Do you long for a simpler, more meaningful Christmas this year? Are you tired of the stress and commercialism of the holidays? Gifts From The Heart: 500 Simple Ways To Make Your Family's Christmas More Meaningful by Virginia Brucker (Insomniac Press, 2006) offers 20 chapters chock-full of useful tips, traditions, recipes, crafts and other resources to help you make your holiday more meaningful. Twenty-five per cent of the proceeds of the book will be donated to research funded by the Canadian Cancer Society.
The following is excerpted from the book.
The gift of giving
Organize a warm coat collection. Do any necessary mending and wash or dry-clean the coats. You may find a local dry cleaner will volunteer to do them for free. (If so, make a large poster thanking the cleaner for his/her help to be displayed in their window. Perhaps their customers will bring in more coats!) Publicize your coat drive in the local newspaper. When the coats are ready to be distributed, tuck some warm mittens or gloves and a Christmas treat in each pocket, and donate your collection to a local shelter, The Salvation Army, a preschool or needy school.
Host a "giving party" where children or teens get together and make cookies, small gifts, ornaments or cards to give away.
Volunteering as a family
Donate items your family has outgrown such as a crib, bedding, baby clothes, or baby toys along with some baby food or diapers to a local shelter.
Make craft kits with the instructions and materials necessary for the holiday project. Wrap the top and bottom of a shoebox separately to put the items in, and donate the kits to the children's ward of your local hospital.
Get your car serviced in November so that you don't have to worry when travelling over the holidays.
Plan some activities like skating, tobogganing, or outdoor walks to collect evergreens for wreaths. Exercise helps minimize stress. Your children will enjoy the time with you, and will be better behaved if they are using up some of that extra energy
The gift of gratitude
Show your children that little pleasures such as sipping hot chocolate while reading a good story together are to be savored. They will learn to appreciate everyday joys.
Speak positively of your friends and family in front of your children. They are more likely to become kind, appreciative people if you do.
Fighting the 'gimmies'
Let your children buy their toys with part of their allowance. Kids become smart shoppers fast if they are spending their own money.
When your children ask for something, acknowledge their wish. "Wouldn't that be nice? Let's add it to your list." Closer to Christmas, ask them to highlight the three items they really want.
The gift of tradition
If you are having a family gift exchange, you'll enjoy this game. Each family member brings a gift that costs less than $5. It should be suitable for any member of the family. One person reads The Night Before Christmas aloud. Every time he or she reads the word "the," everyone passes his or her gift to the person on the right. At the end of the story, each person opens the last gift they were passed.
Invite friends to a wreath- or cookie-making session each year.
When your children are a little older, write a family poem or song each Christmas. Use the tune from a song everyone knows, like "Jingle Bells." Keep a copy for your scrapbook or put it on tape.
Oh Christmas tree
Some "tree traditions" to consider:
Sing the same carol in front of the tree after you've turned on the lights for the first time.
Let children have their own tiny Christmas tree in their room to decorate as they wish. Use some shiny gold garland rather than electric lights.
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Tape your children reading a Christmas story. Add to the tape each year.
Take a picture under this year's tree to include in next year's card.
Write a letter or make a tape for your husband or wife. Tell them why you love and appreciate them. Wrap it up in a big red bow -- it will be their best present!
Christmas and divorce
Give your children what may be the best gift of all. Either say positive things about their other parent or say nothing at all.
Be sensitive to your children's moods and needs. If both households are trying to fit in lots of activities, there may be too much excitement. Choose calming activities: read together, bake cookies, go for walks, and play board games.
Celebrating Christmas with a blended family
Spend the same amount on gifts for each child. Make sure that the number of gifts children receive is also as even as possible. Children are quick to spot unfairness.
Help the children make or buy gifts for each other.
Comfort and joy
It is when we are ill that we are most in need of comfort, and of reassurance that our friends, despite the busyness of Christmas, have not forgotten us... If someone you know is very ill, don't delay -- think of something appropriate to do, and then do it!
Sometimes there are great financial hardships associated with illness. Find out discreetly if your friend or family member needs help; if so, arrange to pay their electrical, phone or heating bill anonymously.
Phone and ask if you can do some shopping for them at the mall.
Give the caregiver a gift certificate for a massage, a soothing bath basket, a book you know they'll enjoy or their favorite treat.
An animal lover's Christmas
Does your area have a wildlife recovery center? They are great places for family field trips. You may find you want to volunteer there. They also need many of the items requested by animal shelters.
Pet shelters report they are always in need of these items: cat litter, dog food, dry cat chow, paper towels, Kleenex, bathroom tissue, bleach, canned cat food, dog leashes, dog and cat toys, animal carriers, collars, leashes, office supplies, towels and blankets, garbage bags and postage stamps. If you are able to give any of these supplies or cash, it will be greatly appreciated. Call ahead to see exactly what is needed. Take your chiild with you when you drop off your donation.
The gift of a green planet
Take the kids for a walk or hike outside during your holiday. Look at the wildlife or stars. Reflect on the miracles of nature.
Give gifts that will last. Visit local craft fairs; you'll find lots of high quality items made from wood, stained glass, or hand-woven materials.
Use your extra photos as gift tags -- the recipients will love them!
Celebrating with books
If you want a book that will encourage your children to consider the needs of the homeless but is sensitively written for youngsters, try Natalie Savage Carlson's The Family Under the Bridge. Afterwards, think of a family project that will help the homeless in your community.
Host a book trading party for children or adults. Ask each guest to bring several books to trade.
Remembering seniors at Christmas
Make arrangements to drop off and pick up a neighbour who no longer drives when you go shopping.
Phone an elderly neighbor just to say hello on a regular basis.
With love from Grandma and Grandpa
Teach kids to bake. Kids of all ages enjoy cooking. If you don't, use frozen cookie dough and decorate the cookies together. The memories and time together are more important than the recipes.
Phone on the first snowy day and ask if anyone would like to come for a hot chocolate and a snowman building session. If you can't be together, make up a snowman kit with some buttons, a scarf, a hat, and some twigs for arms. Mail it to your grandchildren early in December.
Sharing the joy of cooking
If you have been involved in making a cookbook at work or school, order extra copies to give your children when they are older.
Give a child a set of cookie cutters, an apron, and a cookbook. Add a coupon indicating how many cooking sessions you will help them with.
Pick up the book for 410 other ways to make your family's Christmas more meaningful. There are 40 pages of instructions for kid-tested crafts, and handmade gifts, cards and wrap.
Copyright 2006 by Virginia Brucker. Virginia Brucker is the author of Gifts from the Heart: Simple Ways to Make Your Family's Christmas More Meaningful. Book sales support cancer research. To date, over $98,500 has been raised for the Canadian Cancer Society. A newly revised and expanded edition of Gifts from the Heart is available at bookstores across Canada.
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