Parents everywhere feel the rising anxiety of advent calendars and holiday countdowns that adorn the refrigerators and walls of their homes. We all want to make our celebrations more meaningful and relaxing, whether we celebrate Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, Christmas, or another holiday. The big question is, how do we accomplish that? Every year, we all wonder how our plans got away from us, how the month flew by so quickly, and how the heck we are going to get it all done, don’t we?
We decided to ask our online community for their best parenting tips for the holiday season. And boy, did they deliver! (Not that we had any doubt.) We got a ton of practical advice, in addition to some creative, memory-making, and downright hilarious responses that we just had to share with you.
No Assembly Required
Easily, one of the most challenging parts of any holiday season is the toys that need assembly, right? Who hasn’t had that panicked last-minute realization that Johnny’s bike still needs to be assembled? Or that Janey’s fancy Victorian dollhouse has about 30 pieces missing at midnight on Christmas Eve?
Buy It Used
“No problem,” says Joanne. She solves the issue with a great by-pass. “Buy a used one (already assembled) off of a Facebook site, ’cause it will soon become a bookshelf/place for storing all the bits of paper and tiny plastic toys.”
That. Is. Brilliant! And Diane agrees. “I did this with a massive Hot Wheels setup this year. Besides being about 75% cheaper, IT IS ALREADY ASSEMBLED. It comes from me, not Santa, so if it looks a little used, (my kids) won’t notice because they are pretty familiar with (FB) deals.”
Bonus tip: When you are filling those dollhouses, remember that representation matters to our kids. One mom shared that she had to purchase a few different sets of tiny dolls for the dollhouse that her daughter inherited. But it was worth it to see her daughter’s delight in a family that looked like theirs. The bonus is that Mom tucked the “extras” away, and several months later, her daughter found them. She declared with joy that she had “found all of our neighbors!” How cute is that?
Babies Love Boxes
If your kids are still pre-school age or younger, eliminate the whole assembly issue by giving them just a few actual toys. Then, spark their imagination with empty boxes. If a plain, empty box feels too blah to you, wrap it in bright holiday papers or give him a sheet of seasonal stickers so he can decorate it and play with it later! What toddler doesn’t love lugging around a box filled with all his treasures?
Oh, and don’t forget this pro-tip from a mom of many: “Make a list of batteries needed while wrapping presents.” You’ll save yourself the mental machinations of trying to remember what toy needs what size battery!
That’s a Wrap!
Going for Bulk
Purchasing gifts for your kids doesn’t have to break your budget. One mom gets a lot of bang for her buck by fine-tuning her presentation. “We wrap every single thing separately and use larger boxes for easily-guessed gifts. Our tree always looks like we spent a fortune on Christmas when really, it’s just all about the bulk. When we put out the Santa gifts on Christmas Eve, it is going to look like overload. Our kids now love the tricks of the wrap.”
This tip works for any of your holidays this season — save those shipping boxes and remember, presentation is everything!
Red for Me, Blue for You
Another creative suggestion offered by one of our seasoned parents was to pick one pattern or color of wrapping paper for each child. Then wrap all their gifts with that paper. Not only will it be easy to know who gets what package when it’s time to unwrap, but you will also save a bundle on tags and bows with this method of labeling.
See what we mean? These parents are genius-level holiday pros.
Invest in the Traditions That Matter
No matter the holiday your family honors, a big part of making the season memorable is the traditions you build together.
Taking the Long View
Dawnmarie shared one family tradition that carries her kids into adulthood. “I started a tradition of getting them each a new ornament every year. I write the year and their initials on it. When they leave home, they’ll have 18 to 20 ornaments to take with them for their own tree.”
Slow the Roll
Another family takes turns opening gifts, one person at a time, no matter the holiday or family gathering. This allows each person a few minutes to enjoy what he received, connect with the giver, and focus on thankfulness. The bonus, another mom pointed out, is that the pace of the event is slowed so that everyone can be present and shed some of the anxiety of getting to this moment.
We also appreciated the mom-tips to start the festivities slowly and gently. For those families who open gifts on Christmas morning, set a reasonable time to start. If your little ones can’t wait for that set time, leave a gift of something to occupy them until it’s time to get up. Other families hold their Hanukkah gifts until after dinner, when the main meal, candle-lighting, and prayers are over.
Just remember, those early hours of eager anticipation and giddy restlessness won’t last forever. Once they are teenagers, you’ll probably have to wake them by noon so you can get on with the day!
Food is Love
Many of our members shared the traditional meals their families enjoy together. Preparation of those meals becomes tradition itself when we teach our kids the family recipes that have been handed down for generations. Latkes, holiday cookies, homemade pies, and other fancy side dishes reserved only for holidays are even more memorable when we include our kids in the process.
Take it Easy
Of course, many families celebrate with food, so we also got some great tips to ease the stress of the day and make room for special treats. We loved the suggestion to make otherwise-forbidden sugary cereals into early morning gifts and surprises to satisfy hungry tummies.
Other parents offered suggestions for overnight oatmeal, breakfast casseroles that one can prepare the night before, and cinnamon buns that must rise overnight. One dad sagely reminded us to set up the coffee pot the night before the big event. We are all about prepping in advance where ever we can!
Simplify to Increase Meaning
As our families age, it can be tough to keep up with every tradition you crafted in the early years. It takes intentionality, but it simplifies your focus if you can hone your season to focus on the events or activities that mean the most to your family. Plus, you gain the added benefit of buy-in from the kids as they grow.
It’s a Date
One mom who has kids ranging from the mid-20s to elementary ages suggested choosing one or two traditions that mean the most to the majority of the family. They set a date or two on the calendar that works for everyone well in advance of the activity. Getting in on everyone’s calendar lends weight and meaning to those specific traditions. The added benefit for them has been a continuity in the shared family experiences. “This has helped us focus on continuing the valuable (traditions) for a cohesive kind of family story that the younger ones can feel connected to.”
Perfection is Not the Goal
When seeking to simplify your holidays, many parents suggested letting go of the idea of the perfect party, or the most memorable gift, or the most beautiful table setting. Find ways to be okay with “good enough” as the outcome. One mom said she “boils the day down” to its most core elements — why do they celebrate this holiday as a family and what does she want her family to take with them into adulthood? By letting go of the dogged pursuit of perfection, you are trading stress, anxiety, and potentially damaged relationships for peace. You can elect to be present and choose joy in your holiday season.
Pass Down the Good Stuff
Circling back to the idea of buying second-hand gifts, one mom suggested gifting treasured hand-me-down toys to younger kids from older siblings. It saves you time and money, teaches your older kids to share, and creates a bond between your children.
For your older children, consider precious family heirlooms as gifts. For example, my sister inherited my grandmother’s tablecloth. After many years of not using it, she turned it into stunning quilted table runners for us four siblings and my parents. Every year, my grandparents are honored in our holiday décor, and we adult siblings have a keepsake to stir precious memories. My only struggle is to which of my 6 kids will I pass this beautiful piece?
Memories in the Making
The holiday season can be stressful for us all. Think about what you want your kids to remember, no matter what you celebrate or how big you go with your family activities. If you are parenting kids who have experienced trauma, abuse, or neglect, you already know how dysregulating all the extras can be for them. Craft a plan for your family that scaffolds you and your kids with a manageable routine, adequate sleep and nutrition, and downtime to decompress. When you balance all that structure with the celebrations you treasure the most, you can make this a happily memorable season for all.