Page ContentAll year long, we’re bombarded with advertising messages telling us to buy, buy, buy. This consumerist mania hits its high point, of course, during the winter holiday season, when even the best-behaved child’s thoughts turn to toys and candy. Add in perks like time off work and school, and it’s easy for the entire family to look forward to the holidays for the many material “goodies” they bring.In the midst of all that, it’s easy to forget one of the best parts of the holidays: special time with family and friends. So, if you’re lamenting the loss of the spirit of the season, why not try something new to bring joy back into the holidays? Here are a few fun suggestions: 12 Days of Family FunDay 1: The Holiday Hat GameThe Idea At your next family gathering, ask everyone to write down a favorite holiday memory on a slip of paper and then put the slips in a hat. Pass the hat around and each person pull out a memory slip and try to guess who wrote it. Variation Write down a series of questions on separate slips of paper. These could range from the silly to the serious. For example:What was your favorite present of all time?How many candy canes could a reindeer eat?What's your least favorite holiday food?Then write the answers to the questions on another set of slips of paper. Mix up the pieces of paper and have everyone try to match the right answers to the questions. Give a silly prize to the person who matches the most right answers. Why? Collectively recalling memories brings people closer together and reminds them of happy and meaningful shared experiences and feelings. It also puts the focus of the holidays back on what's important – people, not presents.Working together to match holiday memories to the people who wrote them down (or matching questions to answers) helps boost communication and teamwork.PrepAll you need is paper and pencils or pens!A silly prize is optional.Day 2: Family Holiday History—on FilmThe Idea Get the video camera and have your children tell you about the holiday traditions you celebrate. Let them teach you about the history and what the traditions mean. If you have older children, have them do some research about holiday traditions online. Challenge them to “teach you something you didn’t already know” about the holidays. Don’t let them off the hook too easily; ask questions and be interested! If you keep it going year after year, it will be fun to look back on previous years’ videos to see how the kids (and the family) have grown and changed!VariationInstead of making videos of your children talking about holiday traditions, film them as they describe one of their favorite memories from the past year, tell a joke or explain what they are thankful for this year. Why?Thinking and talking about traditions helps kids to understand they are an important part of something that is established and secure. Positive memories and childhood experiences give kids something they can aspire to replicate when they have their own family. At Boys Town, we know creating these positive experiences helps keep kids on the right track.Researching topics and communicating them on video are good brain-building exercises that help kids learn. If this tradition is maintained each year, you will have established a valuable library of family memories on video, something you will cherish forever. PrepYou’ll need a phone with video capabilities or a video camera as well as Internet access for research.Day 3: Kids CuisineThe Idea If your children are old enough to be left alone in the kitchen, have them cook a holiday meal for the whole family. They can plan a menu, pick out ingredients and make a shopping list you all can take to the store in order to get what you need. If your kids are younger, you can help them do all of these things with the understanding that they are “the boss” for this meal. Tell them the only limit on what they can do is their own imaginations. But be ready to end up with ice cream and cookies for the main course!VariationPut each family member in charge of one dish and have the whole family work in the kitchen together. It may be crowded and it will probably get messy, but just go with it! Listen to holiday music and talk while you work. Not every dish will turn out just right or be as good as if you made it yourself, but that’s okay!Why?Giving kids a sense of responsibility helps them to mature. Putting them in charge of preparing a meal or a dish forces them to plan, problem-solve and prioritize. They also can take pride in the end result, and will feel a sense of accomplishment when they hear your compliments on a delicious job well done!PrepStart this activity a few days ahead of when you want to enjoy your holiday meal so your kids have time to plan and make a grocery list, and you all have time to go to the store.Day 4: Lighted Scavenger HuntThe Idea Spend an evening driving around the neighborhood looking at Christmas lights. Give everyone in the family a list of items that must spot before going home, items like a Santa Claus, a house with all blue lights, a Christmas tree, a menorah, etc. Come home to hot chocolate and take a vote on everyone’s favorite light display, Later, drop a note in the mailbox of the winning home to let those neighbors know how much you enjoyed their decorations.VariationFor a daytime or walking version of this activity, change the setting to your local downtown or the nearest big city. If your family is large enough, split into two teams and use cameras to do a photo scavenger hunt. If your kids are older, make a list of items to look for that includes abstract items, like something that depicts warmth, joy, wonder, tradition or kindness. Why?Having a common goal (in this case, completing the list) helps parents and children work together and communicate. Doing things together “just for fun” sends a message to all family members that you value spending time with them.PrepMake your list beforehand. It’s a good idea to go scout the neighborhood first so you’re not driving around till the sun comes up to find your items! Have hot chocolate (or other snacks) ready for when you return from your tour. Find a holiday card and envelope for the “winning” house.Day 5: Sentence-at-a-Time Story The IdeaCreate a story about the holidays . . . one sentence at a time. Have everyone sit in a circle and start with a sentence about your favorite holiday memory. Then, have each member of the family take turns chiming in with the next line of the story. The goal is to build a story that is the most fun, unbelievable holiday memory ever.VariationTry creating a holiday story one word at a time! Or retell a famous holiday story like Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, the story of Jesus’s birth or the plot of your favorite holiday movie, one sentence at a time. Why? This is another activity that builds teamwork and camaraderie. Everyone participates