Mindful Holiday Traditions

Simple Ways to Add Meaning and Family-Centered Fun



Too many winter holidays whiz by in a blur of presents, parties and rich foods, muting the season’s true messages of love, hope and peace. By slowing down and refocusing on what makes this time of year so special, we can help our children—and ourselves—create fresh, meaningful traditions and experience genuine joy.

“If the spirit of the season at your home is more ‘Gimme, take me, buy me,’ instead of ‘Deck the halls,’ don’t despair,” advises internationally renowned educator and child expert Michele Borba, Ph.D., author of The Big Book of Parenting Solutions: 101 Answers to Your Everyday Challenges and Wildest Worries. “There are more subtle ways to encourage your kids to appreciate the greatest gifts of the holiday season. The simplest way is to focus on gifts of the heart and letting your kids be participants, not just recipients.”

Try these tips for helping youngsters co-create traditions that celebrate family, friends, sharing with others and the holidays’ festive delights.

Emphasize experiences, not things. Presents can never take the place of presence. Years from now, children will rarely recall what they unwrapped, but will remember special times spent together as a family. Take a nature walk to collect pinecones and other seasonal items for holiday décor. Designate a Family Night and let the kids choose the activity, like seeing a movie or a holiday performance such as The Nutcracker, playing a favorite board game or building a gingerbread house. At dinner, ask youngsters to relate their favorite holiday memories, and then build upon their responses to plan this year’s celebrations.

Treat cards as treasured gifts. Gather the family ‘round when opening cards from others, catching up on their news and recalling funny or enjoyable shared moments. Skype calls and videos offer pleasurable immediacy while mailed cards become an appreciated, permanent memento.

Encourage children to create handmade or personalized cards for grandparents and other relatives, enclosing photos or drawings and a short note describing the reasons that person means so much to them. Hand deliver other cards to neighbors, accompanied by a plate of homemade, healthy treats. Children can also send cards to military personnel overseas via a Red Cross program at Tinyurl.com/HolidayHeroMail.

Practice creative giving. Adopt a less fortunate family or child for the holidays (local churches or social service agencies can provide information) and ask youngsters to be “Santa’s little helpers” by picking out and thoughtfully wrapping books, toys and other gifts. Help children research good causes and earmark a small amount of money for them to gift to the cause of their choice, such as an animal shelter or other local nonprofit. Honor the gift of time, as well: Youngsters that spend a few hours helping out at a food pantry, caroling at a nursing home or wrapping gifts for Toys for Tots will experience and remember the true joy of giving.

Nurture a sense of the spiritual. Worship services aren’t the only venue for sharing family values and beliefs with children. On the night of the Winter Solstice, December 21—the shortest day and longest night of the year—enjoy dinner by candlelight. Afterwards, stargaze in the backyard and make some holiday wishes. On another evening, turn off all the lights except the Christmas tree, menorah or other special candles and talk quietly about your blessings. Listening to a CD of carols from around the world reinforces a spirit of unity and invites lively discussions about how other cultures observe their holidays.

Celebrate the season’s sights, sounds and fun. Ask children to help choose a tree and make or buy an ornament with special meaning for them. Then join in an informal decorating party with holiday tunes (kids get to choose some favorites), cocoa and cookies. Set aside an evening to walk or drive around the neighborhood to admire holiday lights and displays. Those in northern climes can build a family snowman, forge a “snow angel” chain in the yard or go sledding at an area park. As a fun twist on traditional caroling, grab some kazoos and go humming with the kids and their friends. To capture these great holiday moments, ask each child to take turns as the official family photographer.

Borba believes these types of shared experiences help children understand the true meaning of the season and bring back the heartfelt joy it represents. “In the end,” she advises, “remember that the holidays are really meant to be about love, togetherness and wonderful memories.”


Barbara Amrhein is a freelance writer and editor for Natural Awakenings.

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