Leave signs of Santa's visit
There's no bigger Christmas mystery than Santa's existence, so drop enough clues to help your children keep the faith. Mom Beth Shepherd leaves crumbs everywhere, even on the gifts – Santa loves his cookies, after all – as evidence of the Jolly Old Elf's presence. And since her family lives in Florida, she leaves sand by the door outside, as if Santa tracked it there.
Give traditions your own twist
Hanukkah is usually celebrated at sundown over a period of eight days, but Julie Tilsner's family has found a way to observe it at sun-up, too. Tilsner makes special little Hanukkah bags and fills them with small gifts for her two children. "We place them by the menorah and they run to find them in the morning when they wake up," she says. "It's our own take on the holiday."
Reuse the stuff of holidays past
Jill Weiner's family taps into the joy and wonder of past get-togethers by digging out the previous winter's place cards. Visitors design their own cards for the Christmas table, which are kept for future use. "Aside from writing names, we also draw pictures" – a broom stick for the neat freak or flowers for the avid gardener – "that describe what guests do or who they are," Weiner says. The cards, which are dated, serve as a record of each party. She adds: "A lot of times they get food on them and you remember what was served!"
Surprise the youngsters
The holidays are all about surprise, of course, but some parents take it a step further. Mom Kaylene Karras creates a mini scavenger hunt on Christmas morning for her 5-year-old son and 1-year-old daughter. "I have two ornaments that they open, and inside are clues to where to find their big presents," she explains. "Usually, we wake up and open presents and it's crazy and over so fast. This draws it out and makes it mysterious, too."
Channel your childhood
If holidays past were particularly jolly, take inspiration from them to make your season bright. Bonnie Tibbets still remembers the personal visits that "Santa" – actually her father or grandfather – made when she was a little girl. "Santa would arrive right before we went to bed to give us a single gift," she recalls. Now, she and her friends recruit their husbands to don Santa's red suit at an annual party. The kids love it, and with so many people around, there's little chance that they'll notice that one of the dads is missing.
Let kids take the spotlight
In Olive Thaler's family, the youngest child who can read – or at least recognize names – gets the enviable task of passing out presents. This year it'll be 5-year-old Julia. "Whoever it is just loves it," Thaler says. "On Christmas, it's always 'What am I getting?' and this way, for that child, it's also about the big honor."
Mom Kaylene Karras says that focusing on gift-giving – rather than receiving – makes the season much more wonderful and meaningful for her kids. At her church, Karras says, families pick names of needy families from a Christmas tree. "We take a lot of care buying presents for them, and make a big deal of wrapping them up and giving them away," she says. "It's always magical."
Bend the rules
Children spend so much time learning how to behave appropriately that it's a special, exciting treat to let loose, says mom Susan Avery. "They're always being told to keep quiet," she says. "But on New Year's Eve I give my daughter a big pot and tell her to make as much noise as she wants."
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Thanks for sharing!