How to Teach Kids the Real Meaning of the Holiday Season

Hint: it’s not under the tree.

By Hailey Andresen

Sweet treats, school breaks, visitors, and of course, presents from Santa... this truly is the most magical time of year to be a kid.

And while there’s certainly nothing wrong with getting excited about both giving and receiving gifts, we’ve been making it a point to explain what this season means to our family beyond what’s wrapped up under the tree.

If you’re struggling with a bit too much focus on things at your house this year, scroll on for a few tips on encouraging all the other things to celebrate this season! 

Discuss family traditions.

Now that we’re in a routine of hosting the holidays, our family traditions are feeling more rooted in tradition. Each Christmas Eve, we go caroling and to one of our favorite restaurants in Manhattan, and on Christmas Day, we host all of our friends and family who either live in NYC or are visiting. The main thing I want our kids to take away from holidays at home is that everyone is welcome – some years the crowd will be bigger than others, but at this time of year our doors are always open. The older our kids get, the more I know all of this will just be second nature, but helping them understand the importance of traditions in our family that don’t revolve around gift giving is a great start. It’s also a great opportunity to discuss the deeper meanings of Christmas if that’s in line with your beliefs.

Make Something.

While I’m convinced that one of my four-year-old’s love languages is truly “gifts”, second up has to be food-related (and no, that’s not in the book… but still.) Cooking and baking is big in our home, so it only makes sense that this rolls right into the holidays. My mother-in-law has always made Christmas cookies in the weeks leading up to Christmas, and it’s a tradition I’ve taken on as well. We’ve also experimented with wreaths and ornament making! There’s no sweeter gift than something handmade from your kids. 

Spending time with others.

My parents, in-laws, siblings and their significant others will all be visiting this year for the holidays and for me (my love language is quality time, btw) that’s truly what it’s all about! Since most of our family lives close by, we’re working on teaching our kiddos just how special it is to have them here and how wonderful it is that everyone else flew all the way to New York to celebrate with us.  

Giving to those in need.

As our kids get older, I really want to make volunteering part of our family’s holiday routine as well. An easy way to get started is by having your kids help pick out gifts for a local toy drive. I believe it’s important that kids have an understanding that there are folks around them who are less fortunate and could use help this time of year, as well as how we can give back.

Explain experience-based gifts.

As a New Yorker with limited space, I’m a big fan of an experience-based gift over something material. For us adults this seems easy enough to convey – a massage, a pedicure, a nice dinner. But for kids, I think they have a tougher time seeing experiences as gifts… at least initially. We’ve come a long way with this and now we’ve learned which kind of experiences really resonate with our son. Lately, it’s a trip to get ice cream or french fries or even a trip to the Transit Museum here in Brooklyn. 

Holiday activities leading up to the day.

Some fun ways we’re getting in the spirit this year are checking out the window displays in Manhattan, seeing The Rockettes, visiting The Holiday Train Show at The Brooklyn Botanical Gardens and popping over to Dyker Heights to see the Christmas Lights! Regardless of where you live there are always different places to visit that can help your little ones get in the spirit and experience the magic of Christmas.