Read a Holiday Story Each Night
What better way to invent a new tradition than to combine two old ones? In this case, we've melded the classic Advent calendar-- perennially popular with kids and adults--with another favorite family pastime: holiday reading. Begin by collecting a stack of holiday and winter books and picking a date to start reading (December 1 is an obvious choice). Choose a title for each night you'll be reading, and write each title on a scrap of paper. (For longer works like A Christmas Carol, select an individual chapter.) Then stash all your scraps in a jar, and at the appointed reading hour let each family member take a turn picking the night's literary fare (no peeking, please, to maintain that Advent calendar element of surprise). You can also take turns reading; preliterate family members get to choose a designated reader.
• Twas The Night Before Christmas by Clement C. Moore
• A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens
• The New Testament
• The Polar Express by Chris Van Allsburg
• Seven Candles For Kwanzaa by Andrea Davis Pinkney
• Inside-Out Grandma by Joan Rothenberg
• How The Grinch Stole Christmas by Dr. Seuss
• The Twelve Cats Of Christmas by Kandy Radzinski
And you might think this is still expensive b/c you have to buy te books, but really, I see books as an investment. Even then, there are many ways you can get them for cheap. My mom saved several of my favorite books from when I was a kid. I also started collecting books for my son before he was even born. Garage sales and ebay are also a great resource.
Making Christmas Day Memorable
Unique decorations, great games, time-saving tips, and unusual new traditions that make entertaining your friends and family a little more relaxing and a lot more fun.
Traditions With a Twist Of course, you're going to trim the tree or light a menorah together. But if you'd like to add a fresh new element to this year's festivities, here are some more unusual holiday traditions.
Wrapping Paper Battle - For the past decade, members of the Vagel family in St. Louis have been surreptitiously hoarding their wrapping paper as they open their Christmas gifts. Once the last present is unwrapped, the wadded-up paper volleys start flying, and it's all-out war. "If you get something that's wrapped in a lot of paper, don't use it all in one big wad. Make it into smaller pieces," suggests mom Dawn, adding that boxes and lids make great shields and even forts. Babies and breakable gifts should be moved out of the way, she advises, before any ammo is launched. The one rule? Everyone who participates in the fight participates in the cleanup.
Board Games for a Group - A rollicking good game can entertain generations for hours on end. Here are some of our favorite high-energy options for a crowd.
-Scattergories: In a race against a timer, players jot down words starting with a specific letter and belonging to certain categories -- vegetables, toys, and pizza toppings, for example (roll a p, and answers might be parsnips, pogo sticks, and pineapple). Players score points only for words not written down by anyone else. Milton Bradley, $30
-Bananagrams: This game is like a free-form version of Scrabble, with each player creating her own crossword. Plus, when picking tiles or using them up, you get to yell "Split!," "Peel!," and "Bananas!" Bananagrams, $15
-Catch Phrase: In this frenetic hot-potato guessing game, teams try to guess the answers to clues in categories ranging from entertainment to sports, passing the electronic game unit back and forth so that they're not stuck with it when the timer goes off. Parker Brothers, $25
-Pit: There's no sitting around and waiting in this raucous game, which everyone plays simultaneously while yelling at the top of their lungs. Based on commodity trading, Pit is like a no-holds-barred go fish, with everyone trying to corner the market. Winning Moves, $13
Entertaining Icebreakers - Want some parlor games with goofy appeal for all ages? Here are two icebreakers which are sure to get your guests into the action:
-Present Scramble: This game requires a bit of prep but is well worth the effort. Put a small prize (such as a $10 bill) in a small box, tape it well, and gift wrap it. Put the box in a bigger box, wrap that box and put it in another, and so on, wrapping it as many times as you have the boxes and the patience for. With everyone sitting in a circle, the youngest chooses a number from 1 through 6 and rolls a die, then passes the die to the next player. The first person to roll the chosen number puts on two oven mitts and tears into the present. The other players continue rolling the die. The next player who rolls the chosen number grabs the mitts and takes over the unwrapping. The person who unwraps the actual box with the prize gets to keep it.
-Wooden Spoon Guess Who: People who are very comfortable around each other can play a guffaw-inducing game with a couple of long-handled wooden spoons. After being blindfolded, one player has to guess the identity of another by touching that person with the spoons only. Meanwhile, the "touchee" tries not to crack up while being poked and prodded. The best part is a five-year-old can play it with a forty-five-year-old.
And for the Hostress of Christmas
This year, join in the fun instead of fretting about cooking and cleanup. Try these simple party-hosting solutions.
Play It Potluck - When you ask your guests to bring their favorite holiday desserts and appetizers, it lets them pitch in and can work as a great conversation starter. Place notecards and pens on the buffet and have your guests write down where their recipes came from, be it from a favorite cookbook or Great Aunt Doris.
Personalize Cups and Plates - Don't wash a million glasses or use an endless supply of paper plates. Instead, give guests inexpensive (but not disposable) plastic cups and plates they can decorate with permanent markers and rinse and reuse throughout the day. It's fun to do and good for the environment, and it saves people from drink confusion. Plus, they get to bring their creations home.
Load Up on Leftover Containers - In the weeks leading up to the holidays, buy new containers or save the biggest and best from packaged foods. When the party ends, pack up food for guests to take with them.
Let a Holiday Tablecloth Unfold Leave the good linens stowed. Cover the table instead with an inexpensive vinyl tablecloth topped by brown kraft paper. Mugs of crayons offer everyone the chance to create holiday designs and keep kids occupied between courses.
Foster Fun Feet - Place a basket filled with festive socks near your home's entry. Guests can ditch their shoes, get in the holiday spirit, and help keep your floors clean. Look for wild styles with holiday patterns or jingle bells and let everyone mix it up. Mismatched pairs should be encouraged!