If you had to guess what kids love most about the holidays, what would it be? Lots of people - kids and grownups alike - would probably say getting presents. Just look at those crowded shopping malls and all those catalogs that come in the mail! As the winter holidays draw near, kids are thinking only about what they will get, right?
More Than Presents
Based on some research we did last holiday season, we happily report that kids look forward to a lot more than just presents. About 300 kids answered our 2004 email survey about the holidays. Here's what they told us:
Nine-year-old Preshious said: "You celebrate family and friends and it is NOT just about presents!"
Jordan, 10, likes to sing and help with the Christmas tree.
Fourteen-year-old Peter said his favorite part of the holidays is that "we're all together."
Christmas may be the first holiday that comes to mind this time of year, but kids are celebrating other special days, too. Ten-year-old Hallie celebrates Hanukkah, a Jewish holiday. She said she likes when her family reads a prayer from the Torah. Harley, 11, celebrates Hanukkah, too. She likes lighting the candles on the menorah.
Others kids are celebrating Eid, which marks the end of Ramadan, a month of daytime fasting for those who are Muslim. Hiba, 12, said she likes celebrating Eid by going on family trips to far-off places like the United Arab Emirates. For the holiday, Hiba likes to wear traditional clothes and put henna (a kind of dye) on her hands and legs. "I like wearing traditional clothes because everyone says I look so much like a nice village girl living in my country."
No matter which holiday kids were celebrating, many said spending time with family was special to them.
Jolene, 12, likes having dinner, opening presents, and going snowboarding with her family.
Nine-year-old Michelle likes singing "Holy One" in Spanish. And being around the Christmas tree "gives me time to tell my family I love them."
Georgia, 10, likes just being with family, especially her dad. "My dad works day and night working his bum off and in the holidays we get to see him."
Erika, 8, likes going to her grandparents' house. Lindsay, 8, also likes visiting her grandma, who she describes as "really fun!"
Shakara, 14, likes "sitting with family and talking about the good old days" at holiday time.
When you get families together, good food often follows. And lots of kids told us they have fun making holiday foods and eating them.
Eleven-year-old Alexa and her mom make chocolate-covered spoons and pretzels. Alanna, 9, likes to eat flaming Christmas cake.
At Sara's house, they have a party with lobster, but her mom won't let her see the lobster until it's cooked. "She doesn't want me to treat it like a pet. I won't eat it then!"
All this food isn't just delicious. It's another chance to spend time with family. Lizzie, 9, said she loves building a gingerbread house and baking cookies because "it's fun to cook with my mom."
And at Analyse's house, they bring food and family together in an unusual way: with a mashed potato-eating contest! To us, that sounds like a recipe for a stomachache, but Analyse disagrees. "It is fun and competitive ... and the potatoes are tasty!"
Besides eating, what else are kids doing at holiday time? Decorating the house, of course. Ryan, 9, likes setting up the Christmas tree because "it's fun and you can't really get into trouble."
Molly, 11, likes decorating and putting up the lights outside. In those well-decorated houses, families are singing and dancing. Yurat, 13, sent his comments to us in Spanish. Translated, we learned that his family does Mexican dances at holiday time.
Marianne, 13, likes doing Christmas karaoke with her family. (Karaoke is when people sing into a microphone along with the music - and they don't always sound good!)
At Abbie's house, they dance to Irish music because her family is part Irish. "The Irish songs are jolly and bouncy."
Nikki, 10, said she likes visiting a family friend's farm. They ride through the fields on a tractor to see dozens of decorated Christmas trees.
Lots of kids said they liked being out in the snow, throwing snowballs, skiing, snowboarding, or snowmobiling. Grace, 11, said her family has a splashing way to warm up after playing in the snow: They jump into the hot tub. "You get all cold and wet and then you warm up your whole body from head to toe. It's really fun!"
Speaking of warm holiday feelings, many kids also told us how they help others at holiday time. They help by supporting food banks, soup kitchens, shelters, and groups such as the Salvation Army, Toys for Tots, and Operation Christmas Child. Kids said giving was the right thing to do, but many also told us how it made them feel. In a word, it makes them feel good.
