Good grief! It’s nearly time to put up the books, set down the pencils, and take a well-deserved Thanksgiving break. Can you believe it? What will you focus on this holiday season?
I, for one, will be focusing on the memories we’re giving our kids this year.
One of the greatest benefits to homeschooling is the increased opportunity to build a strong family, united through routines, traditions, or what we can call “family culture.” For more on generally what I mean, click here or here, but this is something we’ll explore more in future posts. Homeschooling families simply spend more time together everyday, whereas other families must wait until after everyone gets done with work and school, relegating the opportunity to build a family culture to the evenings and weekends (after homework, extracurriculars, and chores).
During the holidays, though, even public and private schoolers get weeks of family time. Since time together during the school year is so limited, engaged parents must take advantage of the holidays to actively focus on building their family culture.
So this post is for all of you, because creating great memories for your kids is essential to family togetherness, no matter how you choose to school your children.
Here are my four essential ingredients to building a strong family culture during the holidays:
Make sure you’re taking advantage of school breaks by not letting everyone go their own way for days and days. I’m not saying you have to put your teens under house-arrest and dictate that “We will have fun, darn it!” this Christmas, but at least don’t let everyone waste away the holiday break at friends’ houses or glued to their own mobile devices. Set aside a few days to do something together sans smartphones & tablets. This is time for just you, your spouse, and your kids.
This is the obvious Christmas tradition ingredient. For moms like me who love to eat but hate to cook, just the thought of spending an entire day in the kitchen putting together a Christmas feast is exhausting (Is it weird to ask if we could just eat out?).
I never really helped out in the kitchen as a kid–that was the job of mom, aunts, and grandmas, right?–but now I see that time was wasted. I like author Rhonda Lee’s idea of purposefully passing down the cooking traditions to the kids: “Last year, I called my sister to ask about making my first sweet potato pie. I was shocked and delighted when she passed the phone to my niece, who she said perfected the recipe and now makes the pies.” This takes preparation before the actual Christmas meal, though. Lee says, “Each niece and nephew is given ownership of a dish and perfecting it. Mom acts as official taste tester to confirm mastery of the dish.”
Doesn’t this sound blissful? It’s like delegating deliciousness. Eventually I won’t have to cook the whole Christmas meal because my kids will be big enough to each contribute a dish. Not only that, but the dishes will be the family favorites whose flavors reawaken my own holiday memories. I can’t wait for my daughters to be the ones making my Grandma’s apple pie, or my aunt’s sugar cookies.
All of this takes effort, though. If you think creating memorable Christmas traditions for your family means sitting next to the fire reading a book while the kids cook the feast, you’re mistaken, though that is a happy fantasy. Maybe that will be the picture when you’re the grandma or great grandma, but as the mom, you’ve got to do the decorating, present-wrapping, cooking, cleaning, and travel planning. Sorry, am I not relieving your holiday stress?
My grandparents built their own cabin when my mom was a kid and at Christmas, my whole extended family would gather there. We had bunk beds and sleeping bags everywhere, homemade stockings for every person, a warm fire in the living room, and mounds of piping hot, homemade foods for our Christmas feast. Best of all, we’d hike to the top of the mountain behind the cabin in the snow and moonlight on Christmas Eve.
When I think about the amount of work that went into this absolutely idyllic Christmas memory, it makes me want to hide under the bed ‘till New Year’s. But I know my kids won’t get this kind of memory without elbow grease from me.
My three favorite tricks for easing the workload are:
Delegate what you can. Even little ones can help hang up stockings or clean up the living room before company comes over. They should be learning to pick up their own toys anyway, right? There’s no better time to practice pitching-in than before a big family gathering. (Hint: get them excited about coming guests & they’ll help more joyfully!)
Plan ahead. Make the menu and shop for non-perishables long before you’d need to shop for perishables. Make it part of your post-Thanksgiving tradition to set up Christmas decorations. Then it’ll be done long before you need them and you’ll get to enjoy them longer.
Find some apps to help. With the power of the Internet, we can Christmas shop from our phones, in the, um, bathroom. Or in my case last year, create, order, and mail out Christmas cards from this amazing app. while breastfeeding (major mommy win there!). UPS, FedEx, and the USPS all have great apps for arranging pickup and delivery of the gifts on your list, and most major retailers have apps that make Christmas shopping a cinch.
I remember fondly the few Christmases at my grandparents’ cabin, but I remember not-so-fondly the many Christmases after my parents’ divorce where we shuttled from one house to another trying to “have a Christmas” with each family. We had new step-families to celebrate with, all of whom had totally different traditions, like opening presents on Christmas Eve instead of Christmas morning. In other words, we forgot our traditions almost entirely by trying to accommodate everyone else’s holiday traditions. Our Christmases felt willy-nilly and up to the gods of whatever everybody else was doing that year. This felt very un-special.
What I really wanted as a kid was stability: something we always did, year after year, no matter what else was going on.
Nowadays, my kids know it’s the Christmas season, in part, because the UPS and FedEx guys keep dropping off boxes off at our house, since all our family lives out-of-state. We have Skype or FaceTime “get-togethers” with most family, but may or may not have family visiting in any given year.
My point is, for us, the only people we can dependably spend Christmas with every year are me, my husband, and our kids. So we’re focusing on building traditions with just our nuclear family. If some extended family is visiting for any given Christmas, great, they can tag along with what we’re already doing. So, for example, we do a 5k before Thanksgiving then watch the Vikings
lose play every year. We attend Christmas Eve worship every year, and open presents Christmas morning (‘cause that’s the ways it’s supposed to be done, darn it!). I’d love to include a hike or snowshoe adventure when the kids are bigger. Those are all activities we can do with just our nuclear family, but can easily include others, too. Thus, they are dependable traditions which will build long-term memories for our kids.
Holiday traditions, like other little family rituals “strengthen your family’s bonds, enrich the life you share together, contribute to your children’s well-being, and create lasting memories.” They’re worth the effort, and if you put some thought into them beforehand, you and your family will have fond memories to pass down for generations to come. What are your favorite family culture-building holiday traditions?
And for more going on on the web this holiday season, check out the link-up party over at Sister, Daughter, Mother, Wife.