I love this time of year. It’s cool outside, it’s getting dark earlier and earlier, the festive lights are going up along the streets — such a lovely time of year to get cosy inside and a great time of year to establish rituals in your family. (Apologies to those in warmer climates – I’m guessing your rituals will involve more sunshine instead!)
Rituals are a large part of human history. They have to do with your culture, your time and place in history. So let’s take a look at creating rituals in our families, specifically towards the end of the year, the festive season.
I don’t know about you but I’m keen to show my family that the festive season is not just a commercial holiday. But one for being close with our family. To show each other we care. To show appreciation. And to make memories together.
Rituals are very important for young children and are likely to be those things that they will look back fondly on. Do you remember things about the festive season when you were growing up? Was it something you ate? Was it a crazy aunt who used to sing songs to the family? Was it making presents for each other?
These memories are so strong. And today we can think about the kind of rituals we would like to build with our families.
Types of holiday rituals to try
Here are some different types of rituals you might consider adding in to the mix:
For me, there is not much better than getting sticky fingers and making gingerbread men together (recipe here). Also make great gifts.
Having the children to help set the table for your special meal, cooking seasonal favourites, and enjoying a meal together will make the festive days memorable.
Calling (or skyping) grandparents to keep in touch. Children can learn to say thank you for gifts, ask others how they have celebrated etc.
We have a ritual of adding a new Christmas decoration to the tree each year. It’s becoming an eclectic collection with lots of fun memories where we found each one.
Involve children in donating some old toys or clothes for charity.
Make cards together with your children. Stamping, footprints, or gluing together a seasonal picture will delight family and friends.
Which one to celebrate?
There are many celebrations happening at this time of year – Chanukah, Sinterklaas and Christmas, just to name a few. We celebrate a bit of all three.
Where you have parents with different traditions, it is an opportunity to incorporate the best of these and make new rituals for your families.
Rituals in our home
1. Advent calendar
One ritual we love in our house is the advent calendar. You can find some lovely advent calendars to buy, but I prefer a handmade version.
The easiest version of this is to buy some small craft envelopes and write the numbers 1 to 24 on them. Inside slip a piece of paper with a special activity written on it for your children to reveal each morning.
In wintery climates like here in Amsterdam, ours is filled with cosy ideas like:
* snuggling under the blanket with books
* making hot chocolate with marshmallows
* going for an evening walk to see the festive lights
* choosing a Christmas film
* making some decorations for the Christmas tree
* hanging a seed ball for the birds
* going iceskating
* doing some festive crafts together
You can be flexible with the calendar too. If there is some snow, I can quickly change the slip to say “build a snowman”. Or if we have an unexpected visitor, I might change it to “go for a walk with Aunty Rose”.
Here is another version of an advent calendar I made. This one I sewed some festive bunting and stitched a felt pocket to the outside of each.
You can find even more fun ideas here.
2. Light the candles
It is so nice to celebrate diverse religions. There is something magical about a menorah. My kids love to light the candles each night. There is the head candle which lights one candle the first night, two on the second, right through to eight on the last night.
We try to sing “Ma’oz Tzur” using the transliteration here.
Living in The Netherlands and with kids at Dutch school, we enjoy a low-key version of Sinterklaas too. My favourite part is Pakjesavond. It translates to “present evening” but as the gifts are usually a bit of fun and limited to a budget of €5 or €10, it mostly comes down to creativity.
The first year we lived in the Netherlands, we were invited to another family’s house to celebrate together. We thought it was such a kind gesture that we have done the same since, inviting newcomers to Amsterdam to join in our little celebration.
The night of 5 December is when young children would get a knock on the door and there would be a sack of presents for them. Our kids received a Dutch book and a board game to share and they thought that was fun.
Now we enjoy the Dutch ritual of “surprise maken” – making surprise presents. The idea is to buy a small present but then disguise it as something else. We’ve made a camera and hidden inside some chocolate for dad; we’ve made Eiffel Towers and croissants for French friends and hidden their present inside. It is a lot of silly fun.
Here is Oliver with a giant “surprise” sushi with a little present tucked inside. That’s real rice stuck on top!
4. Christmas Day traditions
For us, this is the main celebration of the festive season. The main focus is on a super tasty lunch with things we love like Yorkshire puddings and some chocolate pudding. The smells in the house are unique to this time of year and it’s so fun to dress up a little and eat Christmas lunch together.
The kids open presents from family after lunch, then a late afternoon walk. And then the rest of the day we are pretty mellow.
I find this time of year so enjoyable with my family. I love that friends weave in and out of these festivities too, but each year I try to keep it simpler and simpler. And enjoy it more and more.
You can of course create rituals at any time of year, for example, for the changing seasons, birthdays, Mother’s Day and Father’s Day.
I’m hoping my kids are treasuring these rituals we have created too. I can’t wait to hear all about yours.