How to make the holidays truly wondrous for kids

Dec 14, 2018
I stood in the kitchen, mouth open and heart breaking. My 14-year-old son had just asked to bail from holiday carol singing. It was a tradition he’d adored since toddlerhood.

“I’m tired,” shrugged Derrick. “I’ve just finished a crazy few weeks at school.” And then came the final punch, the blow that sent this mom to the bathroom in tears. “There’s a new Netflix series I want to watch.”

Could this really be happening? Since Derrick was eight weeks old, he’s been captivated by the spirit of the holiday season. I recall him staring up at the lights that first Christmas, eyes wide with wonder.

With all he’d been exposed to this past year – the peer pressure, school deadlines, and the endless demands of life on social media – I realized I’d been counting on the holidays to recharge my kid’s depleted battery. 

I’d been counting on the holidays to restore a sense of wonder in his life. 

Keeping the wonder in Christmas 

Lighting up Derrick’s face again was not rocket science. I felt certain a new iPad would do the trick. And as I sat through those carols without my son, feeling dead inside, I considered whether we could afford one.

I told my husband and younger son I’d like to walk home alone. I breathed in the cold air. As the snow started falling, I had a bit of a revelation. 

Real wonder isn’t about trees loaded with tinsel, or piles of expensive presents. Since the beginning of time, magic has been found in surprises of all kinds. In time spent together. In beloved traditions and new adventures alike. 

That Christmas, and in the years since, I discovered ways to experience holiday wonder with my kids, without abandoning traditions or breaking the bank. 

Here are 7 ideas to try: 

1.    Give your kids a chance to unwind. No child can feel joy on cue, especially after a busy December. Let them sleep in. Delay that family visit for a day. And yes, give them space to relax with their technology.

2.    Embrace wonder yourself. What’s wondrous for you? Pursue it, no matter who else comes along. Your kids will feel your joy, as you bake your favorite cookies or sing along with carols on the radio. It can be highly contagious.  

3.    Start a holiday Instagram page. Rather than fighting about technology through the holidays, why not start a family page? Invite kids to snap and post pictures of whatever festive things they see. Don’t forget to comment on their posts! 

4.    Make new friends. My kids loved the year we invited a refugee family to dinner and enjoyed teaching them about our traditions. What about the new family at your kids’ school? The elderly neighbor who always seems a little lonely? 

5.    Start a new tradition. Perhaps it’s swapping weeknight dinner for pizza by the fire. Or skating on Christmas Eve, then warming up with a hot chocolate with friends. Ask your kids what they would plan, then give it a go.

6.    Change a life together. Help them see what wonder looks like for a kid in a developing country. The World Vision Gift Catalogue is a favorite with Canadian kids, choosing gifts in honour of their teachers or coaches. Imagine lighting up the face of a child overseas – with a goat or piglets! 

7.    Don’t forget New Years! Kids have had plenty of time to unwind by December 31st – and likely had plenty of screen time. Plan a special meal or get-together with friends. Make it early so older kids can still head out afterward.

You may be surprised at how much more wondrous the holidays feel – not just for your kids, but for you, too!