Instead of breaking the bank to shower your kids with material things this holiday season, why not give them the gift of a meaningful experience instead? Time spent together – not a new video game system or wardrobe – will truly stick with them and shape their worldviews. Here are some ideas to get you started:

1. Choose an event to attend together.

Get a schedule of local holiday-themed concerts, plays, parades, shows, and other events, and choose a few to attend as a family. Your kids (and you!) will enjoy counting down to these outings, and you’ll have an even better time attending them. Plus, everyone will remember the live performance of White Christmas or the holiday-themed magic show much longer than they will a bevy of action figures under the tree. Even better? In most communities there are plenty of events to choose from that are free to the public! It just goes to show that you don’t have to spend a mint to make memories over the holidays.

2. Remember: There really is no place like home for the holidays.

Making special holiday memories doesn’t always have to mean going somewhere. In fact, some of your most treasured experiences can be created inside the four walls of your house, and they don’t have to cost a lot of money or cause a lot of stress to be perfect. Take a regular weeknight dinner and turn it into a magical holiday meal by dimming the lights, lighting candles on the table, and playing soft holiday music in the background. Serve sparkling juice or cider in special glasses and pull out the fancy china for once. It’s a special night you and your family won’t soon forget!

3. Set your family up for success.

On the best of days, kids will be kids…and their propensity for energy, misbehavior, and hijinks grows exponentially when they’re excited. Whenever your family is preparing for any sort of event this season, don’t assume that the “usual” rules are at the forefront of young minds. Go over your expectations – and potential consequences – beforehand so that you don’t spend the whole time scolding and correcting. And as a parent, take the time to remind yourself that children are often overstimulated, overexcited, and saturated with sugar this time of year. If you don’t think your brood can handle sitting still for an hour-long concert, then make the choice not to go. You’ll save yourself a lot of stress, anger, and disappointment in the long run.

4. Make meaningful conversation.

Conversation is the foundation upon which any memorable event is built. So to make the most of outings and experiences this holiday season, have a few meaningful topics up your sleeve to engage your family. Otherwise, you’ll find yourself griping about chore lists, homework, and soccer schedules during your special outing – instead of the things you really wanted to share. For example, as you drive around your neighborhood looking at Christmas lights, you may want to ask your kids about their favorite Christmas memories. Or, before attending a church service or local event, sit down and talk about what Christmas truly means to each member of your family. You may be surprised at the answers – and it will make each event and activity that much more meaningful.

5. Dress up!

It’s amazing how getting all dolled up can take an event from “okay” to “outstanding.” If you frame your holiday outings as opportunities instead of as obligations, your kids probably won’t mind putting on their fancy duds…and they’ll definitely remember the fact that Mom and Dad thought that they were mature enough to attend such a special event! (And you can take the opportunity to snap some photos everyone will enjoy looking at for years to come.)

6. Make something out of nothing.

A meaningful experience doesn’t have to cost a massive amount of money, and it doesn’t have to be a once-in-a-lifetime event. In fact, your family can make “routine” holiday tasks into beloved traditions. For example, get everyone together to wrap gifts for friends and family, and share hot chocolate and cookies while you’re curling ribbon and cutting paper. Or let everyone climb into special holiday pajamas, then pile in the car and look at all of the beautiful holiday lights in your town.

7. Give thanks.

As the saying goes, “Remember the reason for the season.” Depending on your family’s beliefs and background, that “reason” might differ from your neighbor’s, but one thing’s for sure: This is a time to be grateful and to count blessings. Whenever your family visits a friend or attends a special event, make sure to point out to your children how fortunate they are to have such individuals and opportunities in their lives…and point out that not every child around the world is so privileged.

8. Give back.

If your family is counting its blessings, the natural next step is to reach out to those whose holiday seasons might not be filled with much cheer. Consider donating to a charity instead of giving as many gifts, volunteering at a soup kitchen, or caroling at a nursing home. This is the perfect time of year to teach children that it truly is better to give than to receive-and it can actually feel really good, too. These experiences will instill values in your children and broaden their perspective on holiday privileges.

9. Live in the moment.

It’s easy to get caught up in the hoopla of the holidays, and not living in the moment is a downright joy robber. If you’re constantly setting your sights on the next holiday party or dance recital on your calendar, you won’t be fully enjoying the activity you’re currently doing. Reveling in the now and accepting the (minor) flaws that might come along allows you to truly experience the benefits of living in the present. Those moments with family and friends will be that much sweeter.

What other ideas do you have for giving your kids a meaningful experience around the holidays?

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