Gina, 13, gives traditional holiday foods to the elderly. Morgan, 13, donates food to the food pantry at her church. The food goes into baskets that are delivered to needy people. Morgan said, "I like to see the joy on their faces."
Nine-year-old Kari said her family donates toys and presents to needy children. "I always feel great when I get presents. So when I give them, I am almost sure that the person who received it is very happy."
Sammy, 13, helps others by feeding the homeless and spending time with them. "It might sound creepy, but it's really not that bad. It's nice to see them smile."
So kids are donating money, toys, clothes, and food, but they're also sharing something that doesn't cost any money. What is it? Their kindness and good cheer.
Eight-year-old Deena visits relatives "so they won't feel lonely." Valerie, 12, also visits the elderly at the holidays.
And Jary, 11, helps others by sending letters to a soldier serving in Iraq. "It makes his days in Iraq a little more better."
Marissa, 7, said she helps others this way: "I have a good prayer for everyone in the world so I know they're OK and safe as can be."
You might not know it, but a lot of grownups are wondering how to celebrate the holidays in a more meaningful way. To grownups, more meaningful means slowing down, spending less money, and worrying less about buying tons of expensive gifts for everyone. To kids, this might sound like bad news. Does that mean you might get fewer computer games, clothes, and other cool stuff?
It might. But by the sound of it, a ton of presents isn't as important as the great family times and holiday traditions kids love sharing with the people they care about. And we're not talking about no presents at all. That would be awful - for kids and adults alike!
The good news is that families can start small. Here are some ideas that you might want to share with your parents. The goal is to slow down and enjoy the holidays together.
Start putting names in a hat
Maybe you've done this at school before? You put everyone's name on a little piece of paper and put all the slips in a hat or a shoebox. Then each person pulls out a name and buys a gift for just this person. Using this method, everyone gets a present, but each person only has to buy one gift. You can set a spending limit, too, to make it easier to decide what you should buy.
Lots of grownups like receiving homemade gifts. Here are some ideas:
Decorate a photo frame and include a special photo. You also might frame some tickets from a special occasion, like a great football game or a concert you attended with the person.
Learn to knit or do a needle craft, such as cross-stitching. Make small gifts showing off your new talent.
Bake cookies or other holiday treats and package them in pretty holiday boxes or baskets. You also can put dry cookie ingredients in a glass jar as a gift. You layer the ingredients (such as sugar, oats, chocolate chips) like sand art. It looks pretty and the person can whip up a batch of delicious cookies. Don't put eggs or butter in the jar, though, and be sure to include the recipe!
Write a poem, letter, or song to the person, explaining why he or she is special to you. You could also draw a picture or do a painting, if you like that better. Framing it would add a special touch.
Plant flowers that will start blooming around the holidays. You can plant "paper whites," which are tall, white flowers. Decorate the pot for the plant or wrap a bow around it.
Give the person a packet of homemade coupons for stuff he or she likes. You might give your little brother a free pass to borrow one of your toys or a coupon that would "buy" your willingness to play a game of his choice with him.
Another twist on gift-giving is to give a gift in someone's name to a charity. For instance, you might donate money to your grandmother's favorite charity. Maybe she loves animals and would be thrilled if you donated money to the local animal shelter. Hey, animals need a little holiday cheer, too!
Sometimes groups have fund-raisers, where they sell bricks or stepping stones as part of a project. If your Aunt Lilly loves reading, wouldn't she love a brick that says her name in front of the new library?
Give gifts of time
Some families decide to give their time by serving people who eat at soup kitchens or live in homeless shelters. It's a good way to learn, up close and personal, about people who are needy. Sammy, whose family serves food at the homeless shelter, says they even play cards with the people who come to eat. That's really spreading holiday cheer!
How to Begin
If you're interested in trying some of these new family traditions, the first step is to have a family talk to see what everyone thinks. If you can't get everyone to agree on one idea, look for other ideas that might have more support. It may be too late to make changes this year. If so, maybe start early next year.
As a first step, you might want to tell your mom and dad what is most important to you about the holidays. We certainly liked hearing what kids had to say about the holidays. Your comments were the best kind of holiday gift. They didn't cost a thing, they were from the heart, and they made us feel warm and happy inside, like a cup of hot cocoa on a snowy winter's night.