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Think back to the holidays of your childhood and try to recall the gifts you received. If you're like most people, you only remember a very special few. What you probably recall is the traditional food you ate Christmas Eve, the visits to family and friends, and the games you played with your cousins. You may remember family outings to select the Christmas tree or stringing popcorn and cranberries to decorate its branches. With that perspective, doesn't it make more sense to focus on the holiday traditions you create, than on the gifts you plan to buy? After all, memories are the best gifts you can give to your children, and even to your grandchildren, as those traditions pass down through the generations. Try out some of these ideas this year and see if you can turn them into traditions your family will repeat every year.
Young children look forward each year to their visit with Santa. Make the day feel extra special by dressing them up in holiday clothes.
Extend the fun by attending a breakfast with Santa sponsored by a church, country club, or local community group.
Kick off the season with sugarplums dancing in your head as you take in a local ballet troupe performing "The Nutcracker."
Host a tree-trimming party at the beginning of December. It's an easy way to entertain during the holiday season since no one will expect your home to be decorated yet.
Some households turn holiday decorating into a work of art. Set aside a night in December to take your family on a drive to see the holiday lights decorating your neighborhood. Sing Christmas carols in the car as you drive around. Support community fund-raising efforts by purchasing tickets to take a holiday house tour of beautifully decorated homes.
Spend a day or more baking holiday cookies with your children and other extended family members. Bake a combination of old favorites and new ones which may become future favorites.
Share your family's traditions when you organize a cookie exchange with friends. Each person brings a dozen cookies for each exchange participant, and goes home with a selection of everyone's favorites.
Assemble cookie packages to bring to a local nursing home. Ask management when you and your children can deliver the cookies along with a rousing chorus of Christmas carols.
Remember to set aside a few choice cookies to leave with a cold glass of milk for Santa. Let the youngest child in your family set them down carefully by your tree.
Build a gingerbread house together. It can be as simple as graham crackers and canned frosting, or as elaborate as baking your own homemade gingerbread walls and whipping up a recipe of royal icing. Have enough candy for decorating and nibbling as the house is assembled. Don't worry if the house doesn't last very long - it's supposed to be an edible decoration!
Get the family together to make home crafted gifts to give at the holidays. Even little ones can help fill jars with a home made cookie mix. Attach the recipe to the jar, and decorate it with a seasonal ribbon. Make gifts of fudge packaged in boxes that have been decorated by the kids or mix up your own caramel corn to distribute in lovely, seasonal gift tins.
Brighten the holidays for those less fortunate than yourself. You can find needy families in your community through representatives at your church or school. This can be arranged anonymously. Supply them with all of the ingredients they'll need for a holiday feast. Purchase clothing for all family members as well as toys and treats for the children.
If your budget does not allow the extra expense of helping another family, you can still give your time at a local soup kitchen. Older children will learn to appreciate what they do have, by helping those less fortunate than themselves.
Purchase an Advent calendar and let the children take turns opening that day's door before dinner each night.
Read a Christmas story to your children before bed on Christmas Eve.
Turn dinnertime into an exercise in gratitude. During December, ask each family member to say what they are grateful for that day. Or make it even more personal by saying why they appreciate another member of the family.
Gather your family at the start of the season to discuss which traditions they cherish the most about the holidays, and ask them what they would like to try this year. You may be surprised to learn the little things that are held most dear in the hearts and minds of your family.