Rediscover the Joy of Family This Holiday Season
By Richard Romney
The most wonderful time of the year is even more so when you use it as an opportunity to build simple traditions that help strengthen family ties.
The best of times, the worst of timesdo you ever feel that's a description of your wintertime holiday season? To try to make it memorable, do you do too much, neglecting your family in the process? You worry about gifts, decorating, cleaning the house, guests, and bills. And, in the meantime, are you and your spouse and your children doing anything that draws you closer together?
It's a sad truth, but if we're not careful, the holidays can become a time of stress rather than a season of rejoicing. Below are some ideas on how families can make the holiday season a time for lasting memories.
Memories of simple pleasures
One of the first steps in making the year-end holiday season more family friendly, according to author Elaine St. James, is to rediscover the things family members truly love about the season. "When you take a close look," she writes in her book Simplify Your Christmas: 100 Ways to Make Your Holidays Happier, Healthier, and More Fun (Andrews McMeel Publishing, 1998), "you'll discover that those things don't take huge amounts of time or cost a lot of money." She continues: "To jog your memory, ask friends and family and even strangers to recall what they loved most...when they were kids. You'll find the most cherished memories are of simple pleasures."
Following that advice and applying it to the variety of religious and other year-end holidays, here are some cherished recollections of simple pleasures of past holiday seasons from some families, most of whom live in Utah:
A "souper" evening. For Deanne Hansen of Midway, one of the highlights of the season is when the extended family gathers at her mother's house for a holiday soup-fest.
"Each branch of the family brings a big kettle of a different kind of soupchicken noodle, clam chowder, chili, vegetableand then we share," she explains. "It's easy to prepare soup, so energy can be focused on other things. There's variety, so everyone can choose what they like. And it ties us to the past, when life was less complicated.
"It's a time when we can sit and talk and think about our parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents. It's something they would have done, to have a bowl of soup together and see how things were going."
Book 'em. As the holidays approach at the Kathleen and David Miner home in Salt Lake City, a special box comes up from the basement. It's full of children's books. Some are classics; others are specific to the season. Kathleen gift-wraps all the books as though they were new and places them in a basket. Then each day for several weeks, the four children take turns selecting the book for the day, and the family reads it together. A brand-new book is purchased each year.
Although their oldest son is now in college and another daughter is in high school, the Miners still read a children's book together each night during the season. "The old favorites bring back happy memories," Kathleen says, "and everybody gets excited to see what the new book will be."
Note worthy. Jon Pike, who lives in St. George, grew up in a musical family. His parents fell in love while performing the lead roles in a musical and raised their children to love music. About 10 years ago, Jon's father, Tom, thought it might be good for their family and beneficial for the community to establish the tradition of a free holiday concert. "It was to be our gift to friends and neighbors," Jon says, "and we'd enjoy it as much as they would, because we love music so much." The concert would be short, an hour or so, and the audience would sing a bit as well.
What started as a small get-together in a local church has become an event that now draws an audience of more than 1,000 that fills the Libby Gardner Concert Hall at the University of Utah. Three generations of Pikes participate. Some, like Jon, travel for six hours or more just to join the family concert. "It keeps the brothers and sisters in touch," Jon explains. "And now we see our children, with their cousins, pulling together, too. The music keeps us together."
The message Jon would share with anyone establishing holiday traditions is simple: "Make music a part of your holiday. If you can perform for others, do it," he says. "You don't have to be a great performer to sing at a rest home for those who are lonely. If you're too nervous to do that, just sing within your own family. But find a way to make music a part of your holiday. There are people who will be grateful you did."
Ideas galore. Here is an assortment of additional ideas:
One family weaves potholders from clothing scraps, then gives the simple homemade gifts to neighbors. [See the book Zany Rainy Days: Indoor Ideas for Active Kids by Hallie Warshaw and Mark Shulman (Sterling Publications, 2001), for some simple instructions.]
Another family has the children make their own piñatas out of blown-up balloons covered with layers of a paste of shredded-up newspapers, flour, and water. After the paste dries and hardens, the balloons are popped.
The children decorate the piñatas with holiday motifs, fill them with candy, and then break them open when the holidays come to an end.
One family buys each child a tree ornament every year. When a child marries and moves away, the ornaments go with him or her and become the beginning of decorating a new tree for a new family.
Another family uses each holiday season as an opportunity to record oral histories. They interview the older generation about their growing-up years, their memories of dating, the schools they attended, and so forth. "Just ask them to talk into a tape recorder, then transcribe the tape for everyone," suggests Tom Worthington of Huntsville, Ala.
Many people view the holidays as an opportunity to give service as a family. Some work together in a soup kitchen, feeding those in need. Several families in one neighborhood decided that rather than making goodies for each other at holiday time, they would join together and make a donation to a charitable organization.
One family, instead of purchasing gifts, decided to give handmade gifts to each other one year. They liked it so much, they've continued the tradition for more than a decade.
Pick what's right for you
While there are plenty of holiday traditions that are simple and easy to establish, it's best to pick one or two and do them well. As author Elaine St. James puts it, "Just don't try to incorporate all the things you love."
The goal is to enjoy the holidaysto rekindle holiday joywithin your family. Having simple, cherished traditions you can all count on each year should go a long way toward doing just that.
Richard M. Romney writes from Salt Lake City.
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