It's a time moms look forward to with anticipation: two whole weeks to spend with our kiddos decking the halls, sipping cocoa, snuggling in holiday pajamas, singing carols, walking in a winter wonderland!
But—let's be honest—it can also be a time we moms face with great trepidation: two whole weeks with no school. Two weeks with lots of together time. Two weeks with too many gifts, too many sweets, too much excitement, and too many opportunities for siblings to fight, and for preschoolers to complain. Add to the mix the cold weather cooping everybody inside and the lack of sleep accompanying all the festivities, Christmas break can easily morph from a treasured family memory to a nightmare.
The good news is that Christmas doesn't have to be that way. Somewhere in between the fake/idealistic/unrealistic dream of a magazine-worthy family Christmas, and the exhausting chaos of a Christmas break that seems to be two weeks too long, you can carve out a happy medium. Armed with good ideas, a bit of planning, and a lot of grace, you can capture the time you've got with your kids this Christmas break and turn it into something special.
So, want to make the most of this Christmas break with your kids? Here are 10 ideas:
1. Count to 12
Contrary to popular belief, Christmas doesn't end at midnight on December 25th. According to the liturgical church calendar, Christmastide is 12 days long! Intentionally stretch out the celebration by playing carols on your iPod, praising Jesus for his birth during dinnertime prayers, and reading the Nativity accounts in the Gospels together (Matthew 1:18–25; Luke 1:1–2:40).
Christmas ends on Epiphany, January 6th. Mark the day by reading the account of the wise men worshiping Jesus (Matthew 2:1–12), and by discussing the importance of worship in your own lives. (If you want, add some flavor to the day by eating a traditional "king cake.")
2. Grow Generosity
After an influx of new toys and other Christmas presents, take time to talk with your kids about the importance of giving to those in need. Help your kids gather some of their toys, books, or clothes to donate to others in need. Rather than just dropping them off at the nearest Goodwill, work with your kids to select a local Christ-centered ministry— such as a homeless shelter or an afterschool program in an impoverished neighborhood—to help them personally connect with their giving. Encourage your kids to donate nice items rather than just "junk" they don't want anymore. (Set an example by picking some of your own items to donate too!)
3. Cook up a New Tradition
Get your kids involved in making and eating a special winter treat. Stick with a family favorite or start a new tradition you can repeat each Christmas break. Some of our favorites are snow ice cream and manger cookies. I'll be trying a new treat this year: green crepes with red berries. (Find my recipes for these three yummy treats here.) Be sure your kids help out from start to finish— including cleaning up after all the yummy fun!
4. Cultivate Gratitude
Lead your kids in writing thank you cards for the presents they've received. Make it fun by letting each child create their own original card in black and white that you can photocopy on colored paper. If needed, provide a template of suggested wording to help them express their thanks as they personalize each card with colors, words, or doodles.
Gratitude is something we must learn—it doesn't come naturally. (Consider Jesus' interaction with the 10 lepers in Luke 17:11–19.) Help your kids learn this habit by taking time to say and send a meaningful thank you.
5. Love Your Neighbor
Set aside time to serve a neighbor as a family—such as a widow, a single-mom, an elderly couple, or just someone who could use encouragement. Make it fun by turning it into a secret mission. For example, you could shovel the snow off a driveway at night, or you could sneakily drop off homemade treats (that your kids helped make).
6. Sleep . . . and Snuggle
Your kids can get exhausted during all the holiday excitement . . . and you can too. If you aren't getting enough rest, you'll be short, crabby, snappy, and no fun— and I'm speaking from personal experience! So prioritize sleep by declaring a family sleep-in day. If you want, make it extra fun by wearing PJs all day long and including time for snuggling together to read books, tell stories, or watch a classic Christmas movie.
7. Get Moving
Need some help with tip number six? Be sure you and your kids get exercise to keep the happy-endorphins flowing (and to tire them out for bed time!). Be intentional about making time for traditional winter activities like sledding and snowman-building to get hearts pumping. Or try some fun indoor cardio with a silly family dance party, or even by playing some WiiFit games together.
8. Set Growth Goals
As New Year's Day draws closer, introduce your kids to the idea of New Year's resolutions with a positive focus on hopes, dreams, and goals. And rather than the typical approach of our culture (weight loss, fitness goals, and so on), give it a spiritual focus by dreaming together: How do I want to grow in my faith in 2014? Strip away any sense of pressure or rules; instead, just honestly share your own discipleship goals and help your kids think through their own relationship with Jesus. How might they want to grow closer to him?
9. Pencil in a Plan
Avoid the endless "Mommy, I'm bored!" refrain by preparing for Christmas break in advance and sketching out a rough plan for your time together. Zero in on a simple, general idea for each day. Include variety like an outing to the museum, a day to invite friends over, a day for art projects, a day to cook together, a family movie night, a video game afternoon, a snow-play day, and a few family chill days. Commit to keep it simple and protect plenty of time for relaxing.
10. Expect the Worst
No matter how well you plan, how much you sleep, or how brightly you smile, you will need to stock up on grace because there will be family chaos. At some point your kids will fight, will whine, will be selfish, will frustrate you, will (Grinch-like) try to steal away your Christmas joy. And you know what? That's okay. Kids are kids. Families are families. Humans are humans. If you expect the mess and load up on grace, then you'll be able to handle it in stride! Kick too-insanely-high expectations to the curb, and love on your real (and sometimes exhaustingly frustrating) family.
Remember: your kids won't care if it's a picture-perfect Christmas. Ultimately, the thing they'll treasure most is time with you: being together, laughing, cuddling, and belonging, and being known, loved, and accepted.
So grab one or a few of these ideas and get ready for some good times! And amid all the fun, frolicking, and frustrations of Christmas break, be sure to hole away some moments for just you and God. Breathe deep, utter a soul-full thank you, then ask for his help as you muster up some energy to enter the wonderful, sometimes-chaotic world of family life once more.
Kelli B. Trujillois an author, editor, and Midwest mom of three. Her newest book is Surrender Your Guilt (Wesleyan Publishing House). Join her in conversation at KelliTrujillo.com and follow her on Twitter @kbtrujillo.