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spending time with family

  • Christmas Service Projects

    While driving with my four-year-old today, he wanted to tell riddles. Given his age, I wasn't expecting a high level of humor, but thought maybe I'd get some cute material for the family Christmas letter that I'm struggling to write. I suggested a Christmas riddle and he responded:

    "What do a gun and bullets have in common?"

    (pause) "That's your Christmas riddle?"

    "Yeah, remember how I want a Nerf gun for Christmas?"

    Hmm, very festive, buddy! Time to pull out the box of books about Jesus' birth, and perhaps also a few activities to teach him that it's better to give than receive...

    I'm realistic, and know that my kids are excited about their Christmas wish lists. But that also means it's easy to talk about those whose families can't afford presents. Consider a special shopping trip to choose some gifts that will be donated to Toys for Tots. Another option is an organization called Angel Tree, which connects children of prison inmates with people that can provide Christmas gifts on their behalf.

    Thinking globally, there are obviously needs that are much deeper than those of gifts. The World Vision Christmas Gift Catalog allows you to "shop" for items that can transform impoverished lives.  For instance, $100 can purchase a goat and two chickens, providing a steady supply of protein to nourish a family. A gift of $85 provides a bicycle for a girl that couldn't otherwise attend school safely and consistently.

    Another wonderful resource, all year long, is a website called Big-Hearted Families. Whether it's helping your family nurture attitudes of kindness and compassion, or contributing to your community with a service project, you'll find great ideas here. I appreciate that there are ideas for kids of all ages, and they really make it easy to jump right in.

    Here are some other helpful sites related to service:

    VolunteerMatch - matches up your interests and location with volunteer opportunities

    Do Something - teens are connected to service in ways that "[don’t] require money, an adult, or a car"

    United We Serve - a government resource to link volunteers and causes, encouraging users to register their own projects

    How do you encourage a giving spirit during the holidays?

  • Best Christmas Movies - Ever?

    What are the best Christmas movies of all time? Obviously the answer to this is subjective, and each person's favorites may change over a lifetime.

    Nostalgia plays a part. Consider the slightly tacky Santa decoration that you love because it reminds you of your great aunt, or the too-sweet candy that you have to buy because Grandma always had a bowlful during the holidays. For the same reason, many Christmas movies are viewed because it's tradition, part of enjoying the season.

    And would you agree that Christmas movies are a category not always judged under the same rules as other movies? Many of our favorites do not have the best acting, plots, character development, etc. We're sometimes willing to give a little extra credit if a film puts us in "The Christmas Spirit", right?

    Having said all that, many would put It's A Wonderful Life on any Top 10 list. It was nominated for 5 Oscars in 1947, and won the Golden Globe for Best Picture, after all!

    While not in the same category of cinematic greatness, another favorite for many is A Christmas Story. The 1940s flashback film endowed pop culture with not only the leg lamp but also the phrase "you'll shoot your eye out!" What's not to love?!

    Or there's the animated How The Grinch Stole Christmas, based on the Dr. Seuss book of the same name.

    Three Christmas classics, each a vastly different style. But what do they have in common? All have been updated in some capacity.

    Have you seen It Happened One Christmas? It was a 1977 remake of It's A Wonderful Life, made for TV, starring Marlo Thomas in the title role. An update of How The Grinch Stole Christmas cast Jim Carrey as the Grinch, and brought the Whos of Whoville from animation to live-action.

    And this year, we'll have the opportunity to judge a direct-to-DVD sequel of A Christmas Story. Apparently a teenage Frankie has his sights set a little higher than the Red Ryder BB Gun this time. Check out a little preview:

    Is this a wonderful tribute to a much-loved film, or a travesty? Let's be honest, movie-making is a business, and money is the driving force behind all of these remakes. So are you willing to shell out a few bucks to see a movie remake? Maybe the right question is, are you willing to risk having your favorite Christmas movie tainted by a less-wonderful version?

    What are your Christmas film traditions? Do you love to see the same movies year after year, or do you love the new ones that come out?

  • Christmas Is for Kids

    Christmas is the time when kids rule. This is the season where we pamper them with gifts and spend time with them. In fact, a lot of people say that Christmas is the time when they remember how fun it was to be children, as many try to remember how their Christmases went as they were growing up. Indeed, for some families, Christmas is made even more special because of the kids in their house.

    So how do you make this Christmas a little more special for your children? suggests these fun ways!

    1. Teach them Christmas carols. Christmas carols are a good way to get into the spirit. Teaching your kids your beloved Christmas songs ensures that they would happily sing along as you turn on the radio or pop in your favorite Christmas CDs.

    2. Develop their creativity with some activities. There are a lot of Christmas themed activities that you could do with your children. For one, there are coloring pages that you could download from the Internet. These Web sites offer free printables that you could print out and color with your kids.

    You can then use the colored prints to decorate your house by displaying them on your refrigerator, walls or even table tops.

    3. Let them help in the preparations. One great way to get children in the festive Christmas mood is to involve them in your preparations. Wrapping up some presents for friends? You can teach them to create gift tags, or cut scotch tape for you. Baking Christmas brownies? You can ask them to help you stir the batter or help you clean up. They could also help you decorate your home for Christmas.

    4. Teach them some crafts. has some really nice Christmas stocking kits that you could do with your kids. Each of these kits include all the materials you are going to need and very simple instructions.

  • Building Christmas Traditions

    Christmas is a great time to be with your family.  And while everyone loves the season, it is mostly geared towards children.  If you are a parent of young kids, you surely spend a lot of time making Christmas a whole lot more fun and exciting for them.

    Christmas is also an opportune time to build long lasting family traditions.  Christmas traditions vary from culture to culture, and each family have their own way of celebrating Christmas, but that should not stop you from creating your own. presents these tips for building Christmas traditions.

    1. Typical traditions.  There are traditions that we follow just because it is what we have known since childhood.  Think about Santa Claus and gifts on Christmas morning.  We tell our children that Santa will reward them for being nice the whole year by giving them treats and toys on Christmas day.  These are typical traditions, or those we hold on to because it is what has been taught us.

    By all means, pass these traditions to your kids.  It would be nice to see yourself on the other side of the fence.  Instead of being the one who runs down to the living room on Christmas morning to ransack the gifts under the tree, you are the one who is sneaking down on Christmas eve to place the gifts in their Christmas stockings!.

    2.  Start something new and make sure that they are observed every year.  There are a lot of things that you can do to help spice up the holiday season.  It could be a vacation that you all take, for example, one week before Christmas.  It could be having an elaborate Christmas dinner on Christmas eve.  Or you could all make it habit to pick out a tree together.  And then spend some real bonding moments while you all decorate the tree and the entire house in time for Christmas.

    3. One novel idea comes with a personalized touch. Get personalized Christmas ornaments featuring pictures of your family, either as a group or one by one.  It should work better if you could get a theme behind the year's photos.  For example, 2010 could be the year of the wacky.  You should find pictures of every one in your family in wacky poses, and then present these memorialized on a Christmas ornament on Christmas eve.

    You and your family could easily get a good laugh at each other's wacky pictures.  As the years go by, your collection becomes more and more voluminous and varied.  And because of this, Christmas could easily be a good time to reminisce.

    Ten years from now, when your kids are grown, you can count on these traditions to keep you together during the holidays.  Gather your grown kids around the Christmas tree and look at the ornaments that features their photographs that could very well start from the time they were babies!  Share a laugh or a story as you all reminisce on family pictures that are immortalized on these ornaments.

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