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How Do You Make Christmas Special for Kids Without It Being About the Presents?

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This question originally appeared on Quora.
Answer by Alecia Li Morgan, Mother of Three Christmas Cheer-Full Little Boys

Create traditions that are fun and not about "getgetget":

  • Drive around looking at Christmas lights and listening to Christmas music. See if anywhere around you is famous for their lights or if there are any special light displays. (For example, in the South Bay, California, there's 14th Annual Fantasy of Lights at Vasona Park - awesome.)
  • Focus on giving. Participate in gift donations through work/church/school/Starbucks/anywhere that's doing it. It's especially fun if you do the kind where you choose to sponsor a family and fulfill their wish lists, or choose children near your children's ages, so they can Christmas shop for things to give. It makes it more real for them when they can easily relate, especially if they are young. Our four year old had a GREAT time this past weekend picking gifts for the three kids we picked off the Christmas giving tree at our church.
  • Focus on service. If your kids are old enough to help, volunteer at a soup kitchen, crisis shelter, or even just helping sort donations at your church/school/etc.
  • Plan event days: Christmas Cookie Baking Day (Ours was yesterday!), Christmas Movie Pajama-and-Cocoa Party Day, etc. Create fun traditions that your kids will love and keep up with their own families some day.
  • Find holiday festivals to attend or go ice skating. Do awesome winter-themed activities. Go to the Nutcracker (if you think your kids might enjoy it, otherwise, skiiiip it!) or other Christmas shows and plays.
  • Involve presents in small ways - have them help you Christmas shop for each other, focusing on what they think will make the other the most happy, etc. This is a great way to build empathy and foster the joy of giving. To this day, my favorite part of all holidays is buying and giving gifts. I like getting gifts, but I LOVE picking and giving them.
  • Sing lots of carols together. Make some up. Dance.
  • Make a rule that you won't fight at all on Christmas Eve/Day. You'd be surprised how pleasant that makes the day, even if you (parents) are the only ones who can keep to this strictly. It's a great day to remind yourself of how you can sound sometimes to your kids (Yelling? Bossy? Etc - make Christmas about speaking only lovingly ... it sets the tone for the whole next year, awesome, and it helps put you on track again).
  • Make cards and decorations for local nursing or convalescent homes. Then deliver them in person (call ahead to make sure you'll be welcome and you know what to expect). This was very impactful for me as a child, and it's something I look forward to doing with my children. Sometimes, those people are literally dying for some attention and joy. It'll make you cry to see how happy they get over a visit from some young children singing or decorating with homemade crafts and ornaments.
  • Sponsor a tree at your local mall or Christmas in the Park sort of thing. Make the decorations yourselves and have a fabulous time coming up with ideas.
  • Make ornaments. Last year, we made homemade golden snitches (gold ornament ball, glittery ribbon "wings" glued on) to decorate our tree. Kids, even big ones, can get into the spirit if you pick a cool enough theme.

Whatever you do, just remember that you have to set the tone for it. Your attitude, your enthusiasm, and your example will be what defines your Christmas (or whatever other holiday) season. If you keep what's important in sight always, you will be teaching your kids to do the same.

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