Every holiday season, I tell myself that I’m going to get Christmas shopping done early so I can focus on spending quality time with my family. Sound familiar? It doesn’t always happen, but I’ve found that setting an intention to create rituals that support that goal is helpful. It’s easy to lose sight of the spirit of Christmas (or Hanukkah) when our to-do and shopping lists devour our time, energy, and pocketbooks.
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Don't Let the Hectic Season Replace Capturing Family Memories
You may have rituals of your own already that help make your holidays meaningful. However, with many parents working full-time, the season can be hectic and filled with stress. The first thing to forget when we’re feeling harried can be quality time as a family. The key to any stressful time is to create checkpoints or signals for the brain to slow down and spotlight what’s most important to us: our families.
When my now-grown children were younger, as a family, we had a few rituals that helped create an enjoyable memory rather than a spending hangover. And even as adult children, they still talk about the family lore of the season. Looking back, I wish that we would have had more special rituals.
Rituals Provide Security and Help Us Value What's Important
Family rituals increase the security children feel, create a container for meaningful memories, and act as a resting spot to relieve stress. And the natural, feel-good drugs produced by our bodies from the experience (oxytocin and dopamine) refresh us in a very busy season!
Decide ahead of time if you’re going to use the same ritual every year or pick a new one each year. Remember, these rituals cannot cost anything! (Well, maybe a little for a special movie or ingredients for a dessert you make together.) It can be a little adventure in itself to use whatever you have tucked away around the house. The key to creating holiday rituals is to strive for as much empowerment, fun, and meaning as possible. This easy formula will help you create rituals to make your holiday season more fun, more meaningful, and a lot less stressful!
Related reading: "A Simple Way to Stay Sane During the Holidays."
Steps for Creating Meaningful Rituals
STEP 1: As a family, brainstorm ideas for things you can do together to add meaning and fun to the season. Have someone write all the ideas down on a flip chart or piece of paper.
STEP 2: Play with the ideas until your favorite one or a combination is decided on. If they are simple activities, more than one can be chosen. If they’re more complex, it’s best to choose just one.
STEP 3: If the ritual requires preparation (most do), give every member of the family a job. This helps create team spirit and ensures this ritual is a success because it creates engagement and ownership.
STEP 4: Hold a follow-up meeting in a few days. This builds anticipation, keeps everyone engaged, and eliminates last-minute snags.
STEP 5: Act on your idea or enact the ritual. Be sure to take pictures and save for next year whatever will remind you of this year’s fun.
STEP 6: Repeat the ritual every year or redo this step-by-step process.
- Everyone makes an ornament for the tree using their favorite materials or trinkets. Take a group picture of the family holding up their homemade ornaments. Save these ornaments to put on the tree again next year—and next year, make new ornaments and take a new family photo.
- Each person picks a family member’s name from a hat and writes an appreciation or love letter to that person. These letters are put in stockings or hung on the tree on Christmas Eve. On Christmas morning, each person reads theirs, either silently or aloud.
- You read a Christmas classic together, with everyone taking a turn if the children are old enough to read and want to do it. (Or act out the story or create your own original rap and record it!) After the family activity, everyone helps make a simple drink (like hot chocolate or apple cider) while holiday music is playing in the background, and you play cards or a board game.
- Do a special photo shoot that each year has a new theme. Pictures capture lasting memories and create a great opportunity for closeness and connection.
- Together as a family, prepare a box of gifts and goodies to give to a charity or send abroad to soldiers. What a valuable opportunity to model giving and sharing with others. A perfect activity to bring more meaning to the season. These rituals become wonderful bonding experiences that children and teens remember for many years. And the possibilities are endless—be creative! Remember, it doesn’t matter so much what you do or how much you do but rather that you actually do something special to build closeness.
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