The Secret of Joyful Winter Holidays

by Sandra Foyt on December 20, 2012

in Enrichment Ideas

Close your eyes and visualize how you want to spend the winter holidays. Do you see a magical tableaux out of a Norman Rockwell painting, or a mad scene of frenzied efforts to complete a list of self-imposed tasks?

This year, consider taking a break from the craziness to enjoy family activities that truly capture the spirit of the season.

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5 Fun Family Activities for the Winter Holidays

1) Seeing the holiday magic. With the legendary holiday window displays of midtown Manhattan just a daytrip’s distance from the Capital Region, it’s no wonder that many families make a Christmas Windows Walking Tour an annual tradition.

Wyn Lydecker, of Upstart Business Planning, says, “We always make a trip to New York City to see either the Baroque Christmas Tree and Creche at the Metropolitan Museum of Art (we spend the whole day with art) or go to the Museum of Modern Art in midtown and then look at the Rockefeller Center Tree and the Fifth Avenue store window displays. Because we’ve been doing this since childhood, it’s a family tradition that brings us close again and makes us appreciate the special time in a different way.

Make the trip into the city as pleasurable as the rest of the outing, take the train to Penn Station and consider planning an overnight getaway with these tips for New York City with kids.

Be aware that traveling to the city can be tiring, and not to be undertaken without some planning. Despite that, there is nothing quite like the magic of Christmas in New York City.

2) Listening to the sound of music. Regional concerts offer many options for fun family outings. Stacey Marmolejo shares how an annual concert tradition is a ritual that can be pursued long after the kids leave the nest, forging a bond that transcends time and distance.

“My son and I started this holiday tradition when he was 13 and we’ve done it every year since. During the winter holidays we go out to dinner and then to a music concert together…My son has loved music since he began playing the piano at seven years old. So a tradition built around music just made sense for us. And it is just he and I. It’s a great time together and one we both look forward to each year. My son is now 21 and we still do this. He no longer lives in the same town as I do, but he comes home for the holidays and we continue to enjoy dinner and a concert together.”

Concert listings to suit every taste and budget can be found at churches, schools, and local theaters.

3) Getting crafty for a cause. Several craft stores offer lessons in knitting, jewelry making, sewing, and scrapbooking to name just a few. At these workshops, parent and child can learn new skills, while making gifts and keepsakes. Crafting also offers many opportunities for families to work together to lend a hand to charities.

Through the Caps for Good program, mothers and daughters pitched in to form knitting teams,  learning to knit baby caps that were sent to families in need around the world. Elizabeth, a Girl Scout in Westchester, explains that “Four million babies die each year in developing countries. My classmates and I are making caps to help babies survive because it is our job to help others who are less fortunate than we are. We hope other people do this too because it can make a difference in someone’s life.”

Making crafts to help others offers all the pleasures of the craft activity itself, with the added reward of feeling good about helping others. That positive emotion can go a long way to help strengthen a family. Several knitting charities welcome donations, and many nonprofit organizations gratefully accept family service projects.

4) Cooking up sweet rewards. Baking is an excellent way to relax, and the holiday gatherings offer many opportunities for sharing favorite family recipes. Kerri Zane, a single mom with two teen daughters, says that “this season is about getting together in the kitchen and preparing all of the tasty treats that we indulge in during the holidays!”

The trick to keeping holiday cooking stress-free is in the planning. Decide ahead of time which recipes you want to tackle, to keep the cooking manageable and so that you can purchase the ingredients in one shopping trip. Think about assigning the recipes so that family members take turns as “head chef;” thus distributing less pleasant kitchen chores fairly. Don’t get too wrapped up in producing elaborate meals or gifts from the kitchen. Keep it simple, so that the focus is more on having fun working together, and less on the product.

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5) Playing in the snow. Active families can head outdoors during the holiday recess. In Northeastern New York, there are many winter sport options, from those that require training and specialized equipment to those that simply call for a playful or adventurous spirit. Some options for playing in the snow include: Alpine or Nordic skiing, ice skating, tubing, sledding, building a snowman, or even backyard snowball fights.

Julie Arnheim, of RubbingNickels.com, says, “Every year we take our teen ice skating. It is many times the only time we go as a family, but it’s a tradition to which we look forward every year. The memories, marking time, hot chocolate and dinner afterwards, all make it a special time for our family.”

Getting active outdoors offers significant health benefits for the entire family. It can help release endorphins, which has the added benefit of reducing stress and ensuring a feeling of well-being. And healthy families, who are strong of mind and body, are better equipped to cope with whatever life throws their way.

The secret to joyful family holidays is not so secret after all. All you need is time together with the ones you love. This is a gift that will reward your family during the holidays, and all through the year.

| Sandra Foyt is a storyteller, photographer, and road trip junkie. A veteran of six cross-country road trips, she drove Route 66, the Lincoln Highway, the fossil freeway, the extraterrestrial highway, and even “the loneliest road in America.” Find her on GetawayMavens.com, an award-winning destination guide to extraordinary travel in and from Northeast USA, on her portfolio site at SandraFoyt.com, and in freelance gigs on Family Travel 411, Minitime, Huffington Post, and Matador Network. Email: sandrafoyt@albanykid.com, Twitter @SandraFoyt.

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