Difficult Situations · Single Parents · Stepfamilies

The Secret to Having a Wonderful Holiday (Psst: It’s Not Gifts)

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I always wished my brother, sister and I were closer. We were only a few years apart, but we didn’t have the kind of close sibling relationships that other people have.

When I started realizing this, I asked people who did have close sibling relationships what their parents did or what happened in their lives that made them so close. There was always one common denominator: They did things together as a family when they were children. It wasn’t just about eating out, going to church or having a vacation. It was about sharing chores together on Saturdays, playing board games, enjoying camping, biking or playing together. It was about having many rituals and traditions, things they did daily, weekly or monthly that everyone shared in.

First, in a single parent family, and now in a stepfamily, I have found that this is very true and can make a huge difference in the closeness of your family, especially during the holidays. It’s the “doing together” that matters.

Foster traditions everyone will love

Don’t feel like you have to create a bunch of new traditions this year. It’s too much. Start with just one or two simple activities, and add new ones next year.

Your traditions may even begin by accident. For example, our Target tradition started because we couldn’t figure out how our children should buy gifts for one another, so we ended up at Target on Christmas Eve as a last resort—and it stuck. Each year, the kids take their allowance (or we give them money), and they can only spend up to $10 on each sibling and stepsibling. We go to Target, and they have one hour to pick their gifts. Then we go home, they wrap them, and then exchange them! It’s great fun to not have to wait for those gifts.

What started as a last-minute idea became a favorite tradition of our children. Here are a few more:

  • We formed a chain going down two flights of stairs and passed down the boxes filled with Christmas decorations and lights, from the attic.
  • We were all together when we pick out the tree and decorate it, while listening to Christmas music. All the kids relived how old they were when they made different ornaments.
  • We’d go ice-skating one day, go to Herman Park Zoo and see the lights, bake and decorate Christmas cookies, drive around and look at the Christmas lights one evening, do a movie together one afternoon, and have friends over.
  • On Christmas morning, all the children woke up and gathered at the top of the stairs. They had to wait for a signal from us to come down. They were so excited!
  • On the years we had them for Christmas night (instead of morning), they all came from their other parents’ house at the same time. They’d go through the living room with their eyes closed, change into their pajamas, and you guessed it, wait at the top of the stairs for the signal.
  • On Christmas morning or evening, after we unwrapped our gifts, everyone helped pick up the paper and bows. Then we eat our traditional meal—either morning or evening—of bananas, strawberries, chocolate syrup and whip cream with croissants. (It was the only thing they could agree on and didn’t require me to cook on Christmas.)
  • We always asked our children to make us something rather than buy it. It might be a letter, a picture, a home-made coupon book with fun stuff, whatever. (Yes, we took store-bought gifts, but we found that the gifts made by our kids are the best.)

The traditions make the holiday special, not the gifts

If you pull up a list of holiday songs, you will notice that most of them aren’t about actual gifts. They are about what do during the holidays: being together, traditions, making memories and how you feel.

Do you remember your gifts from Christmas or Hanukah every year? I don’t. But I know our kids will remember Target, bananas and strawberries, and standing up at the top of the stairs all together waiting for the signal.

Today’s Goal: It’s the doing, not the gifting that really matters. So, take 10 minutes to talk with your kids about the holidays and what new tradition you can set this year. Feel free to use one of my ideas (they work!), pull one from your own childhood, or make up a brand-new one!

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2 thoughts on “The Secret to Having a Wonderful Holiday (Psst: It’s Not Gifts)

  1. This is a wonderful article. It describes very well, the reason that we, as a family, decorated our Christmas Tree. Every year my Aunt threw a Christmas Party, at which she gave presents to the children of us less-well-off nieces and nephews. The clothes I received at that party throughout the next year as school clothing.

    1. Hi Larry, I’m so glad you enjoyed this article and it reminded you of your own Christmas memories! My best to you!

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