Take a deep breath and hold onto your Santa hats, moms, because the holiday season is here and the final countdown to Christmas has begun!
That means it’s time for parties and shopping and wrapping and special events and holiday cards and baking and…I could go on, but I’ve got to be honest, I’m already exhausted.
Christmas may be the most wonderful time of the year, but it takes some serious mommy magic to pull off.
And sometimes I really drop the ball. Of course I start out on schedule and with the appropriate amount of gusto, but then the kids inevitably get sick, I fall behind on present-buying and life takes over. In the wake of it all, I’m disappointed by how much I’ve forgotten to do—stuff that would have been fun for the kids, stuff that would have been amazing for us as a family, stuff that would have embodied the true meaning of the season without decimating our bank account.
This year, I’m taking precautions. I made a list of all the great Christmas stuff that I want to do with my kids—20-plus activities—to stay on track. And I’m sharing it with you. I’ve even included a handy little checklist at the bottom of this post for you to print out and hang on your fridge. It’s my gift to you so you can be merry, happy and stress-free—well, as stress-free as you can be with kids during the holiday season. Merry Christmas, all!
Perform random acts of kindness.
Don’t you love smiling? Smiling’s the best, as Buddy the Elf says. (He’s totally my spirit elf, by the way.) Brainstorm random acts of kindness with your kids—say, giving a Starbucks gift card to a complete stranger or taping change to a vending machine. Write your ideas on small pieces of red and green paper, fold them up and put them in a holiday bucket. When your child wants to put a smile on someone else’s face, let him fish out an idea. Whatever he chooses dictates the giving plan!
Stage a holiday concert or play at home.
Older children will go off on their own, plan and rehearse, giving you time to do the holiday stuff that needs doing. Little ones will want you in on the action and “on stage” with them, which essentially means letting them boss you around—er, direct you—in the most adorable way imaginable.
Read holiday books.
My toddler is currently obsessed with Elmo’s Christmas Hugs (which has actual plush, huggable arms encircling it), as well as the lift-the-flap books Merry Christmas, Little One and Christmastime Is Here. My preschooler’s favorites include How the Grinch Stole Christmas, The Dinosaurs’ Night Before Christmas and a personalized version of ’Twas the Night Before Christmas—complete with the names of his closest friends and even our dog—from the very cool book company I See Me.
Pick out presents for Dad and siblings.
A sweet responsibility for even the littlest kids that helps them understand the old maxim that it’s better to give than to receive. One of my favorite Christmas moments, hands-down, was when my then-3-year-old picked out a stuffed animal for his baby sister last year; it was a teddy bear “toy soldier” that he chose for her when we went to see The Christmas Spectacular. Giving it to her was the first thing he wanted to do on Christmas morning, even before ripping into his own presents.
It’s tradition. And maybe this year, there won’t be tears and/or terror. Here’s to hoping!
See an enormous Christmas tree.
Little kid, big tree. The look of wonder is priceless.
Find an over-the-top lights display.
Kids don’t understand the word gaudy or the concept of less is more. No, when it comes to Christmas lights, more is more. Plus, is there anything better than driving around a neighborhood to see the sights while the kids are in their Christmas pajamas? (Speaking of which, buy those Christmas pajamas soon! Stores like Gymboree are running huge sales on them right now—click here for the latest deal—but seasonal items tend to sell out fast and not get restocked.)
Sing Christmas songs all day long.
In the immortal words of Buddy the Elf: The best way to spread Christmas cheer is singing loud for all to hear!
Watch Christmas movies.
Cuddle up on the couch for some quality family time and introduce your kids to the classics, kiddie and otherwise. My preschooler particularly loves Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, Mickey’s Once Upon a Christmas, The Radio City Christmas Spectacular and The Nightmare Before Christmas (I know, I know). Most kiddie TV programs also air special holiday shows—both of my kids are currently obsessed with the latest Sesame Street one—so don’t forget to set your DVR.
Make a holiday craft.
Depending on your level of craftiness (mine is laughable), try something as elaborate as glittery snowflakes made in the oven or as simple as a red and green construction-paper link chain. It’s great for getting into the holiday spirit—and for getting little hands practicing those all-important fine-motor skills.
Construct a gingerbread house.
Now this is my kind of craft. And these days, there are a ton of easy options. I mean, of course the traditional ones are always fun, but you can also get a Mickey Mouse–themed house or a Candy Land–inspired one—which, in fact, we got last year and you can see below!
Deck your halls.
Put your little elves to work with the non-breakable decorations and get them involved in the tree decorating, even if you suffer from Obsessive Tree Disorder like I do.
I absolutely love this tradition. My parents always decorated their tree with store-bought and homemade ornaments—the latter of which were made by my brother and me. They were just construction-paper drawings that were then laminated and strung through with an ornament hook. They were far from Pinterest-worthy, but I loved them, and they still put a smile on my face as an adult. I cannot wait to see the look on my 4-year-old’s face when we do this and prominently display his creation.
Freeze time with a kiddie handprint memento.
Those tiny hands will never be so tiny again. Immortalize babyhood (or whatever stage your child is at) with a handprint Christmas craft—and not just on a piece of paper but on something you’ll actually use. If you’re feeling ambitious, check out Pinterest for ideas, or if you’re more like me, Etsy has adorable ceramic plates that feature a reindeer made from baby’s handprint and coasters with mistletoe made from footprints.
Let the kids help with holiday cards.
Have them doodle or practice their writing, depending on their age. Also get them involved with putting on the stamps and mailing the envelopes. My son is ecstatic every time I let him put something in a mailbox. It’s really the little things that make them happy!
See a Christmas show.
Even if you’re running low on funds at this time of the year, you can find inexpensive or free options in your area. Some of my favorite resources to find awesome events are Mommy Poppins and Red Tricycle, both of which have listings in various cities around the country.
Bake Christmas cookies.
If you don’t want to have a million cookies in the house and totally derail your diet, give them away to friends, family and workers in your community who you see on a regular basis.
Do something nice for firemen, police officers or our troops.
They work hard all year long to keep us safe—even on the holidays—and it’s important to say thank you. You could make cards or those cookies I mentioned above to do just that, then bring them to your local firehouse/police station. You can also put together a care package to mail to Operation Gratitude, but check their guidelines first.
Donate to a food drive.
Continue the giving from Thanksgiving and reinforce a very important lesson about helping others. In my son’s preschool class, in addition to a food drive, the kids decorated bags for God’s Love We Deliver and read a sweet book about giving: The Spiffiest Giant in Town.
Pick out a present for Toys for Tots or a local children’s hospital.
Sure, it’s all fine and good to give food to someone, but toys? Why can’t I keep those toys for myself??? Yeah, it can be a little challenging. This service project can really highlight the idea that kids can do something tangible to make someone else happy, as well as remind them how lucky they are to have what they do.
Write a letter to Santa.
Is there anything sweeter than this? Those letters from new writers are particularly adorable with their slight misspellings and utterly honest Christmas wishes.
Make goodies for Santa.
Cookies, carrots and associated beverages work in my house. As does an adult beverage for Mommy, who put this whole season together and lived to tell the tale!
Talk about the true meaning of Christmas.
Decorating is lovely. Gifts are great. Seasonal events are fun. But it’s easy to forget what the holiday is really about in all of the insanity. How religious you are will dictate exactly what you discuss, but regardless, this is a great time to talk about the spirit of giving, generosity and love that happens during the Christmas season—and that should last all year long.
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