I recently wrote a post with 5 tips to help reduce the overload for highly sensitive children during the festive season. I had a great response to the advent idea so I’m following it up with some ideas you can easily adapt to your own family.
December can easily end up an overwhelming month, not just for children, but for parents too. But we have found a way in our family to calm things down, focus more on family and gezelligheid, and a little less on the explosion of presents and commercialism that comes with the festive period.
Two years ago, I saw how excited my sons were in the build up to the 5th of December (pakjesavond in the Netherlands), and again during the run up to Christmas Day so we started focussing on advent instead. Rather than an advent calendar with a chocolate in it and nothing else, we made 24 envelopes, each with a chocolate coin and an activity inside.
My three sons take turns to open an envelope and that day we do the activity stated on the card (or if necessary we save it for another day – don’t make life tough for yourself and keep it flexible!). It takes their focus away from pakjesavond and Christmas Day – it diverts them for a while. There are little spurts of excitement, balanced over December – a way of releasing some excitement instead of bottling up for two specific days.
It is something that works well for us, and it makes December a lot of fun. It’s a special time to really connect as a family, and create precious memories.
Activities can be as low-key and calm as you wish, or as thrilling as you can muster, depending on your own family. Use activities that are already scheduled in this busy month to make things easier for yourself.
So without further ado, here are 42 of the activities we have enjoyed over the past few years – all easy to adapt to where you live and things you have on hand.
- Make pepernoten or kruidnoten (little Dutch biscuits) together
- Put your shoe out for Sinterklaas (on a day between 1st and 4th December)
- Tell a bedtime or Christmas story by candlelight
- Eat dinner by candlelight: we do this on the evening of winter solstice to mark the shortest day of the year
- Take an evening walk in your neighbourhood with (homemade) lanterns, glass jar candleholders, or torches
- Attend a carol concert
- Celebrate Pakjesavond (5th December – a great example of something you may already be doing so no extra planning involved)
- Eat dinner picnic style by the Christmas tree
- Watch a Christmas movie as a family
- Decorate trees in your garden with lights
- Make a Christmas tree decoration (salt dough ornaments are fun and easy to make and decorate and end up as a beautiful keepsake)
- Take silly Christmas photos – wearing Christmas hats and pulling silly faces, for example. Let your children get behind the lens of your camera and make it a fun session for them
- Bake Christmas cookies
- Let your children help you make a Christmas cake
- Make paper snowflakes
- Decorate the Christmas tree
- Dance to Christmas music – the crazier the better
- Make or colour Christmas cards for grandparents and aunts and uncles
- Make a Christmas box for Christmas eve filled with, for example, a new DVD, hot chocolate sachets, popcorn, new pyjamas – things to encourage family time before bedtime
- Go ice skating
- Go to the local garden centre to see their Christmas displays (in the Netherlands this is a huge spectacle – every garden centre tries to outdo the others – and they are usually really magical for the children)
- Look out for local attractions that transform into Christmas or winter wonderlands. In the Netherlands the Spoorwegmuseum in Utrecht becomes a winter station from the 20th December with live music, a skate rink, a carousel and marshmallow toasting outside on open fires. Dutch theme park the Efteling also transforms into a winter wonderland (from November).
- Have a toy clear out and donate to children less fortunate
- Choose a Christmas tree together
- During this month, the animals deserve a gift too – make food holders or fat balls or cakes for the birds
- Donate food to the local food bank
- Make a special gift for grandparents or a family friend
- Sit around a little fire outside in the garden with hot chocolate for the children, gluhwein for the grown ups and Christmas biscuits. Roast marshmallows
- Make Christmas candle holders using jam pots, wire and tissue paper (see nr 5 for a follow up activity)
- Visit a Christmas fair. A tip for anyone in the Netherlands – we went to the Keukenhof last year and really enjoyed it – this year entrance is free and the fair is from 12th to 14th December
- Watch your town Christmas lights being turned on
- Offer help to an elderly neighbour, a community club, or a family you know with a new baby
- Go to a Christmas circus
- Decorate a gingerbread house
- Play in the snow (if the winter weather co-operates of course, and your climate is right)
- Go to one of the many Dutch kaarsjesavonden such as held in Gouda and Zoetermeer – an evening when the shops, shopping streets and towns are lit up with candles
- Write a letter to Father Christmas
- Make reindeer food to sprinkle outside your house on Christmas Eve
- Have a family game night
- Tell your children stories about Christmases from your childhood
- Make mince pies
- Make up a story together, each family member taking turns to add a few lines
By the time we get to Christmas Eve December has been a month of connecting; we have spent quality time together and the excitement has been manageable. December becomes so much less about the presents.
As Dr Seuss magically put it,
“Maybe Christmas, the Grinch thought, doesn’t come from a store.”