Reclaiming the Holidays

by Allison Cook and Renée Shade, December 2011

At the end of November, I immediately–and frantically–started making to-do lists of presents to buy, searching blogs for holiday meal and craft ideas, looking for cheap flights, and trying to remember where I put my glue gun. The overwhelming feeling of holiday craziness began to wash over me, and I’m not the only one freaking out; eight out of ten Americans experience increased stress during the holiday season.

I spend a huge part of every day at The Story of Stuff Project trying to engage a different kind of thinking about our relationship to stuff and our consumer-crazed culture. The irony of me crouching over my desk trying to determine the exactly perfect kind of toxic-laden, superfluous piece of junk to buy for the people who matter the most is not lost on me.

There is no denying that the stuff-focused frenzy of the holidays is a force to be reckoned with, but I’m a firm believer that it’s no match for what really makes the holidays so special: our family and friends, a sense of tradition and history, and a good bit of fun. My colleague, Renée, and I put our heads together to think up some ways that we can reclaim the holidays and celebrate traditions, new and old, which remind us and our families what’s so special about this time of year.

  • Sing Out! Every year my family goes Christmas caroling, and it’s my absolute favorite part of the holiday. None of us are very good, but it’s silly and joyful and festive, and makes me feel connected to my family history. Caroling is something my mother’s family did back when she was a kid and my grandmother before that. Whether you’re singing in the streets, around the fire, with a choir or just about anywhere, music is a great way to share time together. Don’t like those holiday standards? Start a new tradition! Our family favorite is “Lean on Me” which last I checked is not a caroling classic!
  • Give the Gift of Time: Time is one of the most precious gifts we can give to the people we hold dear. Giving time together reduces the amount of stress-inducing, useless Stuff in everyone’s life, builds community and creates a fabulous catalog of memories to look back on. Renée gives her twin nephews the gift of time each Christmas in the form of a trip to the trampoline park or a day at the beach. For older children you can give a ticket to see a favorite band. And it’s not just for kids. How about making a certificate to babysit your best friend’s kids so they can enjoy a night on the town?
  • Teach a Skill: There is a lot that you can learn from YouTube, but there is no substitution for real, hands-on instruction. Instead of heading to the mall to buy something, you can use this extra time to teach your kid how to make it themselves. Craft a special holiday decoration, teach them to knit or sew or (if you’re feeling ambitious) build a new toboggan to cruise around on that fresh winter snow.
  • Photo-of-Sweet-Potato-Side-Dish Get Cookin’: Renée and I both come from families that take food pretty seriously. Holidays are synonymous with food, and we love cooking with our families. Whether it’s a kid-friendly cookie recipe for a party or a family recipe handed down for generations, getting kids in the kitchen not only helps them hone new skills but is a great way to spend time together. In my family, each New Year’s Day we celebrate with “lucky foods,” a combination of traditional Pennsylvania Dutch classics like sauerkraut, and extended family favorites black-eyed peas, Mexican Buñuelos and a host of new recipes that make the start of a new year feel special.

What are your ideas for reclaiming the holidays and making this time of year about what you and your family truly values? We’d love to hear from you.

This piece originally appeared on PBS Parents.

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