Traditions not only make the holidays extra special for kids, they also give your family an opportunity to connect during a hectic time of year. This holiday season, make some new memories with a few fresh family traditions that you’ll look forward to again and again.


Tradition to try: A family service project

As parents, we want our children to understand that the holidays are as much about giving as they are about getting. This is a tough lesson to teach a five-year-old who is focused on his two-page wish list, but establishing a tradition of service is a good way to start – and there are plenty of ways to give back.

Spread cheer at a nursing home. Retirement communities welcome families and groups of children to visit residents, and arranging a visit is typically as easy as calling the administrative office and scheduling a time. Not sure how best to spread holiday cheer? Ask the staff if there are any specific needs for their residents, or see if one of these ideas is a good fit for the community: Show off musical talent by singing holiday tunes; decorate residents’ rooms for the holidays; play board games or cards; or bring a simple seasonal craft, such as yarn snowflakes or Christmas tree ornaments.

Adopt a family. Adopting a family in need to ensure they have a happy holiday season is a great way to make the idea of giving more concrete for younger children. Try to choose a family with kids around the same age as your own and shop together for items on the family’s wish list.

Collect items for a winter coat drive. As colder weather approaches, new and gently used coats, hats, gloves and other winter outerwear are often in demand for shelters and organizations that serve populations in need. As a family, choose a community organization to donate to, buy or collect the items, and deliver them together to the organization.

Make toys for animal shelters. Homeless dogs and cats can also use a little TLC during the holidays. Incorporate crafting into your service project by making simple cat and dog toys out of old t-shirts and fleece blankets. Take your toys to the shelter and visit the pups and kitties who will benefit from your family’s handiwork.

Tradition to try: Fun with food

Sweet treats and the holidays go together like hot cocoa and marshmallows—and food-focused traditions are a win with kids of all ages.

Host a cookie swap. Kids love to assist mom and dad in the kitchen, which makes cookie baking an all-time favorite. Even toddlers can “help” measure and mix, and older kids can take the lead on a recipe (with supervision, of course). But don’t let the fun end when the timer goes off—share the goodies. Plan a simple cookie swap with neighbors or extended family.

Build a gingerbread village. If baking isn’t your family’s forte, skip the mixing and measuring and opt instead to embrace your inner architect. Buy a gingerbread house kit or do it yourself with graham crackers. Use a small empty milk carton as a base and hold the graham crackers in place with frosting. Decorate with gumdrops, chocolate candies, jelly beans and small candy canes. Let each family member make their own, and you’ll end up with a village of gingerbread homes.

TRADITION TO TRY: Low-key holiday fun

Whether or not the weather outside is frightful, cuddling with the kiddos and bundling up for outdoor adventures are easy, fun and budget friendly ways to make the most of the holidays.

Have a holiday movie marathon. Pass the popcorn, heat the hot chocolate and cozy up with the kids for a movie marathon featuring your holiday favorites. Choose two movies—the kids pick one; parents choose the other. Bonus: A quiet night in will likely be a welcome respite from the typical holiday obligations.

Take in a light show. Put on your warmest winter wear, crank up the local radio station that’s playing back-to-back holiday tunes, and head out for a drive around the neighborhood to check out the lights. Or, if you’re willing to brave the elements, head to your local zoo, arboretum, or other community space for a walk-through display. Even older kids will “ohhh” and “awww” over the thousands of colorful lights.

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