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What My Kids Cherish Most About Holiday Rituals

Photo credit: Flickr/Dan McKay

This post is part of Minimalist Holidaysa series inspired by the idea that you can enjoy the holidays more when you do less.

I’ve been following the Elf on the Shelf “debate” with some amusement. I’d never heard of this Christmas tradition, so when I read up on it I found out it’s more of a commercial phenomenon. This little elf can cause a fair amount of work because in some homes he does more than just spy on children from a shelf. He gives treats and little gifts which he hides throughout the house…all of which requires assistance from human parents who don’t have the benefit of “Christmas magic.” Apparently some parents are boycotting the Elf because he’s a bit…high-maintenance.

This (and our great conversation about kids and religion) has me thinking about holiday rituals in general. As I talked about in my last Minimalist Holidays post, we all want to create holiday magic without driving ourselves crazy. We want to make wonderful memories for our children, but we also know that when the grownups are stressed out and overextended, nobody has fun.

It’s worth asking yourself what makes rituals meaningful for your kids. For mine, it’s two things: specialness (the ritual only happens on certain occasions) and repetition (the ritual happens every time). For them, the joy is in the anticipation of the ritual, and the familiarity once it’s underway. I also think that rituals foster a feeling of belonging; “this is something my family does every year.”

What’s not important to the kids: perfection, complication, or grandeur. The regularity of the ritual is more significant than the amount of work involved.

This is good news because it means that the simplest rituals can be the most magical. The trick is to choose rituals that are easy enough to follow that you can and want to repeat them every year. Anything goes as as long as it’s meaningful and/or fun.

For inspiration, here are a few holiday traditions Parent Hacks readers have shared:

Years ago we’d procrastinated about decorating the tree before our holiday party for so long that only the tree’s lights were up before guests started arriving. We left the ornaments in the cedar chest they’re stored in and asked each guest to grab a few and help us decorate – as if we meant to do it that way! It was so much fun we now do this every year. — Chris

We walk around our neighborhood looking at lights and peoples’ Christmas trees. — Me

We make a gingerbread house. I stubbornly refuse to buy a kit, and am not really even that good at making roll-out type cookies, so it ends up being a crude creation stuck together with way too much royal icing. But decorating it is the highlight of the Christmas season for us. — Lisa

We watch Elf. — Courtney

We live in Texas and this year, it’s very dry and fairly warm…so, we’re having a Solstice campfire in our soon-to-be made campfire ring near our house. — Genie

What I love about these traditions (and many more I didn’t include here) is that they’re simple, inexpensive, and real. A ritual doesn’t have to be lofty to be meaningful.

It might take a few tries to decide on the activities your family enjoys enough to repeat every year. But the good stuff has a way of finding you. Karen Walrond’s story about her family’s “rebellious little Christmas” made me laugh, but it also helped me recognize how liberating it is to choose your family’s traditions.

Do your kids respond to holiday rituals as mine do? What are your family’s favorite holiday traditions?

Minimalist Holidays

Christine Koh and I are the co-authors of Minimalist Parenting: Enjoy Modern Family Life More By Doing Less. We’re sharing ideas for simplifying the holidays so you can focus on what’s important: enjoying the season with your family.

Visit the Minimalist Holidays page for links to the entire series.

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