Even though I’ve been with my husband for well over 16 years, we’re still novices at creating our own holiday family traditions. We’ve spent many holidays driving from the NYC area back to our hometown, Va. Beach, doing the family juggle, often sacrificing our time with friends to savor time with our family. Now that we have our own brood, living away from our hometown and navigating the holidays has been an adventure to say the least. When we started our family five short years ago in our beloved Hoboken, NJ, we called NYC our backyard. We’d traipse the city streets during the holiday season, navigating the foot traffic without hesitation. We’d take in the lights, sights and sounds on every corner. City life during the holidays was our gift to our firstborn, and now, even as suburbanites, immersing our kids in the grandeur of the city is an absolute must.
But what makes our holidays special is completely different for another family. So, in case you need some ideas on jumpstarting your own family traditions, here are a few to get the good times going.
Make it delicious
They say a great party begins and ends in the kitchen. And when you get kids in the mix, fun is sure to be had in the kitchen. Whether it’s making Christmas cookies, preparing a festive feast or building a gingerbread house, time well spent in the kitchen is a fun way to craft holiday traditions the kids will remember for years to come. As a child, the kitchen was a gateway to the tastes of my parents’ Filipino culinary traditions and a peek into our culture. I’ll always cherish the many hours I spent in the kitchen with my grandma, aunts and brothers. And now, as a mom, it’s fitting that making meaningful holiday memories with my own kids usually begins with baking something that involves sugar.
Make it memorable
One of the quirkiest holiday traditions that my husband brought to the table was the gift of the timeless classic National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation. Sure, it was a well-loved movie from our youth, but it is the post-Thanksgiving viewing with his family, complete with word-for-word commentary, that brings the belly laughs every year. Even though my own kid has grown to love the Griswolds, it’s Will Ferrell’s Buddy the Elf that makes him smile the most—since it’s his favorite thing and all.
And speaking of elves, it’s the one on that shelf that seems to be keeping busy in many households this time of year. There are two camps concerning The Elf on the Shelf: you either love or loathe him. But for those who loathe him and feel all angsty about the ones who like getting creative with their elf, let’s be clear: it’s not about you. It’s about making memories with the kids. Coming from someone who thought the little red guy was creepy and questionable, I caved to my husband’s suggestion and made it fun for our 5 year old. While I don’t use it as a discipline tactic (I hope he fears me more than an inanimate elf!), I love seeing the amazement in my kid’s eyes in the mornings to see what Zack the Elf was up to while everyone was asleep. For us, it’s not about overachieving; the elf is just another dimension of the magic of Christmas, and something that keeps the spirit going all month long.
Make it last
Over the weekend, we attended our community’s Santa Breakfast, one of our family’s latest holiday traditions. In my head, it was the perfect photo op with the two kids with Santa, and then as a family… and by perfect, of course I meant the exact opposite. We waited, for what seemed like forever, and the baby fell asleep. With just two people to go before us, I now had a sleeping baby who was going to “miss out” on his first encounter with Jolly ol’ Nick. Instead, we made the most of it, and captured a hilarious and fitting photo, which, in turn, became our Christmas card. There’s now a story going viral about a mall Santa and a sleeping baby and how the Santa made the sleeping baby’s moment equally as awesome. Making holiday traditions with families should include candid moments such as the ubiquitous crying and/or sleeping baby photo with Santa. With kids, we all know, they’re unpredictable little people who thrive on making the perfect moments perfectly imperfect. But it’s those crazy moments that become the most memorable. Besides experiencing the fun holiday traditions with the kids, the next most important part is capturing those candid moments, whether with still photos, videos, Instagram, Facebook, or whatever social media outlet comes out next. Because, really, a good photo of a crying (or sleeping) kid with Santa never gets old.