Holidays are a wonderful time to both learn and bond as a family through traditions and celebration. Regardless of individual beliefs, religions, or philosophies, incorporating family centered customs and cultural interests into the home school day can build more than just knowledge. Family stories and memories built upon a strong foundation provide children with a sense of self and belonging that can comfort and strengthen them long into adulthood.
Traditional holidays such as Christmas or Hanukah carry rich traditions, history, and symbolisms. Many families have fun activities that they enjoy such as lighting candles, exchanging gifts, or attending church. Others are heavily involved in community events or charitable giving. Each family is unique in when, how, and if they celebrate certain holidays and all of that experience can help build the familial and communal identity of a young child.
Watching a youngster experience their first holidays can be a magical and enjoyable time for everyone; however, it is also easy to overdo the holidays and put undo pressure on ourselves to keep strictly with traditions or require more of our kiddos than they are actually ready to accomplish. If your family already has several customs in place, consider which ones will be easily adaptable to include children and which ones might need to be abbreviated or adjusted until the children are older. For young children, specifically infants and toddlers, simple exposure to the holiday, enjoying witnessing adults performing charity and community actions, and providing simple and short activities appropriate for their attention spans and abilities can aid them in enjoying the holidays.
When building new traditions in families with young children, be careful to only add ones that are sustainable and not too difficult to accomplish. Adding stress and creating a to do list that is too long or unachievable is liable to result in frustration for everyone. Asking, “What are the important messages that we want to convey to our child about the holiday?” is an excellent method for determining which activities you may want to keep and which ones are expendable. While children are young, try for simple and fun activities that everyone can enjoy together. For example, a short nature walk, a prayer of thanksgiving, or participating in a count down to the holiday (ex: advent calendar) are simple, fun, and easily repeatable with little to no prep work.
Below are some of our favorite ways to celebrate the holidays with our youngsters. Our family celebrates Christian holidays including Christmas, but many of these ideas could easily be altered to fit a different holiday or celebration.
- Count down calendars or advent calendars – For small children a simple paper chain link advent calendar is a wonderful method for counting down to the big day. Other methods that work well for young children are wrapping a set number of appropriately themed holiday books or opening a set number of drawers with small treats or ornaments.
- Telling or watching traditional stories – Favorite family friendly holiday themed movies or books can be enjoyable for the whole family. Stories about holidays past, starring family members and true events are of particular interest in our home.
- Baking/Cooking and charity – We really enjoy making cookies and breads and wrapping them as gifts for the neighbors. To keep things simple in the kitchen, I will often premeasure the ingredients and just have our toddler dump, mix, and pour. She also helps with the gift wrap and delivery.
- Yearly ornament or collection – Each year we pick one ornament that depicts a vacation, hobby, or life event that has been of particular importance for our children each year. For example, this year our daughter was very into nature walks and collecting leaves and acorns, so her ornament is an acorn themed ornament. When our children grow up and move into their own homes they will have a starter set of ornaments. In our family these ornaments are traditionally hung on a Christmas tree each year.
Clearly, not all of these ideas will work for all families, but that’s what makes traditions unique and fun memory builders for our children. Investing in the time and energy to create, enrich, and preserve family traditions adds great value to both childhood and family life. Children are only small once, but memories of family and/or community celebration are lifelong.
What are some of your favorite holiday traditions to share with youngsters?