Meaningful Holidays

“Holiday season” can mean different things to different families. This year, overcome the rush of gift-buying and frantic entertaining, and try these simple tips to infuse meaning and add new traditions for a season of pure joy and wonder.

Make Two Gift Lists

Alongside the wish list of things, start a "gratitude gift list" tradition.  Each family member can decorate lovely pages in a journal or individual sheets of paper to make a special list of all the people and things you are each grateful for.  Keep the lists in a special box to look back on-or add to-each year.

Recognize the Differences

As excited as your child might be for Santa's visit, Santa might not be stopping at his friend's home.  In acknowledging this, rather than focus on an absence of Christmas, re-frame the conversation positively: Arjun will celebrate Diwali; Abdul will celebrate Eid; Joshua will celebrate Hanukkah, and so on.   

Most schools will include some treatment of other holidays, but you can help that learning stick and remove the mystery by reading stories about various celebrations, asking diverse friends if you can join them for their festivities and inviting them to yours.  This can serve as a powerful beginning in a lifetime of respectful learning and understanding.

Incorporate New Traditions

Whatever you celebrate, there may be significant cultural variations-in decorations, foods, stories, entertaining, and gift giving-that could add sparkle to your holiday, as well as greater meaning and deeper connections with others around the world.

Perhaps you can learn to make a favorite dessert your grandmother's grandmother made for her, sharing this heritage with the rest of the family; honor the memory of a person or place that impacted your past; encourage an interest your child has been showing (e.g., one of my daughters loved stories set in Paris, and another was fascinated by ancient Egypt, so we found recipes and decorations from those cultures); or add touches with arts and crafts inspired from places as varied as Guatemala, Germany or Ghana.  

Happy New Year

Celebrate the stroke of midnight on January 1 in Barcelona when it's 6 pm US Eastern Standard Time (EST), in London or Lagos at 7 pm EST, or in Casablanca at 8 pm EST.  Most little ones can't stay up until midnight at home, but you can create an exciting celebration going from city to city at their "midnight," simultaneously introducing new cultures, and a fun science, math and geography lesson on time zones.  Enjoy other New Year celebrations throughout the year, like Lunar New Year, commonly referred to as Chinese New Year, or the first day of spring, the Persian New Year.

Make Giving Back as Natural as Getting

If children grow up in a sharing culture, then giving to others over the holidays becomes a cherished tradition they will remember throughout their lives.  Don't expect youngsters to give up presents, but add efforts like serving food or choosing gifts for a local shelter, giving a tangible gift like a goat or hen, or sponsoring a child's education in another country.  When looking for presents you can wrap up with a bow, shop together through on-line catalogues with a charitable mission.  It feels good to do good.

Opening up our holidays with the gifts of the world can serve as an enriching, yet simple and budget-friendly way to instill good cheer, lasting memories and deeper ties within and across all kinds of families, near and far.