our presents and eat pixie sticks and then we eat a big breakfast. After that we go outside. We also play board games. I love Christmas.” Meg, age 12

“All of my Christmas’s have been jolly. I think my best memory has been spending time with my family.” Devin, age 12

“The first thing I think about when somebody mentions Christmas is picking out and putting up a tree and decorating it.” Jessica, age 12

Now, I know what you’re thinking, “Sure, he took four quotes from a stack that suited his purpose.” Not true. Of the 75 students surveyed only 12 even mentioned unwrapping presents as a significant memory for them. Family gatherings and family activities created the fondest memories for 84% of the group.

If you are racking up credit card debt to create the perfect memory for your kids, you are wasting time and your money.

Creating a Joyful Season

Bill McKibben, author of Hundred Dollar Holiday, gives this piece of advice:
“I guess the most important thing would be to think about whether or not the things you’re doing are actually making the season joyful for you or not. Keep real careful track and try to figure out if that’s what you really want from the Holidays. You can’t change your life or your celebrating patterns overnight . . .but there’s plenty of time to observe yourself and find what makes you feel happy and joyful.”

Still at a loss? Not sure less will actually translate into more? Start slowly. Changing life patterns and resisting social pressures takes time. It may be too late to significantly change this year’s celebration activities. But you still have time to lay the groundwork for next year—and years to come. Here are some activities guaranteed to bring you closer to the ones you love.

Start Your Family Christmas Traditions Now

Find new ways to kindle the spirit of fun and togetherness.

  • Christmas morning, after opening stockings take birdseed and bread out to the woods or your nearest park, and spread it for the birds. St. Francis began the tradition, saying that animals too deserve to celebrate Christmas. What better celebration for the birds on a cold winter day than to have easy access to food? It’s a great way to remind yourself about the true spirit of Christmas.
  • Before Christmas, ask your children what they most want to do as a family. Offer, suggestions: snowball fights, fort building, movie night, game night, crafts, hike in the woods or baking.
  • Let your kids research and choose a charity and an amount of money to donate. Take your kids to your local charity drop off stations like Toys for Tots, which accepts new, packaged toys. Or donate to local churches accepting canned goods for those less fortunate at Christmas.
  • Take a trip to your local food shelf or bring the family to your nearest toys for tots drop off sight.
  • Participate in the Audubon Society’s Christmas Bird Count
  • Have a cookie decorating party. Make batches of cut- out Christmas cookies ahead of time. Provide a variety of colored icings, shakers of colored sprinkles, little stars and silver balls and let the children decorate the cookies. Then serve the decorated confections accompanied by hot chocolate with peppermint sticks, cider with cinnamon sticks.
  • Play Christmas charades or test your knowledge of Christmas trivia with family quiz contest at: FamilyGames.com You’ll find Novice, Regular and Expert level quizzes. Present small wrapped gifts for the winners.

For more ideas visit Santa’s Favorite Links

Give Non-commercial Gifts (from www.newdream.org)

  • Frame a picture of the family home and send it to friends and relatives who can’t make it home.
  • Share holiday wishes with a photo cards and family newsletters. Let children help make your own cards. Hewlett Packard makes it easy with Home Fun for the Holidays.
  • Reconnect. Call an old friend or write to someone you haven’t seen in awhile.
  • Give away the last great book you bought.
  • Give your child a box of items that can be assembled into a homemade playhouse or tree house: Scrap wood cardboard, small hammer, non-toxic paint and a pulley.
  • Consider gifts that bring out child’s creativity: kids cookbook, craft kit, durable tools for building, sheet music, magnifying glass for studying bugs, plants, rocks, seashells.
  • Write a story with the kids as the main characters
  • Decorate and personalize Christmas stockings.

With a little effort, you can get off the commercialized Christmas train. Get back into the spirit of Christmas. Start family traditions. Change your buying and gift-giving habits. Discover new ways to share the joy of the Christmas season with your kids, your family and your friends. Take small steps today and tomorrow your holiday memories will be filled with laughter, joy, and Christmas magic. Put a little holiday spirit back into your “week before Christmas”.

When Chris Wondra is not teaching Middle school Language Arts in St. Croix Fall, WI, he’s busy combining story-telling and magic to create a unique brand of children’s literature.

2 replies
  1. Pat K.
    Pat K. says:

    Our family began the process of de-commercializing Christmas 20 years ago when my husband and I got married four days before Christmas. We couldn't afford to "go commercial" and pay for a wedding, too! Our wedding was paid off the day we got married (including the honeymoon)!

    We've continued this by buying minimally at Christmas, and focusing on our family's creativity. We begin the season by taking our daughter to minister on violin to the sick and shut in. We attend several Christmas concerts because it gets us in the Christmas spirit, and because our daughter is performing in the concerts. We all enjoy celebrating the season in this way. In addition, we attend holiday cultural events, tree lighting ceremonies, ice skating, etc. to have fun and bond together. We love having family and friends over and making special meals. Our highlight is lighting the fireplace and sitting around the fire playing board games, enjoying the fellowship of family and friends, or playing instruments. We do it all again for Kwanzaa, and will top it off with a New Year's Eve celebration in our home including another married couple and their kids!

    Since our daughter is an only child, she loves having her cousins over, and we love the fellowship of their married parents. We don't need money to enjoy them and one another!

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