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The Christmas cheer challenge

The Christmas spirit is supposed to be that feeling of goodwill, generosity, and kindness to all around you. So, why does it seem that in some years the Christmas spirit feels more like a case of ill-humor, anxiety and annoyance? In all the hustle and bustle that comes with the holiday season, it’s easy to lose that sense of enjoyment and wonderment that seemed to surround the holidays as a kid. Last year my family sat down for a discussion on how to revive the Christmas spirit amongst ourselves and we ended up embarking on an experiment with the goal of bolstering our holiday cheer. The challenge was to do one holiday-themed activity every weekend leading up to Christmas.

In the first week we had a tree trimming and decorating party. It has been a long-standing tradition in my family to get the tree and decorations up in the first week of December. All the hard work of lugging in copious amounts of ornaments, garland and the requisite tangled jumble of lights is rewarded with a steaming pot of clam chowder, which makes for some very merry workers. Incorporating the whole family in the decorating makes it feel more like an activity than a chore.

In the second week we decided to try our hand at a cookie exchange. The idea of a cookie exchange is pretty simple: Make cookies; swap cookies; eat cookies. This was one of the more widely enjoyed activities we engaged in and people are already looking for some new recipes to try.

In the third week we made a family sojourn to see “The Nutcracker.” I am a total sucker for all the dancing treats and I’ll probably continue to see this show every year for as long as I am able.

In the final week we enjoyed a Christmas movie night. With three little girls in the family, it was an absolute joy to introduce them to the inexplicable humor that is “Home Alone.” It was a nice low-key activity that abounded in laughs.

By the time Christmas rolled around the next week we were all abundant with holiday cheer and it went down as one of the most enjoyable Christmas celebrations we had had in a long time. Now, we are busting out our calendars and getting to work on this year’s upcoming festivities.

Here are a few more ideas:

• Take in a holiday show. This doesn’t need to be an activity that breaks the bank. If a stage show is out of the budget there are lots of churches that put on Christmas shows or concerts for free.
• Set up a hot chocolate bar. Is anything more reminiscent of the holidays than a cup of hot cocoa warming your hands? Starting with a basic cup of hot chocolate, let each person customize their drink by setting out marshmallows, whip cream, sprinkles, cinnamon sticks, candy canes, caramel sauce, mint sprigs, etc.
• Host a package decorating party. Have each person bring ribbons, bows and other festive décor and let the festooning reign.
• Check out the Model Train Show held annually at the Stanislaus County Fairgrounds in December. Some exhibits are done in holiday themes.
• Find a charitable activity that the whole family can take part in.
• Start a group Christmas craft project, like painting a Christmas village, or decorating a wreath.
• Take a jaunt to the snow and build a snowman and some Christmas angels.

Whatever you decide to do this holiday season, make sure the goal is a cheerful family activity and not another reason for stress. If a batch of cookies get burnt or the craft project looks more like a preschool class reject, remember it’s the thought that counts and mistakes are often what become cherished family memories.