To help kick off the holiday season, you can arrange for a secret visit from one of Santa’s chief elves, right after Thanksgiving. Kids return home from an outing to find that the elf came by while they were out, bringing them each a new ornament for the tree and an Advent chain to help them count down to Christmas. The elf also brings a letter from Mrs. Claus reminding them that Christmas is right around the corner and to continue with their good behavior. The girls count on the elf to stop by and are always eager to see their shiny new ornaments.
My sister was determined to stay in closer contact with my kids even though she lives in Oregon. Her fantastic idea accomplished that and took care of her Christmas gifts at the same time! She picked one theme per child, then gave each a “membership” to a made-up monthly club. Those were a horse-of-the-month club (a plastic pony, for instance, or stickers) and a surprise-of-the-month club (hair bands or rubber stamps). Every four weeks, the kids all put one of the vouchers my sister gave them (plus letters and photos) into a pre-addressed, stamped envelope (also supplied by my sister). Soon after, a small package arrives with a message and the promised goodies.
From Me to You
My family uses photographs to make gift tags for birthdays and holidays. First, we cut the face of the gift giver out of a photo and glue it to a cardstock tag. Then we decorate the card with stickers and a special message, laminate it, and punch a hole for a ribbon. This unique card allows the receiver to know who the gift giver is by just looking at it.
A few years ago, my older daughter Kelly needed a bit of extra encouragement to practice her newly learned reading skills. To help her out, and to foster her younger sister Cori’s love of books, I came up with a reading incentive program. I created a large paper Christmas tree to hang on the wall, and the girls made paper ornaments for it. For each chapter or small early reader book Kelly read, she printed the name of the book on an ornament and taped the ornament to the tree. Kelly earned his bread by having his father or me read a book to her. We counted the ornaments each week, and whoever had the most got to put her own star at the top of the tree.
After six weeks, the girls were very excited about their total of 110 ornaments on the tree. You can do the same a few weeks before the Christmas and make the finale on Christmas. What an accomplishment for them!
I like Christmas sweatshirts. But last year, instead of buying them or dealing with fabric paint or iron-on, my family tried a no-mess decorating method. We started with shirts we already had. We used adhesive craft felt (available at craft stores for approximately $1.50 per sheet) to create our own holiday expressions. My daughters drew their own designs and greetings on the felt (we traced cookie cutters for some shapes), cut them out, and affixed them to the garments. The sweatshirts held up for many days of festivities, and after the holidays we peeled off the decorations for good.
Our family tries to avoid the often frantic pace of the holidays by celebrating the “Twelve Days of Christmas” rather than just one. We still have big dinners on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. We open presents from Santa on the 25th, but we save the rest of our gift opening and visiting for the next 12 days. The kids love it because they get more than just one night of Christmas. And since the presents are spread out, each one is appreciated, not lost in a pile of other gifts.
Even some stickers and a new hair bow are exciting when opened one at a time. We spend more time together as a family, and holiday visits to all of our friends and relatives are much easier since we now have 12 days in which to see everyone. For the 12th day, January 6 (the Epiphany, or Three Kings Day), we don robes and cardboard crowns. Then we go door-to-door singing “We Three Kings” and bearing homemade cookies.
My family and I have come up with an easy, inexpensive, and lasting way to celebrate the moments of our lives. We mark special times like birthdays, the beginning of school, and holidays by making pillowcases out of festively patterned material. You may have pillowcases covered with Easter eggs, basketballs, and rodeo cowboys. We even made a vivid green one crawling with brightly colored lizards to mark our kid’s intense interest in reptiles. They think it’s a fabulous treat to sleep on their unique pillowcases, and we are constantly reminded of some wonderful times.
Facing a long road trip at Christmas time, I came up with a solution that would entertain my daughters. I wrapped our holiday gifts in plain white paper and let them decorate with crayons and markers as we traveled. They stayed busy and had fun, and the recipients loved the wrapping.
The holidays have become so commercial that my husband and I are concerned that our daughters will grow up without understanding the true spirit of the season. To remedy this, we stick slips of paper in our Advent calendar box that list different generous acts, such as baking cookies for the local retirement home, shoveling a walkway for someone who can’t, or taking unwanted clothes or toys to a homeless shelter. During the month before Christmas, the girls open the door of our calendar each day to find an ornament to place on the tree and a giving idea. Most of these ideas cost nothing but time. Doing them together as a family helps the girls focus on giving and not just getting.
I thought of a few fun ways to use the extra squash from our garden to decorate for the holidays. In preparation for Halloween, I made ghosts by spraypainting a few of the squash white and adding faces with black paint. I made some turkeys for Thanksgiving with some of the most colorful squashes. I pushed a few real feathers into their backs and glued on construction paper eyes, beaks, wattles, feet, and hats. As Christmas approached, I made a snowman by turning around the white ghosts and gluing on construction paper eyes, noses, mouths, and buttons. I pushed the sticks into the side for arms and glued on red fabric scarves and mittens. They’re all so cute and easy to make, and our holiday guests love them.
