What are your holiday “Rituals”?

I teach a parenting class on “Using the 3 R’s: Routine, Rituals, and Repetition” for creating brain and family connections. This is a great time of year to make your own family rituals, re-use some from your childhood, or use ours! While the goal of routine for kids is providing consistency, and therefore a sense of security, rituals are all about making authentic connections as you go about your routines. In a religious setting, rituals turn the ordinary into the sacred (crackers into the “body of Christ”, water into the power of the “Holy Spirit”). In our everyday lives, rituals also help to usher in sacred moments out of ordinary ones. They do this by connecting us with the spirit of another person through touch, through laughter, through song, through play. And what I learn over and over about the power of rituals is that they are not only good for the kids, they are good for me. They help me to see my kids in a positive light. They foster warm and fuzzy feelings. They give us “good things” at the end of the day.  I’d like to share with you some of the holiday “rituals” my family enjoys: simple traditions that connect us as a family, everyday things you can do to create meaningful moments in your daily routine this time of year. These are things you can do to re-connect even when things are “breaking down” with the \”Count-down\” list The carriage ride got cancelled, the cookies burned, the kids are fighting over the wrapping paper!  But it’s not too late to connect:

Mimi feeds Ellie last Christmas Eve

  • Lighting the Advent Candles. We keep a simple Advent wreath on our kitchen table, and light the candles one by
    one whenever we are sharing a family meal. It is another way to count down to Christmas, as you keep liturgical time with the candles. Advent means “waiting”, and there are 4 weeks of waiting and getting ready for Christmas, each week a different theme: Hope, Peace, Joy, and Love. 1. HOPE: believing that good things can happen. Pray for people in despair at this time of year. Talk about how you can be bringers of hope in the world. 2. Hold hands, and ask for PEACE in your home and in the world. Talk about how you can be peace-makers, draw a peace sign, and look for doves. 3.JOY: Sing “Joy to the World”, talk about what you makes joyful, and how you share joy with others. 4. LOVE: Give thanks for the people that share love with you, draw hearts, and talk about how you share love with each other and all of creation. CHRIST CANDLE: Finally, the white candle represents the birth of Jesus. (Not the coming of Santa, as Ellie said when we first got the wreath out, and talked about the 4 weeks of waiting for ???) You don’t have to subscribe to Jesus as your “Savior” to talk about the things he taught us by the way he lived: how to share hope, peace, joy, and love in the world. I believe that, regardless of your religious beliefs or lack of them, these are spiritual values and practices that anyone can embrace and make their own in their own way.\”Light One Candle\” song
  • Hang some Mistle-toe in a high-traffic area. Every time you catch your child or spouse near it, make a BIG deal about kissing them! (Great chance for the kids to see their parents being affectionate, too. Did you know a child’s emotional well-being depends more on the parents’ relationship  with each other than on their own relationship with the parent? YIKES!)
  • Christmas Questions around the table. In an effort to keep everyone at the table at mealtime for more than a 60 second overlap, we are trying to introduce the concept of engaging dinner conversation! (And this tradition is growing with us – we can actually keep a conversation going for several minutes this year!) But, it is fun to ask questions like: “What is your favorite Christmas song? Holiday decoration? Thing about Christmas? Christmas memory? Family Tradition? etc...”
  • Christmas Stories at bedtime, after lights out. This is part of our normal bedtime ritual, for Mommy or Daddy to tell a story, and at this time of year it a great way to pass on favorite holiday memories from our own childhoods (like when Santa magically snuck me into a new canopy bed while I was sleeping!). Or tell the story of “The First Christmas”, or the story of their first Christmas. (I may need to re-tell the Nativity story to Ellie, as the other night she thought Mary and Joseph’s baby was named “Rocket”. MJ now prefers us to make up pretend stories, so we have one where Santa asks for his help one Christmas Eve, and one where he turns into a Dinosaur for Christmas – endless possibilities.
  • Christmas Lullabies I like this tradition of singing (teaching) some of my favorite slow Christmas songs to the kids

    A future Christmas Rockette!

    by singing them as lullabies during the holiday season. I remember baby MJ singing “hay” at the end of “Away in a Manger”, and last year Ellie joined in, and this year they love to bust into “Gloria in Excelsis Deo”, though it’s not very soporific (works better as a blessing at meal-time). I like doing the “The Little Drummer Boy”, patting the “rum-pu-pum-pum” on backs and tummies. Other good ones: “O Little Town of Bethlehem”, “Silent Night”, and “O Holy Night”. With this one, I tell the kids that I grew up hearing GareBear sing this as a solo at the Christmas Eve service, and now we sing it as a duet. Maybe someday, they can learn to sing it, too! (Need a place to worship and hear good music on Christmas Eve? Come hear our duet at the 7:00 service, FPC Dallas.) Ellie likes to relax with her blankey on the couch (ALONE) while Daddy plays his favorite, “Still, Still, Still” on the piano for her. (Daddy plays piano) Also, new this year is the interpretive dancing to Christmas songs before bed. See for yourself: a chef from the “The Nutcracker” Ballet meets The Wicked Witch of the West, all in one creative little boy, with Santa sister joining in!\”Silent Night\” Family Play\

  • Christmas Sing-a-longs in the Car. My young daughter’s favorite right now is “Jingle Bells” and Michael James loves “The 12 Days of Christmas”, which can get us all the way from school to home (also great for counting and verbal memory, and you gotta love “seven fwans a-fwimming”.) These sing-a-longs are even more important this season because my car stereo is broken. (Ellie apparently inserted pennies into it while “playing” in the car recently.)
  • Hide the “Ho’s”: Each night (and sometimes during naptime or while the kids are at school), I hide the three decorative wooden “ho’s” which together make “Ho Ho Ho”, of course. And we play hot/ cold while they search around the house for them (a great game to build internal control) Then they can display them together wherever they like. (Maybe you have a Santa, elf, or reindeer you could hide.) Just a simple way of letting them know you were thinking about them while they were away.
  • Christmas 20 Questions “I’m thinking of something Christmas-y, and it sounds like this.” (Then I clap the number of syllables – 3 claps for “Christmas tree”.) Then, I guide them in asking yes/no questions to figure out the answer. MJ and I played this while he was on the potty last night!
  • Guess the Christmas Shape: Waiting in line at the grocery store? Snuggling on the couch? Draw with your finger on a hand, back, tummy (tree, star, candy cane, wreath, present, etc.) Not only are you connecting emotionally and teaching focus and concentration (through the giggles), You are making important neural connections through loving touch.
  • Family Snow Day: Even for an hour or afternoon, imagine you are snowed in. Bundle up in winter gear, have a snowball fight with tissues in your living room, share hot chocolate and gaze at your tree, reading some Christmas books by the real or pretend fire. (There’s an app for this on your phone!) Sing, “Let it Snow, Let it Snow, Let it Snow” and play together!
Please share your favorite holiday rituals! 


  1. […] 4. Put some holiday rituals into your routine with the kids.  I shared with you some of the holiday rituals my family enjoys: simple traditions that connect us as a family, everyday things you can do to create meaningful moments in your daily routine this time of year. our family holiday rituals […]