“Ready for the holidays?” the nurse asked me as she took my blood pressure at my physical a couple weeks ago.
I nodded. “I’m stressed,” she acknowledged.
Every year I watch with a profound feeling of relief as around me the holiday frenzy heats up.
Presents to buy . . . decorations . . . parties . . . more shopping and presents . . .
In our house we keep it simple.
No presents. Simple colorful lights around the livingroom. A straggly tree brought in from the cold.
A simple candlelit dinner.
When the kids were younger, we read out loud and snuggled near the fire.
Christmas morning itself is quiet. Still. Peaceful.
I still remember distinctly lying there with my 1-month old son thirteen years ago amazed at how quiet the world seemed. So little traffic outside our apartment house. So little movement. Like the world – in the old Solstice tradition – had paused only to reawaken and return to life.
For us the holidays have become not a time of frantic work, heading towards a climax. It’s not followed by a feeling of deflation when the frenzy wears off.
It is strictly about having time together as a family. And stepping back and enjoying that we are together, alive in a beautiful world that will turn back to warmth and springtime no matter how cold it feels outside.
Now, I’m not writing this to knock present exchanges and a busy social schedule if that’s a cherished part of your family traditions.
I’m only trying to offer a sense that there is an alternative if you decide you want to change things. In fact there are lots of alternatives down the spectrum between too much and utter simplicity.
Most importantly, no matter what you do leading up to Christmas, I urge you to make sure the core of the holidays doesn’t get lost.
So today, I’m offering you 5 ways to spend more time together as a family. (And in the Fit Family Together tradition – they’re active!)
Since many of these ideas are outside activities, you should include these three tips in your planning:
- Make sure you dress warmly. Check out 7 Warm Winter Clothes Tips For Kids And Parents
- And to make the time outside even merrier, pack some yummy healthy snacks. We often bring a hot thermos of ramen noodles or hot chocolate along with muffins, nuts, cheese, dried fruit and lots of water (you still need hydration in winter). You can find out more tips in the article How To Stay Warm In Winter.
- Plan carefully. This is a safety issue as well as an enjoyment issue. Winter weather can make simple mistakes get big and dangerous very quickly. Not to mention, by preparing a bit you can assure more fun and less complaints.
Holiday Family Idea#1: Spending Time Together Exploring
Whether it’s on foot, snowshoe or ski, the winter is a magical time to get outdoors.
There is absolutely nothing like the sound of winter winds softly whispering in the pines when the other leaves are gone.
Nothing like nestling into a soft snowbank and looking up at the winter sky.
It’s also eye-opening to visit a place you’re used to seeing in the summer changed by winter. One winter morning, we rose up early and had breakfast on the beach. Instead of the crowds we only met up with seagulls.
The kids dressed in their warm parkas and snowpants raced across the beach chasing them with loud cries, pausing occasionally to watch the waves breaking on the shoreline.
Make sure you bring a good trailmap – no need to get off the beaten path.
Finally, bring an animal track identification book. The snow reveals all kinds of mysterious activity you never knew was going on right in your neighborhood. We’ve tracked all kinds of critters and come up with all kinds of creative stories about what those critters were up to.
And even if you live in the city, you can do detective work. The marks left by an urban squirrel racing through Brooklyn’s Prospect Park brought delight and questions to my daughter when she was little.
If you’re just trying something out for the first time, rent equipment. Many cross- country ski places rent children’s skis by the season for very low rates. You can also find outdoor education centers with snowshoe rentals. The Appalachian Mountain Club lodges offer great family rates, programs and free equipment to all guests.
Holiday Family Idea #2: Spending Time Together Zooming
You would never think my husband grew up in the Caribbean by his love of winter sports. To see him swooping fearlessly around the ice, you’d think he grew up in Siberia instead. The fact is, he got a couple old Russian guys in Brooklyn to teach him when he was a teenager.
But what really got him going with winter sports was his desire to feel what it’s like to fly over ice . . . and take on gravity with a snowboard or skis . . .
Or simply dare the laws of physics with a simple plastic sled.
