Seven Tips for Spreading Holiday Spirit
by Author Randa Handler
I would like to wish everyone a wonderfully blessed holiday season and a glorious new year! There is nothing like the holidays to create some meaningful memories! Is there a better month than December? After all, the holiday season is the best time for community, forgiveness, and togetherness! One has to be living under a rock to be oblivious to the atrocities occurring in the name of religion. But, I happen to think that mercy is found at the creed of all major religions. Sometimes man’s interpretation of its doctrines makes it move into extremist territory. Let’s shelve the news for a while and try to make this holiday season special.
Here are my top 7 ways to spread holiday spirit:
- Start with number one. Yes, I mean you! You deserve a pat on the back! No matter what’s been happening in your life. This holiday season appreciate something about yourself, even if you’re spending it alone. Let’s all go ahead and ask ourselves this season; what are one or two other ways we can appreciate ourselves during the holidays?
- Share and engage. Share your joy in a small way or go all out and do it in a big way. Smile back at someone in the mall. Offer a hot cup of coffee or some food to a homeless person or go big and volunteer at a local shelter … better yet, help build one! A friend mentioned to me the other day that he was going to help build a house with Habitat! I made a mental note to check that out. You’ll be surprised at how many are taking place in your own neighborhood. Ask the kids to go through their closets and toy chests and prepare a holiday donation so they can engage and contribute too. Their holiday will be more meaningful.
- Don’t forget your loved ones, near or far, big or small. A hug and a “Miss you and thinking of you,” email or text can go a long way. With the Internet and smartphones there are really no excuses. Skype with your loved ones, write a special note to someone (even in long hand, it’s such a dying art) or bake some holiday cookies for a helpful neighbor. I lost my mom last year and I would have never forgiven myself for not being there and not saying it all.
- Pick a “Kindness Day” this holiday season and make a family outing out of it! A neighbor and her two daughters gave me this idea. They shovel snow and rake leaves together as a family and it is fun to watch. They sometimes have matching scarves and gloves. Why not pick a day this season and offer to shovel the snow for an elderly neighbor or to walk his dog. Why not pick a day as a family and go and help at a local soup kitchen. How about reading a book to a sick child!? I remember few years back taking a coffee cake to my 85-year-old neighbors and they were so touched and shocked! I thought it was a simple gesture as they had been so helpful to me during the years. They would keep an eye on the house if I was away and pick up my mail. Keep a watchful eye on your elderly neighbors. Especially if you live in a cold place. They might be saving money and not running their heat. Check on them and offer to go to the store for them. The kids can help with that too, and that can create a sense of community in them.
- Theme the holidays with your own history and the different cultures that made you! Get the kids involved in researching your roots. Do they know about their own history? Do they know what makes them so special? Do they know where their grandparents came from? What’s in your heritage? A little Hawaiian? A little Asian? Dutch? Middle Eastern? Plan it and go for it – clip art, posters, traditional dress, and décor! Most importantly create those traditional dishes for everyone to enjoy. Parents can share memories and create new memories with their kids as their parents did with them. There are many websites with delicious takes on festive holiday traditions. I’m sure you’ll be able to tailor some to your own culture. Blow up a few childhood photos and share them with everyone. Do you have any of your parents in traditional garb? Do you have some photos of them with their parents at the holidays? Nothing makes holiday celebrations more unique than unique stories. Share your own childhood memories! Ask everyone to share theirs. Grandparents love to share stories about the old ways! After you share your own special childhood memories, ask your loved ones to imagine and describe what their favorite holiday would be like. If your family is a melting pot, like mine is, your kids will truly enjoy a multicultural holiday. It’s all in the discovery! Think about how to include something about the different cultures that make up your own family. I’m sure there are many unique celebratory dishes that can be made, bought or sampled!
- Embracing other cultures. I think the holidays will be more meaningful if we all tried and included cultures that are not native to our families. It might be fun to invite a friend who comes from a different culture and feature a dish at dinner that is unique to his/her country. If celebrating with kids, let’s widen the horizon a little! Children’s books that feature different holiday celebrations can be read out loud. I remember as a child being so mesmerized by a book that showed the different celebrations of Christmas around the world. I didn’t know kids welcomed Santa in so many different ways. Why not read a book about Hanukkah or Kwanzaa if you’re Christian and vice-versa? Why not ask the kids to research all the different symbols of Christmas around the world? From decorating with poinsettias to handing Christmas cards to the tree, to the star… It will be fun for kids to find out why Swedish children look forward to the 13th of December while German kids anticipate the 6th and the 6th of January is so special in Italy (EducationWorld.com). Don’t forget the language and the music! Why not greet the guests in the themed culture’s native tongue. Let everyone practice a few phrases at the dinner table. Play music of the themed country in the background! Here’s a link to how to say Merry Christmas in many languages: Santas.net
- Finally, I cannot talk about the holidays without mentioning religion. Why not have an open discussion about it during the holidays? Is there a better way to grow a tolerant society?
It’s a sensitive issue, I know! But, December is when many different beliefs are celebrated and many traditions are observed. A few years back, there was even an outcry on whether or not wishing “Merry Christmas” was politically correct or not! Should TV ads really mention “Christmas” or simply a generic “Happy Holidays?” I really wish community interactions were much simpler and that we lived in a world where we didn’t have to worry about such things because we simply tolerate each others’ different beliefs!
In The Boy Who Spoke To God, the children’s book I wrote, a young Greek boy, helps feuding tribes – Greek, Chinese, Indian, and Zulu – find peace via dreams of a perfect God. The Tribes are feuding because they cannot agree on when and how to celebrate the holidays because they all have their own beliefs and traditions! The story is structured as a fairy tale and doesn’t take sides, to offer parents and teachers a basic open-discussion tool. I strongly believe that opening the minds of children to many beliefs triggers an early tolerance of differences. And, that to me is the key to a more harmonious world!
However, by the mere mention of God, my book has generated a lot of debate. Using the book as an open-discussion tool may not be for every family. Whether you do use it, or something else, I hope open-discussions about differences are launched this holiday season at many dinner tables. Maybe a festive atmosphere is a good way to open our hearts a little wider. Maybe more meaningful interactions will lead to more open-mindedness inclusivity, and not only tolerance will be instilled but a true appreciation of differences. I can only dream of how more meaningful of a holiday season that would be!
Randa Handler is an international journalist, publicist, and publisher. In 2003, her publishing efforts launched an educational series of children’s books that are still being used as Lesson Plans by elementary school teachers. She has published five children’s books to instill in kids an appreciation of differences. More info about her books here: Amazon.com/author/randahandler