10 Ways to Boost Holiday Spirit

As parents, the holiday season can quickly go from special and magical, to hectic and stressful. There’s nothing more stressful than a houseful of bored kids trying to monopolize your time while you coordinate holiday plans. Whether your kids are 5 or 15, these 10 activities are a sure way to get them into the holiday spirit and keep them entertained!

  1. Holiday Baking – Whether it’s decorating Christmas cookies for Santa or preparing a dessert for friends and family, baking is a great way for everyone to spend time together. Need some inspiration? Visit our Pinterest page for some great dessert recipes and decorating tips.
  2. Holiday Movie Marathon – Everyone comes prepared with their comfiest pajamas and their favorite holiday movie. Settle in with hot chocolate and lots of snacks.
  3. Gingerbread House Decorating Competition – It doesn’t matter if you purchase a prepackaged kit or DIY! Roll up your sleeves and get creative. Determine the winner by sharing photos on your Facebook page and asking your friends to pick the best!
  4. Volunteer – There are a number of organizations throughout the city that are always looking for volunteers. From volunteering to serve on a city board, committee, or commission, to working as a mentor or volunteer at a non-profit, there are many ways for individuals to get involved. Click here for a list of local volunteer opportunities.
  5. Christmas Carol Karaoke – Come prepared with your favorite Christmas song and put on a performance for the family.
  6. Dollar Store Secret Santa – For this activity everyone heads to the dollar store armed with a family member’s name. Set a budget, $1, $3, or $5 and go crazy! On Christmas morning everyone opens their dollar store presents and has to guess who picked their name.
  7. Visit Santa – A great opportunity to spend some quality sibling time. Having your teen take their little brother or sister to see Santa is a memory neither will forget. They’ll also feel great being the cool big brother or sister that took care of the little ones when mom and dad weren’t around.
  8. Go For a Drive & Find the Best Christmas Lights – Signature Moms Blogger, Kathy, shared a great post [link] last year about the best local Christmas lights display.
  9. Make a Care Package for a Solider – Not everyone is fortunate enough to spend the holidays at home with family and friends. You can find many different programs online that help coordinate care packages to soldiers serving all around the world.
  10. Elf Your Neighbors – Not sure what it means to be Elfed? Our blog post explains everything you need to know about this fun holiday tradition!

Tell us, what are some of your favorite holiday traditions to do with your children?

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You’ve Been Elf’d!

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Looking for a fun tradition to start with your neighbors? This year, get the whole neighborhood in the holiday spirit with a good elf-ing.

What’s an elf-ing you ask? Sometime before Christmas, one neighbor starts the game by secretly leaving a basket of treats on the doorstep together with an Elf sign and Elf poem explaining how to play the game.

Ring the doorbell, leave the treats, and run!

In turn, each recipient is asked to post the sign to alert would-be Elves that they’ve been Elf’d, and to pass the game along to two more friends or neighbors.

As the days pass, Elf signs pop up all over. Who’s been Elf’d? It’s all part of the fun to see holiday cheer spread from door to door.

To start the game, we’ve made it easy with free printable Elf’d poems and Elf’d signs.

Will you join the Christmas fun? Look out … You’ve Been Elf’d!

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Enjoy the Precious Present This Season

By: Martianne Stanger

Christmas. Chanukah. Kwanzaa. No matter what holiday you celebrate this season, one thing seems to be on many folks’ minds: presents! Which gifts might we might give and which we might receive?

My thoughts are no different.  As I prepare for Christmas, I, too, think about presents.  However, I do not just think about the tangible ones.  I also think about the precious present and simply being present.

You see, when I sat down on my bed tonight to check emails and catch up on a few things online, my children, who had yet to fall asleep for the night, came to join me.  There, cozy, comfortable, and safe by my side, they drifted off to sleep.

