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Twelve Days of Character

​All year long, we're bombarded with advertising messages telling us to buy, buy, buy. This consumerist mania hits its high point, of course, during the winter holiday season, when even the best-behaved child's thoughts turn to toys and candy. Add in perks like time off work and school, and it's easy for the entire family to look forward to the holidays for the many material "goodies" they bring.

In the midst of all that, it's easy to forget one of the best parts of the holidays: special time with family and friends. So, if you're lamenting the loss of the spirit of the season, why not try something new to bring joy back into the holidays? Here are a few fun suggestions:

  1. The Holiday Hat Game
    At your next family gathering, ask everyone to write down a favorite holiday memory on a slip of paper and then put the slips into a hat. Pass the hat around and have people pull out memories and try to guess which person wrote what. As a variation, write down a series of questions, with the answers on separate pieces of paper. These could range from the silly to the serious: "What was your favorite present of all time?" "How many candy canes could a reindeer eat?" "What's your least favorite holiday food?" Divide up the pieces of paper and have everyone try to match the answers to the questions. Have a silly prize ready for the winner.
  2. Family Holiday History-on Film
    Get the video camera and have your children tell you about the holiday traditions you celebrate. Let them teach you about the history and what the traditions mean. If you have older children, have them do some research online. Challenge them to "teach you something you didn't already know" about the holidays. Don't let them off the hook too easily--ask questions, be interested, but don't forget, raise your hand! If you keep it going year after year, it might be fun to look back on previous years' videos to see how the family has changed!
  3. Kids Cuisine
    If your children are old enough to be left alone in the kitchen, have them cook a holiday meal for the whole family. They can plan a menu, pick out ingredients and submit a shopping list f​or you to take to the store. Tell them that their only limit is their imaginations. Be aware that you may end up with ice cream and cookies for the main course...
  4. Lighted Scavenger Hunt
    Spend an evening driving around to look at Christmas lights. Give everyone in the family the list of items that must be found before going home--items like a Santa Claus, a house with all blue lights, a Christmas tree, a menorah, etc. Come home to hot chocolate and take a vote on your favorite light display, and drop a note in that home's mailbox to let them know how much you enjoy their decorations. Note: it's a good idea to go scout the neighborhood first so you're not driving around till the sun comes up!
  5. Sentence-at-a-Time Story
    Tell a story about the holidays' one sentence at a time. Have everyone sit in a circle, and start with a sentence about your favorite holiday memory. Then, have each member of the family chime in with the next line of the story. The goal is to get the story to be the most fun, unbelievable holiday memory ever.
  6. Build a Snowman Competition!
    When was the last time you built a snowman? When was the last time you built two or even three? Depending on the size of your family, select teams and then set a time limit to build your frozen friend. When time runs out, judge who has the best-looking snowman! For bonus fun, knock off the snowman's head and take pictures of various family members posing behind him with their heads in his place!
  7. Wrap Race
    Split the family into teams. Give each team a roll of toilet paper. Now, give them three minutes to wrap mom and dad or another pair of adults. At the end of the allotted time, take pictures of your creations and judge which team has done the best job.
  8. Build a Turkey out of Legos
    Get the kids to make a holiday meal using only Lego blocks. Have them make the turkey, the stuffing and the sides. For that matter, have them make the cutlery and plates too! When they're done, have the whole family sit down to a very silly meal!
  9. Learn About Other Holiday Traditions
    Lots of  holiday traditions are celebrated in December. Why not make a list of holiday traditions that differ from your own, and then ask each family member to pick a tradition from the list and find out more about it? Then, ask everyone to share what they've learned with the whole family. Discuss these traditions and compare them with your own. Suggestions include Kwanzaa, Hanukkah, Hogmanay, Bodhi Day, Christmas and Nikolausabend.
  10. Find the Holiday Alarm!
    If you have a smartphone that you can customize ringtones for, pick a holiday tune, set it as your alarm and then hide it somewhere in the house. Next, have your kids find the phone before the alarm sounds (5 minutes is a good place to start). If they can't find it, your holiday alarm will start playing, leading everyone to the phone's location!
    Then, sing the tune together and start again until every family member has a chance to pick a tune and hide the alarm.
  11. The Holiday Time Capsule
    Get a box and have the whole family find items to put in it as part of a family time capsule. These could be anything, newspapers, pieces of clothing, photographs, notes. Then, in a special ceremony, seal up the box with a "do not open until", note and place it somewhere safe and secure. This works great if you start when your kids are infants. Then, by the time they're seven or eight, you can start opening time capsules as well as making them!
  12. Holiday Movie Night!
    Designate a non-school night as "holiday movie night." Let the kids choose the movie (or movies), make treats and snuggle under a blanket for the big show. This could even be one time where kids (and adults!) get to stay up as late as they want!