For years we’d hike up a local mountain where we pick blueberries in the summer, toting our little plastic sleds. With only chickadees as our witnesses . . . and a couple wooden sticks to help with steering . . . we cruised down some magnificent long slopes.
At the end of every run, their face encrusted with ice, our kids shouted out for more.
Now I’m not advocating going beyond your comfort zone with speed. But consider trying out ice skating, skiing, snowboarding or take a few sled runs.
The soft cushion of snow and warm clothes makes it a little easier to try these kinds of sports. And as you get better, there’s nothing like the thrill and grace of the movement in these activities.
A couple additional tips beyond exercising some good judgement in the interest of safety . . .
- Don’t worry too much about looking awkward if you’re just starting out. It’s another way to let your children learn from watching you: Learning is a process and everyone’s got to start off somewhere. (You should have seen my husband on skis for the first time!)
- If you go sledding with little ones, make sure you don’t pull them up the hill all the time. Let them clamber up and even pull the sled up to the top.
- Practice stopping (and bailing out of the sled, if you’re sledding) before you need to . . . No explanation needed.
Holiday Family Idea #3: Spending Time Together Playing
If you’ve got the white stuff outside, make a snow fort and have a snowball fight – or two or three. (Once you start, no one’s safe outside!)
Roll some gargantuan snowballs and make snow people and even snow pets. Decorate the yard with snow creations.
If you’ve only got rain, like we did, stomp on puddles and float sticks down the drainage ditches.
And if you’ve had enough of the outdoors, you can still enjoy some indoor activities for kids.
Holiday Family Idea #4: Spending Time Together Cleaning
Now this may not seem so glamorous. But there’s a misconception out there that we have to constantly entertain our children.
And who says cleaning and chores can’t be enjoyable.
Put on some music and give your house a thorough scrub down.
In winter we shut ourselves in. Indoor air quality – which is already bad – gets worse. You can drastically reduce the threat of flus and colds while getting active together as a family.
However, don’t add to the air quality problem. We clean and disinfect with white distilled vinegar mixed with tea tree oil and fir needle oil. For serious disinfection we use hydrogen peroxide or rubbing alcohol. Both are cheap and very effective and safe.
For scrubbing, Bon Ami, Borax, or Barkeeper’s Friend works well.
Scrub, sweep, mop, vaccuum, straighten, reorganize, phew!
You’ll get a great workout together, have the chance to teach your children the invaluable skill of cleaning the bathroom properly, and end up with a healthier place to spend time together.
Holiday Family Idea #5: Spending Time Together Reflecting And Planning
The more you spend time together, the more you have a chance for conversations on deeper topics to come up. Life lessons . . . lessons from the past year . . . and aspirations for the one coming up . . . can come to the fore when you least expect them.
Make sure as you spend time together you keep your ears peeled. Listen to what’s on your children’s minds.
But don’t get caught up in the overemphasis of parents just listening and not teaching. We’ve got a job as parents to lead, structure and help shape our children’s perspectives.
Take some moments to think about what you want your children to think about. Consider how you’ll talk to them about it. And if the opportunity doesn’t come up naturally, create a moment on your own.
While you may have your own plans and ideas buzzing around your head with regards to your business and work coming up in January, make sure you take this concentrated time together as a time to focus on your work as a parent.
The beauty of this holiday time is that it allows you the expanse of time together to tackle tough topics and still have time to digest and connect as you work through them.
Enjoy The Most Powerful Gift Of The Holidays By Spending Time Together
Do you have some favorite holiday family activities to share? Please share them on Facebook or add them to the comments below.
About Sarah Clachar And Fit Family Together
Since expecting their first Since expecting their first child, Sarah and her husband Cassius have made fitness a core part of their family life. From biking to hiking . . . from the heart of New York City to a farm in New England, they have found a way to stay active together. And through all this exercising as a family they discovered that family fitness builds not only strong bodies – but stronger families.
A professional health writer with a BA in biology, gardener and foodie Sarah brings a wealth of expertise in nutrition and health. A personal trainer and inveterate tinkerer, Cassius brings innovation to making family fitness work.
Ready to make family fitness part of your family life? Take the Fit Family Together 7 Day Family Fitness Challenge and put your own family fitness plan together.