So, now, here I sit “pinned” amidst a tangle of sleep-heavy limbs and chins. I admit, the position I am in is not the utmost in physical comfort, for my children’s bodies press into mine at some numbing angles.  Still, I am figuratively “comfortable.”  In fact, my soul sings with thanksgiving.

At this moment, I am so very gifted, not with things, but with a moment…  The warmth of my children’s bodies near mine, the song of their steady breath, the look of their sweet slumber smiles…  This moment is just one of the many precious ones I have experienced today, which, in turn, is one among many I am gifted with daily.

Sometimes, I overlook such gifts.  However, thankfully, at other times, I recognize them and savor them just as I am doing right now and just as I have done so any times before.

This moment is my very precious present.

What is yours?  What have you experienced today?  What are you immersed in right at this moment?  How is it precious?

This holiday season, might I suggest you pause and think about this idea:  What does you precious present look like and how might you best unwrap, enjoy, and share it?  Doing so costs nothing but time and thought, and, wow, does it bear fruits of gratitude and joy.

While you are at it, you might wish to get ahold of a book I have long found meaningful: The Precious Present.   It’s a story my father was introduced to years ago and, in turn, passed on to me.  One day, at just the “right moment”, I plan to gift copies of the it to my own children.  Perhaps you’d like to read it, too.

In a recent post that I wrote about on my family blog, I shared a bit more about the book.  Head on over and check that post out if you like.  Or, simply take away the thoughts the book has inspired that I share here.

This moment is a gift.  May you live your precious present well!

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Easy Holiday Recipe

By: Kathy Trainor 

You have no idea how easy, Easy Three Ingredient Peanut Butter Fudge really is!

Looking for an easy holiday treat that will be a hit with everyone? Look no further! Last year, while trying to figure out a treat for my snow plow guy, I figured I would try something new since I love peanut butter. I came up with Easy Three Ingredient Peanut Butter Fudge.

Ingredients: 
1 (12 oz.) pkg. Reeses Peanut Butter Chips
1 (14 oz.) can Eagle Brand Sweetened Condensed Milk
1 1/2 tsp. vanilla

MICROWAVE METHOD: In 1 quart microwave dish combine chips with sweetened milk. Cook on 100% power (high) 3 minutes; stir until chips melt and mixture is smooth. Stir in remaining ingredients. Spread evenly into wax paper lined 9 inch square pan. Chill about 2 hours or until firm. Turn fudge onto cutting board; peel off paper and cut into squares.

If want, substitute 12 ounce package Nestle’s Semi-Sweet chocolate chips for the Reeses Peanut Butter Chips to make chocolate fudge. Make according to directions above with the rest of the ingredients.

Please note that those who have peanut allergies might not be able to have Easy Three Ingredient Peanut Butter Fudge. So this recipe for Easy Three Ingredient Peanut Butter Fudge can also be changed to white chocolate, dark chocolate or even mint and chocolate for an added flair for your fudge making.

I think I also like this recipe because there is very little clean up and it is fun to lick the bowl. Mainly because I am a peanut butter fan. I love when the kids want to help too!

Enjoy!

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The Thankful Bank

By: Sandy Churchill 

While turkey has now been transformed into a delightfully cozy stew and most leftovers are long gone, the spirit of gratitude lingers at our house. We had a frenzied Thanksgiving with 23 guests seated at three tables brimming with homemade squash, stuffing, vegetables, mashed potatoes, and myriad pies, and conversation was abundant and happy. But the spirit of gratitude remains long after my oldest daughter’s grace at the table and began about two weeks earlier during a Sunday School lesson with my CCD students.

