Here in the northwest, we count down the days until the winter solstice. It is only after this, the shortest day of the year, that we begin to get more daylight in the day. While we look forward to the winter break from school time and the celebrations of the Christmas season, it can also be a time of year that vacillates between extreme busyness and stress, or a time of boredom. With so little sunlight in our area, all of us become a bit frazzled and quick tempered. Instead of being the “most wonderful time of the year” it easily becomes the most difficult time of the year for many families like ours.
Instead of defaulting into the mindless escape of our technology, how can we make the most of the short days and long nights? I will not deny that we indulge in our fair share of technology during these days. Today the forecast warns us of a wind chill advisory, so to avoid frostbite, we might sit down with a cup of hot cocoa and watch our favorite holiday movies. However, we don’t want to let that be the only thing we do on our days off.
So, in an effort to be mindful of the days to come, and in the spirit of Buddy the elf, ( “First we’ll make snow angels for 2 hours. Then we’ll go ice skating. After that we’ll eat a WHOLE roll of tollhouse cookie dough as fast as we can and then to finish...we’ll snuggle” ) I sat down with my family a few nights ago and we made a list of all the things we could do instead of staring at a screen. Here is what we came up with:
1. Go out to dinner at your favorite restaurant. No phones allowed.
2. Ice Skating. Even in the desert oasis of Phoenix. there is an ice skating rink. Enjoy this seasonal classic.
3. Take a ride or walk around town and look at the best Christmas light displays. Sometimes big metropolitan areas will print a map in the newspaper. For those of us in rural areas, it becomes a spontaneous adventure.
4. Bake holiday cookies together. Parents, keep your expectations low. This is about quality time, not the final product. My demise, just may be the eating of raw cookie dough, but I’ve made it to close to 40 and it hasn’t happened yet, so don’t get too stressed in the process if little fingers get licked.
5. Play board games! Invite family or friends over for a good old fashioned board game marathon! Want to add a fun twist and let the kids stay up late? Invite your guests to wear their Christmas pajamas!
6. Dress up for imaginative play. My son helps us become stormtroopers for Star Wars re-enactments. My daughter is always ready to be the princess in her palace. Often times, the two worlds meet and we have a jedi drinking tea and a girl in a ball gown wielding a lightsaber. Enjoy your kids and let them lead you into their world of play. If your kids are older, host an ugly sweater party or a come as your favorite Christmas movie character costume party. I’m waiting for my opportunity to create a “Cousin Eddy” costume. Just because we grow older, we don’t have to stop having fun!
7. Look at pictures and tell stories of years past. Each year we try to get a family yearbook printed. It is a sweet time of remembering together as we look back through them each year.
8. Anonymously find a way to be a blessing to a friend or stranger in need. Grocery shop or toy shop with your family and leave your findings on their doorstep! Take a bag full of pet toys, towels, blankets, and pet food to your local animal shelter. There are numerous opportunities to give gifts to children in need during the holiday season. Find time to give back. Our kids love having little secrets, just between us, and this is one that will leave a lasting memory.
9. Go caroling. My husband apparently grew up in a Norman Rockwell painting, caroling through the snow on a horse drawn carriage! Can you imagine? For those of us that didn’t have this idyllic experience, it is fun to take time to carol at a local nursing home, or grab a couple friends that have great voices and carol throughout your neighborhood.
10. Be a kid. Build legos in the living room. Create a blanket fort. Make masterpieces with playdoh. Have a nerf gun war. Your house will likely be full of new toys halfway through the winter break, take time to enjoy them!
11. Drive until you find snow! Even though we live in Montana, that doesn’t guarantee a white Christmas. Find the snow, make a snowman, a snow fort, cross country ski or snowshoe, have a snowball fight or our favorite, go sledding! Making memories is worth the drive.
12. Craft. There are holiday coloring printables all over the web. Make ornaments to give to friends and family. If you celebrate Jesus at Christmas find advent activities. Hanukkah begins on December 24th. There are abundant opportunities to create whatever your little heart desires as you celebrate the season.
13. Find indoor outlets for physical activity. Rent a room at a local hotel and take advantage of their swimming pool! Go bowling. Indoor trampoline park or jumpy inflatables for the littlest friends? Yes, please.
14. Spend a day pretending the power is out! Snuggle by the fireplace, read Christmas books, light candles, have your flashlights handy. We love our modern amenities, but the simplicity of the olden days can be fun.
15. Be present. Don’t give a present, be present. Of all the things you can do this season, being intentional with your children is the best gift you can give. While they may remember the occasional gift they received, it will be the memories made together that will last many more Christmas’ in the future.
I doubt my family will do all of these things. There will likely be days where we do sit in front of our screens until our time limits are up. There will be sibling fights and stressed out parents, but hopefully this list will give us a place to go, to remember the reason for the season. This season, we will work to be intentional in our effort to be the love, joy, peace, and kindness that Christmas represents.
By Jesica Swanson