"The best of all gifts around any Christmas tree: the presence of a happy family all wrapped up in each other." –Burton Hillis (Better Homes and Gardens)
With the approach of Christmas, this week is the perfect time to slow down a bit and enjoy some family fun. The following are a few of my favorite activities to share with my children and friends during the holiday season.
Tour the Christmas Lights: Many cities have organized areas of town where an emphasis is placed on decorating and Christmas lights. In our hometown of Fresno, the most famous area to tour Christmas lights is "Christmas Tree Lane". The lane offers "walking nights" when this busy thoroughfare is closed to automobile traffic and families are free to stroll the lane and enjoy the lights. At least once every December, our family piles into the car with blankets, hot chocolate, snacks and a good Christmas CD. We take a tour of neighborhoods that are known for their enthusiasm for Christmas lights. At the end of the evening, we always vote on our "favorite" house decorations and enjoy returning home to the glow of our own home, ablaze in a wash of Christmas lights.
Cookie Exchange: Gathering with friends to exchange cookies has become a traditional part of my Christmas celebration. To prepare for this annual gathering, I carefully choose a cookie recipe, test it on my sons (willing subjects), bake four to six dozen cookies and get together with friends. We all sample each others' recipes and every participant returns home with a platter of many different types of cookies and recipes for each. I always have intentions of sharing the spoils of these cookie exchanges with my neighbors, but they rarely make it out of my house. A great variation on this theme is to invite children to do a cookie exchange or to have a cookie decorating party using pre-baked sugar cookies.
Christmas Concerts: One of our favorite ways to prepare for Christmas is to take in a Christmas concert. At this time of the year, concerts are plentiful and festive. From local symphonies to youth choirs to street performers, you can find great music in a variety of places and at relatively inexpensive prices. Musical families may want to consider inviting friends for a family "jam night" where Christmas tunes are shared and friendships are rekindled.
Christmas Pageants: Very few things warm my heart as much as my sons' annual school Christmas pageant. We make the most of this traditional celebration, dressing up for the occasion and going out afterwards for a celebratory hot chocolate "nightcap". Many area churches and schools feature Christmas pageants and programs and freely invite the community, so this can be an inexpensive way to help your children visualize the "reason for the season".
Living Nativities: Another wonderful way to help your little ones recognize the true meaning of Christmas is to attend a "living nativity". These range in size and scope from small displays of a few actors and petting zoo types of animals to large drive-through scenes complete with costumes, sets and live animals. Many living nativities are free of charge and supported through donations, so be sure to contribute if you enjoy your experience.
Regardless of the type of observance you choose, take time during this busy holiday season to relax and enjoy being with your family and friends. We can all get so wrapped up in the business of shopping and decorating that we neglect to just spend time having fun with our families. As my own boys grow into young men, I am learning that nothing is more important than spending time enjoying our life as a family.