equally and plays a part in rebuilding a shared memory. PrepNone needed!Day 6: Build a Snowman Competition!The Idea When was the last time you built a snowman? When was the last time you built two or even three snowmen? Divide family members into teams (the number will depend on the size of your family) and then set a time limit for each team to build a frozen friend. When time is up, decide which team has the best-looking snowman! For bonus fun, knock off the snowman’s head and take pictures of family members standing behind him with their heads in place of his!Variation No snow? Get creative. Use sidewalk chalk to draw your snowmen. Or scale it down and use Play-Doh, mashed potatoes, pillows or even mud!Why? Being outside and active is important to everyone’s physical and mental health. Doing activities as a family makes it fun!Prep Obviously, weather conditions will affect this activity, so be prepared to rearrange schedules and take advantage of the snow when it comes. If snow is not in the picture for you, you’ll need to buy supplies in advance for a scaled-down competition (Play-Doh, sidewalk chalk, potatoes, etc.).Day 7: Family Movie Night! The IdeaBoys Town just celebrated its 100th anniversary, and as we reflected on our century of service, we were reminded of how much we have grown and changed. We love to look back at the 1930s, when the movie classic, Boys Town, was released. We encourage your family to check out that movie this holiday season. It's a great story, and we think you'll enjoy it while spending quality family time together. VariationWatch any family-friendly holiday movie together. Try to pick one your family hasn't seen. After the movie, spend time talking about the issues and themes the film depicted.Why?Any time you set aside for being together as a family is time well-invested. Even activities like watching a movie are significant when they're added up over time and send a message to your children that they belong to something bigger and are appreciated. Plus, they may learn a thing or two about empathy and kindness from movies like Boys Town.PrepPop some popcorn or prepare a special treat to make the night even more enjoyable. Wearing holiday pajamas might not be a bad idea either! Day 8: Build a Turkey out of Legos The IdeaHave your kids “make” a holiday meal – the turkey, stuffing and all the side dishes – using only Lego blocks. They can make the silverware and plates, too! When they’re finished, have the whole family sit down to enjoy a very silly meal!VariationIf you don’t have Legos or your child is too small to build with them, try using Play-Doh instead.Why?Building and forming shapes helps children hone their motor skills, dexterity and concentration. Also, conversations can be easier and less awkward when everyone is engaged in an artistic task. PrepYou’ll need plenty of Legos or Play-Doh, and perhaps a real meal when you’re through!Day 9: Learn About Other Holiday Traditions The IdeaTraditions for lots of different holidays are celebrated in December. Why not make a list of different holidays and have each family member pick one from the list and research the traditions that go with it? Then, ask everyone to share what they learned with the whole family. Discuss these holidays and traditions and compare them with the ones your family celebrates. Holidays can include Kwanzaa, Hanukkah, Hogmanay, Bodhi Day, Christmas and Nikolaus abend.VariationInstead of learning about other holidays, research how the holiday you celebrate is observed in other countries and cultures. Find out what traditions people around the globe enjoy, and how they are different from those your family likes.Why?Learning about other people and their beliefs and cultures can build a sense of global awareness and diversity in your children (and all family members), which naturally leads to more acceptance of and empathy for people of diverse cultures and backgrounds. PrepCheck out library books beforehand, or just make sure your Internet is working!Day 10: Find the Holiday Alarm! The IdeaIf you have a smartphone with customized ringtones, pick a holiday tune, set it as your alarm and hide your phone somewhere in the house. Then have your kids try to find the phone before the alarm sounds (setting it for five minutes is a good starting place). If they can’t find it in the allotted time, your holiday tune will start playing, leading everyone to the phone’s location!Afterwards, sing the tune together and repeat the activity until every family member has a chance to pick a tune and hide the phone.VariationPlay holiday music on the radio or from your own media library. The first person to name a tune based on hearing its opening notes wins a point. Then sing the rest of the song together or look up the lyrics online if you don’t know them. Why?Music and singing during the holidays are important! Besides being fun, listening to music is beneficial to brain development, memory triggering and emotional release.PrepYou’ll need a customizable smartphone, or a holiday playlist or radio are needed for this activity.Day 11: The Holiday Time Capsule The IdeaGet a box and have the whole family choose items to put in it to create a family time capsule. Items can include newspapers, pieces of clothing, photographs, notes and anything family members feel represents your family and the current time period. Then, in a special ceremony, seal the box with a “Do not open until (date)” note and put it somewhere safe and secure.This works great if you start when your kids are very young By the time they’re school-aged, they’ll be able to open the time capsules and explore what’s in them, as well as make new time capsules!VariationLook through old photos together, especially those taken during holiday times. Talk together about what you discover.Why?Looking over old family memories helps to maintain a sense of security, inclusion and continuity. A time capsule helps children (and adults!) think in long-term and big-picture concepts and can inspire them to stay on the right track.PrepYou’ll need a durable box or plastic storage container for your time capsule.Day 12: Wrap Race The IdeaDivide your kids (and other family members) into teams. Give each team a roll of toilet paper. Now, give them three minutes to wrap Mom and Dad or another pair of adults in the paper. When time’s up, take pictures of each team’s creations and judge which team did the best job of “wrapping.”VariationHave teams or individuals use holiday wrapping paper to secretly wrap up everyday household item. Then have the teams or individuals take turns guessing what’s in their competitors’ packages by just holding or shaking them. Why?Playing fun games can relieve stress and ease tensions. Working together helps build relationships. Friendly competition spurs creativity and teamwork and an extra element of fun!PrepPurchase toilet paper or gift-wrapping paper ahead of time.