When we began homeschooling four years ago, I had many reasons for wanting to embark on the journey, but one thing motivated me above all else, and that is the notion of togetherness. I wanted our family to be together—for my girls to grow up as each other’s best friends; for their formative years to be guided by generations of family wisdom; and for a childhood rooted in truth, beauty, and goodness.
At no time of year is this virtue more evident than during winter, when we all retreat indoors, searching for light, cheer, and warmth to fill the short days. This season naturally lends itself to tradition as we find ourselves returning year after year to those activities that bring us joy.
In our home, every December, our regular lessons slow almost to a halt as all things Christmas take over. We fill our days with songs and books and baking and handicrafts. Our homeschool becomes overwhelmingly holiday school. Even our “core” subjects succumb—there are Christmas-Around-the-World units for geography, holiday STEM projects, and Christmas-themed math-centered escape rooms. I am a firm believer that education is everywhere if you just look for it: math in baking cookies; language in writing stories; science in the cold, frosty outdoors.
As a quintessential enneagram 7—“the enthusiast”—I have a hard time reining in my excitement over all things holiday-related at any time of the year, but Christmastime just boosts me up to full enthrallment. Never one to miss out on anything remotely fun, I am all about holiday traditions. Our family does the conventional chocolate advent calendars and gingerbread houses. We dutifully sit on Santa’s lap and watch The Nutcracker and visit the train gardens. Our “elf” shows up promptly on December 1st whether I’m ready for it or not. We are ALL IN. But over the last few years, I’ve tried to redirect the focus to simpler, more meaningful traditions—away from commercialism and toward what really matters to our little family.
Here are a few traditions we’ve established that will be sticking around for years to come.
Handmade gifts, together
At the beginning of the season—way back in November—we sit down and brainstorm gifts we can make together. Then, during the weeks to follow, I carve out a chunk of time most days to devote to family crafting. We put on a holiday audiobook or Christmas carols and make a big batch of gifts to send to friends and family. I’ve found that it’s easier for kids to do the same craft project as a group, rather than trying to make different, individual handmade gifts, so I look for items that can be made by all ages. Ideas along these lines include: blocks of handmade soap that can be divided and packaged individually, dipped candles, hand-sewn lavender sachets or hand warmers, watercolor bookmarks, and crocheted dish cloths. This year we are trying our hand at homemade woven baskets!
A picture book a day
This idea has been circulating for years, but it is such a simple, sweet tradition. We follow the advent-calendar format, where we pull out a new book every day and start our mornings reading together. Even my oldest loves this routine because she gets to experience the nostalgia of old favorites. Tip for the taking: rather than hand wrapping each book, consider purchasing a package of blank muslin bags and numbering them with Sharpie. Quick and easy.
Pre-planned Christmas activity calendars, including acts of kindness
Rather than just making a giant bucket list of Christmas activities, I assign two activities to each day of December—one for our “fun calendar” (with activities like a Christmas-themed family game night, a bedroom-door-decorating contest, spending the night next to the tree, and a holiday dance party) and one for our “kindness calendar” (think shopping for the local food bank, sending cards to soldiers and nursing homes, making blankets for the animal shelter, and taking treats to neighbors). Having activities already planned out for each day helps to minimize stress and feelings of being overwhelmed.
Christmas Eve family program
As soon as Thanksgiving is over, we start planning our annual Christmas Eve program. This has become our favorite tradition and is a time not only for family togetherness but also for my girls to showcase all they’ve been working on over the past few months. We have poetry recitations, piano/violin/guitar recitals, lots of carols, puppet shows, dance performances, art exhibits, and my favorite: a Christmas production. Last year the we did the nativity, and this year we’re going to attempt to do Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol” with just three parts and a narrator. The girls make and offer refreshments, and the whole event gives them a sense of accomplishment. The evening is beautiful and funny, and it manifests togetherness, family, and tradition.
Which brings me back to where I started: the importance of being together. Our children are not going to look back and remember perfectly constructed gingerbread houses or elaborate crafts. They will remember the times sitting and laughing and telling stories while gathered with their families. Traditions can be as simple as singing a Christmas song before bed each night or reading a chapter from a holiday book aloud every morning at the breakfast table. All that matters is family and togetherness. Peace be with you all during this lovely holiday season.
Editor’s Note: This article first appeared in our 2021 Charmed Holidays Guide. Photos by Jennifer Solomon.