Simple Family Holiday Ideas

by Deborah Taylor-Hough

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Since we're currently in the midst of the December holidays, I chatted at length with Catherine Levison author of A Charlotte Mason Education and the newly released book, A Literary Education. We put our heads together to come up with simple ways to add joy and meaning to our holiday celebrations, family times, and Christmas reading materials.

Family Reading Times

A great idea for the holidays is to set aside a special box or basket containing your family's special holiday-related books. The Holiday Book Box only comes out during the Advent season, and is put away again with the decorations after the first of the year.

Many families, including both Catherine's and mine, buy one new Christmas book a year and have their collection on display. Catherine's favorite is called The Christmas Story featuring the paintings of Gennady Spirin. It's breathtakingly beautiful and priced accordingly. However, Catherine insists it's worth every penny. This is one way to include masterpiece artwork into this season of the year.

Last year, my family read a new Advent book, Jotham's Journey: A Storybook for Advent. It's a storybook divided into nightly readings throughout the Advent season. The story follows a young shepherd boy whose wrong decisions and misbehaviors lead him on a hair-raising trip across the countryside surrounding Bethlehem at the time of Christ's birth. Jotham's realization of his own wrongdoing and need for forgiveness makes for a meaningful and often heart-wrenching example for all of us. My children (and my husband and I, too!) waited eagerly for each night's reading as we lit the Advent candles. Many times I found myself choked with emotion while reading this book, and almost unable to read aloud to the family. We're looking forward to revisiting Jotham again this Advent season.

Cultural Activities

During the holidays, I frequently discover a large number of low-cost entertainment options by reading the "What's Happening" section of our local newspaper. For example, this week I found a listing for a singing group performing traditional Celtic holiday carols at a local church for just a small donation. Many churches and community groups put on low-cost (or free) live performances during the holidays.

Rather than taking the family to a newly released holiday movie, consider spending a few extra dollars and attend a ballet or classical concert instead. Many times attending a concert by a local symphony performing familiar Christmas songs is a very child-friendly introduction to symphonic music for children who haven't previously experienced that type of music. Also, many churches offer sing-a-longs of Handel's Messiah that are open to the general public.

As we all know, holiday music is drastically varied. Perhaps some attention to playing classical music around the house (while avoiding animated cartoon characters screeching their holiday favorites) would be more soothing.

It's also time to buy next year's calendar. If you haven't thought of it before, hold out until you find one featuring fine art rather than kittens, horses or cars. Along with being a practical item, the calendars often provide excellent opportunities to introduce your children to fine art throughout the year.

Old-Fashioned Fun

While grown children and other relatives visit, provide some old-fashioned fun that can be enjoyed by young and old alike. Charades, sing-a-longs, board games and caroling are easy, affordable and fun. Catherine's family collects Christmas jigsaw puzzles. They truly enjoy spending time together, which makes it more than an aimless pursuit. You could also choose puzzles depicting masterpieces or popular works of art.

Many families we've talked to recently are constructing their own advent calendars from wood and incorporating photographs and other touches. If everyone participated in a project of this sort, then they can all look forward to getting it out each December.

Are you dreaming of a white Christmas? Well, if the snow doesn't come to you, then go to the snow. Some folks make an annual trek to the mountains during December in order to be assured of some contact with winter weather.

Happy holidays to you and yours!

Deborah Taylor-Hough is the author of the bestselling Frozen Assets: Cook for a Day, Eat for a Month and A Simple Choice: a practical guide for saving your time, money and sanity. She also edits the Simple Times email newsletter. To subscribe, visit Debi online at:

--with Catherine Levison, author, A Charlotte Mason Education and the new book, A Literary Education

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