Creating New Holiday Traditions

I was just perusing the Internet and I came across an article entitled Creating New Holiday traditions by Lisa Belkin.  Lisa is a contributing writer for The New York Times Magazine, where she writes about family life and is the host of a lifestyle program on XM satellite radio.  Her article talks about a mother of two young children who lives in Massachusetts and is looking for more beyond just the shopping and decorating and photos with Santa to create new holiday traditions.  I think that there are so many wonderful things that you can do with young children to enchant and excite them about the holidays.  After all, the best part of the holidays is taking the time to do special things together.  It is the little things that I remember from my childhood.  My little ones are now 4, 3 and 1.  Here are some things that I am doing:

When I was in London in September, I came across this beautiful wooden Advent Calendar.  I did advent calendars as a child and I loved the magic of the big countdown.  Last night, I filled all of the boxes with small treats (some with sugar and others not!) and treasures for my two girls (my youngest is still too young to participate or even understand).  Today they were simply ecstatic to talk about how many days we had until Christmas and to see their little surprises.  We talked about the month of December, talked about how many days and weeks until the big day and this was a nice little lesson in counting.

This year, I also decided to embark on the Elf on the Shelf tradition.  This is absolutely one of the cutest, most magical ideas I have seen in many years!  This little elf comes complete with a book for the little ones.  He (or she – you can buy a skirt to go with the elf) get placed around your home every night and he watches over the children.  My kids have named ours “Eddie the Elf” and since we just started it this past weekend, I can only tell you that they are just in disbelief that a real elf has arrived at our house.  Here is Eddie on the shelf above my stove, where he magically appeared this morning:

I highly recommend starting this tradition with your kids!
Since December 1st is the perfect day to “kick off” many of these traditions, I was busy last night.  Our Nutcracker toy soldiers also magically appeared this morning on either side of our front door to protect the house and all of santa’s elves, who will be working hard over the upcoming weeks.  They will also serve to be sure that the house is safe for Santa to enter on the evening of December 24th.  We had a lengthy discussion this morning about these magical nutcrackers:

As someone who clearly is interested in decorating and design as Owner of The Well Appointed House, I can respond to the question Lisa Belkin poses in her article and just say that it really isn’t about the decorating – it truly is about the stories you tell your children about the little things you place around the house before the holidays.  I have just started unpacking my holiday decorations and will be busy placing them around the house over the next few days.  Which each figure I put out, the girls ask me questions and I craft a cute and clever story for each one.  These are not mere decorations, but part of a much larger story about the magic of the holidays.  Whether it is Christmas or Hannukah, or Kwanza for that matter, the oral traditions are most important.  Here are some snowmen that I put out this morning and along with their arrival came stories of snowmen and how to make them.  This got my three and four year old excited for the snow we will surely get soon:
There were similar discussions about the Nutcrackers: what they are, what they do and how they are made.
What I love about the month of December when you are a mother of small children is that there is an endless stream of events and gatherings which encourage family time.  Use those moments to tell your children about family traditions and your own memories of the holidays.  These are the times your children will remember most.  Check out your local listings for fabulous holiday gatherings in your area.  We will be visiting a local Garden Education Center in Greenwich, CT to make pinecone bird feeders and holiday wreaths with the kids.
I ran out this afternoon to pick up some wreaths and greens from our local McArdles florist shop in Greenwich, CT.  I was thrilled to come home and report to the children that I had actually seen Santa’s reindeer.  If the kids are good this week, we will make a special trip over to see Dasher, Dancer, Prancer, Comet, Donner and Blitzen!  The best part of this new tradition is that this fabulous event benefits Kids in Crisis.  They had live reindeer at this family run garden center.  What a special thing to do with the kids!
This weekend we will take a trip into New York City to stroll and enjoy the holiday windows throughout the city and visit  Santaland at Macy’s.  Santaland is free, making it accessible to all children!  Located on the 8th floor of Macy’s Herald Square in Manhattan, the magical wonderland is designed to delight children of all ages.  Traditions #4 (Santaland) and #5 (holiday windows) that I cannot wait to start.  The kids are at the perfect age (3 and 4) to enjoy this.

Some of my fondest early childhood memories around the holidays are of baking with my mother.  Tradition #6 that we have started as a family over the past three years has been making gingerbread men and iced butter cookies.  If you are short on time with the little ones, you can visit Williams Sonoma for some pre-made mixes and they have excellent cookie cutters as well.

Tradition #7 is taking nice, brisk walks with our dog in the cold or going on the swingset and then running inside to warm ourselves with hot apple cider or hot chocolate.  This is really the first year that my girls are enjoying these warm ‘grown up’ drinks.  Throw in a few mini-marshmellows and they are thrilled!
Tradition #8 is good-old fashioned arts and crafts around the holidays!  My girls love drawing, cutting, pasting, painting and taping things together.  A fabulous site for craft inspirations is

Try making a Paper Plate Santa!  These are perfect, age-appropriate activities!

Tradition #9 is teaching the kids about giving back to the community by going through the house and donating food and used toys to children in need.  This is key to having the kids appreciate anything special they might receive from Santa.  Young kids love being involved and learning about the meaning of things.  Mine will go through their playroom and each make a bag of toys that they can give to other children through various community centers and charities.  On this note, talking about the many different holiday traditions that exist with the little ones is important, too!  Learning about the diversity of the world can never be started too early!
Finally, tradition #10 will be helping Mom and Dad to decorate the Christmas tree!  Again, this is great for basic coordination, learning how to handle things carefully and best of all….family time!
I will leave you with closing photos of my Christmas tree from last year (2008).
-Melissa Hawks


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1 comment

  1. Precious and Pink

    What fantastic ideas! The advent calendar is so beautiful, what a treat for the kids. I love the elf on the shelf idea too, when my daughter gets older I am going to have to start with this one too!

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