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12 Ways to Make the Holidays More Meaningful as a Family

Holiday shopping. Gift wrapping. Baking. Traveling. Moving the Elf on the Shelf.

The holidays can be stressful for families and the meaning of the season can easily be lost. Young children may think it is all about getting gifts and eating cookies.

How can you make the holidays less materialistic more meaningful for your family?

Common themes in the suggestions below involve re-shifting your focus from gift-getting to giving, shared family experiences, and time with loved ones. Emphasizing these qualities – and repeating them each year – will reinforce them with your children as they get older.

During the pandemic, some of these ideas may not feasible (save them for next year!) but here are some ways to make the holidays more meaningful and remind your kids (and yourself) what is truly important at this time of year.

1. Make homemade gifts and cards

Give some thought to each person before putting together their present. Your children can help make gifts and cards or provide some ideas shifting their focus from “getting” to “giving.”

2. Give the gift of experiences

It may be much more fun (and rewarding) to give someone an experience rather than a material gift. An experience will create a memory that will be long remembered and valued while other presents could be forgotten. During the pandemic, many concert halls, museums, theatres, tours, and other activities remain closed. But a gift card or a membership would make a nice gift that can be used once life gets back to normal.

3. Video chat with out-of-town family and friends

Even in years without a pandemic, the holiday season is a great time to re-connect virtually with family and friends you may not see all that often due to distance. If you have exchanged gifts, use this time to open presents and share the joy! It is a good reminder that the holidays are a time for people and not things.

4. Say something meaningful

If you are gathering for a holiday meal in person or getting together online, take a moment to share something nice and what you are grateful for about each person at your gathering. To mix things up, you could recall your favorite memories or funniest moments with that person. Or talk about their best qualities and what you admire about them. This will help make the holidays about your loved ones.

5. Clear out the toy chest

With Santa on his way bringing a new batch of shiny toys, it is a good time to go through your child’s current stash of stuff and figure out what to keep, what to toss, and what can be donated. Toys can be donated to local women’s shelters, places of worship, or homeless shelters. Just call ahead to see if they are still accepting donations this year and how to so. If you can, bring your children with you as you make the donation. It will feel good to give.

Parents, you can do this too and set a good example. Gently-used clothes, sports equipment, electronics, and other items could be donated and help those in need.

6. Donate a new toy

Organizations like Toys for Tots are accepting donations at their toy drop locations or you can choose their “virtual toybox.” If your children are a little older, they can help pick out a gift to donate. Your local chamber of commerce may also be taking toy donations or will know where you can make a contribution.

7. Bake or cook together

Did you have a favorite holiday cookie, pie, or side dish when you were growing up? Dig up those old family recipes and re-create them with your own family. Kids can help too for a fun, shared experience. Or, start a new tradition and find a recipe you can make together. Put more emphasis on the things you can do together rather than things you want to get. For an added bonus, make cookies together and give them as gifts to family, friends, and neighbors (provided everyone is comfortable doing so).

8. Start a new or old tradition

Many cultures and religions have traditions that stretch back centuries. Visit some of these activities that may have meaning for your family. Or explore a different culture or religion. It may be fun to “travel the world” by finding a different tradition each year. You could also start a new tradition that everyone will look forward to.

9. Find a service or volunteer project

Again, the pandemic may limit your opportunities for service projects or volunteering. You could check out food banks, senior care facilities, children’s hospitals, and homeless shelters in your area. Places of worship may also have ways you can help those in need.

Or consider sponsoring a child from a different part of the world and other ways to help underprivileged children.

10. Finding the time

Ok, we get it. Some of these suggestions are going to add time to an already hectic holiday season. Who can do it all? Answer: no one. It is time to start saying “no.” No to the things that are not meaningful. No to the things you do not what to do. No to the things that do not add value to your life. Skip the events and activities that are just time fillers and commit to not overcommitting yourself. When you take control of your time, you will enjoy the holidays much more.

Planning your time may help as well. Before it gets too crazy, plan your days leading up to the holidays. It will help you stay focused and organized.

11. Take time to reflect

It may still be a busy time no matter how much you cut back on activities. Take a moment each day to pause and reflect. Even if it is just for 30 seconds right before dinner. Have a moment of silence for everyone to take a deep breath and think about what they are grateful for, something good that happened to them that day, or just to send positive thoughts to someone in need.

12. Shop local

Skip Black Friday and shop on Small Business Saturday instead. Your local, small businesses may have had an especially hard year due to the pandemic. They are also the backbones of many communities. Shop these stores on the Saturday after Thanksgiving (some may have special deals that day) or any time to help support them. Your dollars stay in the local area and you can help build a sense of community with your children.

Posted with a permission from GTM Payroll (

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