We called it a Thankful Bank—but a Gratitude Jar or Thankful Jar works equally well—and we crafted it them out of empty tennis ball containers. We labeled them and added the Bible verse from Psalm 107:1, “Give thanks to the Lord for He is good—His love endures forever.” Naturally we were tying in the Bible verse to the lesson of gratitude because it is related to the kinds of prayers we writing-525728_1280were discussing—thanking God for His help, asking for something, repenting for wrongs, or praising Him. But an equally important lesson took hold over the class: the reason to give pause and count one’s blessings. It may sound trite and certainly Hallmark-season sentiment fitting of the latest holiday commercial, but it is true that human nature is often forgetful of the things that go “right” in the face of quirky inconveniences and small complaints. Even my sweet class of very kind 10 year-olds enjoyed the chance to stop and fill out little slips of paper for people and things for which they felt grateful. Of course, “family”, “friends”, “a house”, and “food” topped many lists, but some also mentioned the chance to visit grandparents on Thanksgiving, furry friends of all kinds, healthy bodies to play sports, and such.

I took some time to think of my own Thankful Bank—and what I would jot down on the colorful paper slips. Freedom, the right to vote, jobs I love, and the bounty of nature’s blessings I see every day on morning or afternoon walks—were just a few. Some of the children in class were giddy about competing to fill their Thankful Banks until next Thanksgiving and see how many blessings they could think of and stash in their banks. What a contest! If we could take the time to find the good, stash away the “thankfuls” each and every day—how gracious and positive would our hearts be day in and day out? What a change from the frantic, road rage-driven impatience and entitlement we see so often as we approach the Christmas season!

So now that Advent has begun and Christmas will speed its way along before the turkey soup is long gone, I am holding onto the Thankful Bank and determined to reflect on all the little slips of gratitude that will fill it during the coming year.

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How the Signature Mommy Bloggers Celebrate Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving is a time for families to get together and enjoy great company and delicious food. See how the Signature Mommy Bloggers are planning to celebrate Thanksgiving this year.

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Heather O’Neill:
I love thanksgiving because it is the one holiday where our family gathers and is content with just being together. There is not the craziness and expense of Christmas, the forced flowers and cards of Valentine’s Day, the adult beverage consumption of St. Patty’s Day, the egg dye and candy of Easter, the heat and humidity of the 4th of July, or the scares and sweets of Halloween.  We spend time with one another, enjoying good food, good company and creating great memories.  

Tanya Pimental:
The fall has been flying by and it has not quite sunk in that the holidays have arrived. With Thanksgiving and the reminder of our blessings in life, I find that I am truly thankful for the family time the holidays give us. With the busy day to day activities, we find so little opportunity to be with one another and just relax. I’m thankful to have a few days to catch up and reflect on life in it’s current state. We take a walk after Thanksgiving dinner on the beach and the boardwalk each year at my in-laws. The cool ocean air is refreshing after filling our bellies. This has become a favorite tradition for me and reminds me each year just how thankful I am to have those moments to make memories.

Kathy Tranior:
We are rather boring for Thanksgiving and we try to keep things very small and very laid back.  Nothing ever really has happened to us- we just enjoy time together. However, this year we are leaving Friday morning VERY early to go to Six Flags New Jersey, Sesame Place and Crayola. The best part?  The boys don’t know. I feel this may be a Thanksgiving they will always remember.

Martianne Stanger:
My nine-year-old and eight-year-old love going to the parade in Plymouth; my five-year-old does, too, but he also cannot wait to bite into a big turkey leg again this year at our family gathering!   As for me, I relish the opportunity to focus on thanking Our Lord for all the blessings in our lives, to celebrate with family and friends, and to dive into history with my children.

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We Can Be Like Flashlights, Right Mom?

By: Anne Marie Holloway – Guest Blogger & Former Signature Moms Blogger

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Sometimes my children…Wait, let me rephrase that.. Often times, my children remind me about our calling in the world… I believe we are called to be good… To love one another…To do something….It has also become apparent to me, that I cannot always protect them from the things that happen in the world.

