Thursday, December 18, 2014

Gather 'round the Tree

This time of year you know you are going to be spending a lot of time with family, usually several generations at once.  Instead of everyone sitting in their chair using their cell phones, I've been really focused on finding ways for everyone to connect with each other over the holidays.  Here are some of my favorite activity ideas so far to bring your family together this holiday.

1) Sugar Cookie Decorating
Some people can make these via

This is a classic stand by for a way to get a crowd together.  Just be prepared for a mess.  Even baking the sugar cookies -- rolling out the dough and using cookie cutters can be fun for small children.  And then when it is time for decorating, just let the group go at it.  If your family is competitive you can even have prizes for best decoration, most creative, etc.  Or you can guess who made which cookie.  The most important thing to remember if you want people to have fun with this activity is you can't be a clean freak in the kitchen.  Let the mess happen; clean it up when everyone has moved on to another room,


Or it might turn out like this.  Either way, the only goal is having fun. via

2) Serial Podcast

If you have an older crowd I can't recommend this more.  Sarah Koenig from NPR's This American Life has a series of podcasts exploring a murder that may have wrongfully put a teenager in jail for a life sentence.  The last episode is posted tomorrow, so you would have the complete story to listen to over the holidays if you are the type that knocks out hours of obsession-worthy stories in one sitting. My husband have been sitting on the couch together after dinner for the past week or so listening to every podcast and it is just like sitting around a radio must have been for our parents and grandparent's generation.  Even though you are individually listening to the story, there is something about this form of media that is so much more communal than watching TV or a movie.  I can't say that this material is exactly Christmas-like, and definitely would be not appropriate for young children, but after the kids go to bed, your family may really enjoy delving into this true story and the discussions that it inspires afterwards as you go over the details and the facts together.  Check out the free podcasts here.

3) Watch a Classic (preferably with sing along action)
Meet Me in St Louis has some great Christmas classics!  via
There is nothing like bringing back a classic if you have grandparents and young children in the same room.  TCM will definitely deliver this holiday season, but some of my favorite classic movies that stand the test of time are:
Meet Me in St Louis
Wizard of Oz
Mary Poppins
You can count on these movies to bring back childhood memories for the older members of your family, and inspire new memories in the younger kids.  If in doubt, a good rule of thumb is to pick a movie the oldest person in your family would have grown up with.  The only way they will be entertained is if they can associate with the film, so don't pop in a recent cartoon and expect the grandparents not to complain or find something else to do.

4) Story Telling
Don't you just want to sit around this tree for hours? via

Ok this idea might not sound fun for everyone but it can really be tailored for your group.   If you have young kids, why not turn the lights down, change into your Christmas PJs, and just let the glow from the tree and maybe a lamp or candle or two light the room.  Hot chocolate is also a plus.  Then let the adults take turns either reading their favorite Christmas books or telling their favorite fairy tale in a circle.  It is interesting to let people tell their own version of a story that we all know -- what details do they leave out?  What do they put in?  Story telling can actually be fun for the adults that way.  Voices and other shenanigans are encouraged.
If you don't have young kids, telling family stories is another great way to sit around the table after a meal or enjoying a nightcap together (do young people say this?  I'm old at heart).  Do you know how your grandparents met?  Their childhood stories?  These kind of stories are family heirlooms!  My grandmother was an A+ story teller growing up and now that she has passed I find myself desperately clinging to the memories of those family stories that she shared.  I feel like she was the lifeline to my family history, illustrating those names of your family tree with faces and lives.  You may not realize it now, but this oral history is something that you will pass on to your own children one day too, so don't miss a chance to learn the past that makes up your family's own personal story book!

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