A Handy Wreath
I’m always looking for easy, economical gifts that my daughters can make for the important people in their lives. These handmade wreaths were the perfect project. To make one, I folded and sewed the top few inches of a piece of muslin, making a pocket large enough to slide a stick through. Next, I used a pencil to draw a faint circle in the middle of the material, painted my kids’ palms with different shades of green fabric paint. I had them stamp their hands around the circle. After the handprint wreath had dried, we painted red holly berries on the green leaves and painted on a bow. To complete the gift, I pushed a small branch through the sewn pocket and tied a piece of ribbon to the ends for hanging. Everyone had fun making the wreaths, and the recipients were thrilled.
We wanted to make my younger daughter’s teacher a special gift for the holidays. Inspired by “A Family Tree Skirt,” we had the kids in her class contribute to making a handprint-angel tree skirt. We used the idea, covering the dress with the children’s handprints. But then we turned each print into an angel by painting a head with a face and halo and adding two more handprints for the wings. This was the perfect gift to help her teacher remember her class.
No Assembly Required
I wanted last Christmas to be fun and relaxed for the whole family. I didn’t want my daughters to be disappointed by toys they couldn’t play with right away because they needed batteries or assembly, or just took forever to get out of the box! So starting a few weeks before the big event, I picked a few toys a day to “unpackage”. I untwisted those annoying ties, added batteries, and assembled anything that needed to be put together before wrapping them all. On Christmas day, my daughters got the pleasure of immediately playing with their gifts. My husband, and I got just to sit back and enjoy the moment.
When our family takes its nightly stroll to enjoy the Christmas lights and decorations in our neighborhood, we arm ourselves with a flashlight, a pen, and a stack of blank postcards. Whenever we see a particularly festive home, we jot down the address on a postcard with a short note thanking the homeowner for treating us to such a fantastic display. Back home, our daughters decorate the fronts of the cards before we slip them into the mail anonymously. It’s a fun way to thank our neighbors for their beautiful displays.
Last year, my daughters grew their own tiny Christmas trees. We soaked pinecones in water for a few minutes, then packed them with potting soil and plenty of grass seed. We placed the pinecones in plastic containers with a bit of water, set them in the sun, and sprayed them daily with a plant mister. After two weeks, we had little green trees.
When we send Christmas cards, each member of our family signs his or her name on every card. A couple of years ago, our older daughter wanted to take part in this tradition. At that age, however, she could not sign the 100-plus cards we usually send. I had her write her name on a piece of paper and took it to a local office supply store to have it made into a rubber stamp (less than $5). She stamped every card and was so proud to see her name alongside her sisters’. (We reused the stamp in February for all of those Valentine’s.) We have been doing this for four years now and have dated all the stamps so Kelly can see how her handwriting has developed.
Last year, we came up with the perfect Christmas gift for my mother-in-law, who lives out of town: the Artwork of the Month Club. Our daughters each decorated their own 9- by 13-inch magnetic acrylic frame with paint pens and stickers. We then wrapped each frame with a note welcoming her to the club. Not only did their grandmother get a gift for Christmas, but each month we mailed her a new set of artwork to display.
My kids and I created a special spot for their letters to Santa. We decorated a paper towel tube and attached a length of elastic string to the ends. They place rolled-up thank-you notes to Santa in the tube, which we hang by the fireplace on Christmas Eve. So he’s certain not to miss it and sure thing, the next morning, the letters are gone!
When my daughter, Kelly, was six years old, we struggled to come up with a holiday gift she could make. At her age, she was old enough to want to make presents for family members on her own but too young to spend very long on each individual present. We decided to try making bookmarks. Kelly used her safety scissors to cut sheets of colored construction paper into short strips. Then she decorated each of them with drawings and her initials. Together we traced the pictures with glue and sprinkled multicolored glitter over them. Finally, we had our bookmarks laminated at a copy store. She was very proud of her creations, and our relatives loved their handmade placeholders! The bookmarks were fun, inexpensive, and meaningful gifts for our little artist to make.
Picture on Picture
About this time each year, many of our local businesses give away free calendars. We can’t possibly use all of them ourselves. Last year we found a way to put them to good use. We assigned our daughters for different months, for which they created pictures and designs using paint, markers, construction paper, and the like. I then glued their pictures over each of the photos in the calendars. We sent our creations off as Christmas gifts to relatives, who were then able to enjoy the kids’ artwork every day of the year.
Each year after Christmas, our Camp Fire group runs a request in our school newsletter asking for old Christmas or other greeting cards. The response is always fantastic! When the holidays come around again, we recycle the cards by cutting off the fronts and gluing them to sheets of construction paper that we’ve folded in half. We write our greetings inside and deliver the cards to a local care home, the Veterans of Foreign Wars, and the veterans’ hospital. We all have a lot of fun and for some money are able to bring smiles to so many peoples’ faces. This year, our goal is to make and deliver 2,000 cards to people in our community.
All Things Santa Claus
Who’s the most popular guy this season? Santa Claus! Browse our collection of Santa recipes, crafts, printables and more! Ho, ho, ho on over to our Christmas coloring pages and activity sheets after you check out all of our Santa projects.
Cook up some classic Christmas recipes this season! From tasty turkey dinners and easy side dishes to delectable desserts and fun cookie treats, discover tons of recipes for the entire family. Don’t forget to visit our recipes section for more creative ideas.