This past week, there were violent acts of terrorism in Paris, France. What made it real and scary to my children was that their grandparents were visiting France. Waiting to hear that our loved ones were safe was unnerving for all of us, and although we put on our best face and try to smooth over the worst of things– children notice. I think it is ok to let them know that we are scared, but there is something we can do. Here is a conversation I had with my son, just before it was time to get on the school bus following the events in Paris.

He stood there, teeth chattering as his little hand gently slipped into mine. His blue eyes silently staring up at me.

As I gazed at my magnificent seven-year old creation, I realized that his gaze was a very intentional one…. His HUGE Blue Eyes were searching my face…

“Are you okay little man?” I asked him.  His face was awash of color as it turned up to gaze searchingly into my own my own. I watched as he rubbed his eye with his free hand to catch a runaway tear that he did not wish for me to see.

In a barely audible little voice he then whispered, “I am scared…”

1909979_1082461584834_8771_nThese three little words transformed the air around us as they left his little lips. They enveloped us – robbing us of oxygen for what seemed like the longest moment of silence that either of us has even felt.

It is so difficult to talk to our children about the world. Especially when the world seems so frightening. There is a truth that is very difficult to explain away…

Under the weight of it all I felt vulnerable… I felt seven years old again. The events of so many years of inexplicable acts of violence — against humanity, by humanity — came rushing towards me…  Attacking all hope… What would the future hold for this little boy? My little boy…

My mind raced to find a place where I could return my son’s confidence by saying something to make him feel better. Maybe I could just push aside his fears, and attempt to mask the truth so that maybe it would not be so very scary to him.

But, all I could say to him in the moment– was the truth.

“Me too. Buddy.”

I felt defeated.

My son looked down at his shoes, “Yeah…” is all my typically eloquent son could muster.

I looked down at my shoes and stepped forward so that our toes were touching, and echoed his “Yeah…”

He then tugged on my hand, pulled me down to his level and closer to him. I squatted in front of him. I had a job to do here and it felt like the future rested upon how I would respond.

I had exactly two minutes to find the right words to say. I could already hear the dull revving of the school bus engine as it began making its way towards our driveway. Today would have been the perfect day for the town to work on the roads, so that the bus might just have to run a few minutes late.

I just needed a few more minutes…

But I did not have more time. This was it…

So I blurted out some words… Powerful messages shared with me from the communities I am blessed to know. It just so happened that I was witness to the sharing of these messages yesterday.

A reminder that the Spirit works in just this sort of way… When we need it most.

Anyways, with sixty seconds left on the clock , my mind raced. My son and I locked gazes and I spoke these words;

“Ya, lots of scary stuff out there lately…There is something we can do though kiddo..”

Liam thoughtfully responded with a half statement/half question; “We can pray?”

“Yes Liam. Praying is powerful.” I responded.

“Being good is also powerful. Provoking others to do good Liam, take your goodness and spread it, be good, do good, put goodness back into the world, love people the way we love you…Our goodness changes things..”

He nodded, and as his nose touched mine, I could feel his breath upon my face. It was warm and smelled of Cheerios. I was falling short here.. I knew I had to do better. I wrapped my arms around him and kissed his forehead.

“Scary stuff is like being in the dark without a flashlight, isn’t it buddy?”

And Liam responded, in all his wisdom – well beyond my own. His response caused me to hold my breath..

“Yes, Mom, but you and I can be flashlights, right?”

“Yes Liam, you and I can be flashlights”, I whispered.

Wow.

With that, he smiled and turned on his heel to run towards the bus that had pulled up at the end of our driveway. And as he peered back at me, I continued to hold my breath and thought, I wish it was that easy. I wish that we could just turn on our lights and instantly all the pain and suffering that exists would simply no longer exist.

12112492_10207769461497580_4813107047628344337_nBut, you have to start somewhere…

As the bus pulled away, his little face beamed at me through the window and as he held his little hand up to the glass,  he signed “I love you” using his three little fingers… Something he was taught by his older sister.

Way to go little man….

Be the Light…

I have never loved anything more….

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