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7 Ways to Enjoy Christmas Break with Your Kids

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I love almost everything about the holidays: cheerful carols on the radio, trees lit with twinkly lights, and baked goods as far as the nose can smell. The only thing I don’t love, if I’m to be totally honest, is my daughter’s two-week winter break. That adds up to more than 100 hours I need to program to keep my energetic preschooler entertained. Luckily, the holiday celebrations offer many opportunities for fun family activities. I’ve been brainstorming like crazy, and I think I’ve got us all covered with these ideas:

1. Organize a coat or clothing drive. It’s the perfect time to give back, so why not get your kids involved? Their friends can join in the fun, too.

2. Pass down a family tradition. When I was growing up, one of my favorite holiday traditions was going to see The Nutcracker ballet with my mom. Though my daughter’s not quite 4, I decided to get tickets this year, hoping she’ll be mesmerized by the magical Christmas tree and all the tutus. To help build anticipation, we’re reading a Nutcracker storybook at night and listening to the gorgeous Tchaikovsky score. Think about your favourite family rituals from childhood and introduce one to your kids this year — they’ll love it because you do.

3. Make last-minute holiday cards. Did you miss the boat on Christmas cards this year? Bah humbug to that — it’s never too late! Gather festive holiday costumes and props, like Santa hats, reindeer antlers, and tinsel. Download a photo booth app (such as IncrediBooth), then crowd your family in front of your tablet and make some memories. E-mail the photos to friends and family or post to Facebook for some instant holiday joy. Fun, cheap and environmentally friendly!

4. Go on a Christmas Crawl. Fill thermoses with hot cocoa, crank up the carols, and hit the road in search of your town’s most beautiful holiday decorations. In my area, there’s a neighbourhood where residents are known to deck their halls with animatronic elves and rooftop reindeer that never fail to delight the kids. In big cities, department store windows are the place to be wowed. When in doubt, there’s always the big tree at the mall.

5. Spread holiday cheer (by being a volunteer). Teach kids the real spirit of giving by volunteering together. One of our favourite ways to give back is by “adopting” a family in need through a charitable organization such as Jewish Family Services or Volunteers of America. Picking out clothes and toys for another family is a guilt-free excuse for one last shopping spree, plus helping others teaches kids empathy and awareness of the world outside their front doors. (Check out more ways to volunteer with your kids.)

6. Get crafty with your kids. Holiday gifts and decorations can be as fun to make as they are to receive. My daughter loves to paint ornaments and dreidels at our local art studio (we inscribe her age on the backs of her creations for a festive annual grandparents gift). Baking homemade holiday cookies offers hours of messy enjoyment — especially when you bust out all your cookie cutters, icing, and sanding sugar — and they make great care packages for teachers and neighbors. Kids can design their own wrapping paper by colouring or painting on big rolls of butcher paper. They can even help with decor for your holiday meals — just grab pinecones from the backyard, add glue and glitter, and voila! You’ve got centerpieces. (Get step-by-step holiday crafts.)

7. Host a holiday scavenger hunt. Here’s a game you can play with your extended family or even the whole neighbourhood: Divide everyone into teams of two. Each team gets a printout of 10 to 20 holiday items they must locate (and snap on a mobile phone for proof) such as snowmen, menorahs, and candy canes. The first team to return to home base with a completed list wins a holiday-themed prize, plus the begrudging admiration of all the runners-up. Bonus: You — the host — can play if you want to, or keep warm in the kitchen stirring the hot apple cider and getting a much deserved holiday break.

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Photo: Getty