Holidays with kids can be the most wonderful and the most exhausting time of the year. The key to making this a magical time is planning ahead. (Note: Many of our readers may not celebrate Christmas, but the general principles outlined below can be applied to any holiday.)
Here are some things we’ve found to make it all work:
- No matter how much you plan ahead, things will go wrong. So be ready to let things go — especially the things that are near the bottom of your holiday wish list.
- It is especially important to have fixed, relatively early bedtimes for the kids during this busy season. They need the consistent sleep, and parents need a few extra hours each week. Everyone will be happier if you follow this tip!
- Create annual traditions. Kids love to have things to look forward to. Maybe your family has decided to build a snowman in front of your house each year on Christmas Eve, or perhaps it’s watching “It’s a Wonderful Life” on TV. In years to come your children will talk about, and look forward to, those traditions in ways you can’t imagine (unless you had traditions growing up as a child).
- Consider your children’s developmental levels when making holiday plans. Having a Christmas tree with pretty balls on it is asking for trouble with toddlers, especially if the tree is at floor level. If you have a climber, then putting things just out of his or her little reach isn’t smart either. You can do it, but you may spend most of the season saying, “NO!” This doesn’t make anyone happy.
- Pay careful attention to what your kids are dreaming of for gifts. Two years ago my second son told Santa that the only thing he wanted for Christmas was Donkey Kong Country 2. Unfortunately, this didn’t happen until the week before Christmas, when every copy of the game was sold out in our area (does this sound strangely like a movie plot?). Well, you guessed it, I wound up driving to a small town two hours away (four hours round trip) to get the last copy of the game to be had. Since my son knew the game was out of stock everywhere, he felt especially loved by the gift, and it was well worth the drive — but this year I’m keeping my ear to the ground early! By the way, I’m sure parents started the tradition of getting kids to write letters to Santa just so they could find out what their children wanted.
- Include the kids whenever you can in your holiday preparation. Kids love art projects, so get them to make your holiday cards and decorate wrapping paper. Coloring can be very fun, or with some supervision, they can sponge paint snow flakes, Christmas trees, and other holiday symbols onto brown craft paper for an inexpensive yet festive look.
- Kids also love to get involved in the kitchen. Instead of making a complicated candy recipe (that even a talented cook has trouble getting just right and encourages over indulgence), choose a simple, healthier alternative. I like melting a high-quality dark chocolate (such as Green and Black, Dagoba, or Endangered Species) in a double boiler. When it is in a creamy state, help your little one dip about one third of a slice of dried apple into the chocolate mixture. Lay the chocolate-covered apples onto a sheet of waxed paper to cool. For extra fun, sprinkle chopped organic walnuts or pecans on to the apples while they are still warm. This recipe is very easy, healthy, and delicious!
- While pretty packages make a house look festive, some young children can’t seem to resist the temptation to peek. Waiting until the last minute to put gifts out can save energy (re-wrapping Grandma’s and Auntie’s gifts) and make Christmas morning even more special — it’s no wonder Santa arrives just before time to open the packages!
Now here is the most important thing I have to say — holiday magic can’t be forced. It comes at the most unexpected times and in the most unimagined ways. One year I experienced it when we stumbled on to the public lighting ceremony of a Menorah; another year it happened when the entire family joined hands to pray around the Christmas table. One year I experienced the magic of Christmas while I sat alone in the cold waiting for a tow truck. Whenever that moment happens for you, stop and enjoy it.