4 Tips for a Happy Holiday

  • Parenting
Marilyn E. Stewart, Head of School
Young child eating cupcake

Photo by Daria Shevtsova from Pexels


We all have high hopes for celebrating holidays with our children. We imagine lovely, warm gatherings with good food that everybody shares. We think about family coming together from all over, enjoying convivial moments, and hearty laughter. If gifts are given, we believe they will be received with delight and capture children’s attention for hours on end.

Hmmmm. This ideal scenario is often dashed minutes into a celebration. Our children are often overstimulated, parents are on edge about the many details involved in organizing a holiday gathering, and the best of intentions to buy only a few gifts has snowballed into an almost overwhelming display of colorfully wrapped packages.

There’s still time to make adjustments for the winter holidays! Here are four suggestions to help you manage holiday expectations!

#1 Focus on YOUR Values

Have a serious conversation with your partner about family values. What does a successful celebration look like for your family? Once you have a better idea of your family’s holiday celebration, open the discussion to your children and possibly your parents! For example, ask the grandparents to follow suggested guidelines about the number and type of gifts for each family member. Or, delegating cooking and clean-up duties goes a long way in ensuring that everyone enjoys the holidays. And, decide on a couple of activities that the whole family can enjoy. Meeting about (and managing) expectations in advance will help to avoid conflict in the moment.

#2 Discuss Gifts

Have a serious discussion about gifts with the following guidelines: something you want, something you need, something to wear, and something to read. You might wish to steer gifts toward special classes that children enjoy over time (ice skating lessons, gymnastics programs, music lessons, a special robotics program). How about tickets to a movie or special performance?

#3 Plan Family Experiences

You may wish to try planning the gift of family experiences. There are so many options in our metropolitan area. Here are just a few:

  • Visit the Holiday Train Show at the New York Botanical Garden. You will marvel at the intricate village made by hand with natural materials.
  • The Jewish Museum offers many ways to mark the holiday of Hanukkah. Highlights include a display of the Museum’s renowned collection of Hanukkah lamps, and special family programs, including the annual Hanukkah Family Day.
  • The Met Cloisters (Bronx) displays decorations in the medieval tradition. There are a series of concerts as well! Two will be held on 12/21
  • The Brooklyn Children’s Museum hosts the largest Kwanzaa celebration in NYC with days of cultural events and creative activities.
  • Ice-skating is a family favorite! Try Mennen Arena (Morristown), Rockefeller Center (NYC), and Wollman Rink (NYC)!

Whatever the activity, take photos! Some for your memory book and some for far-away relatives!

#4 Consider Community Service!

Carve out some time to participate in a community service activity as a family. Many social service agencies and faith-based organizations rely on neighborhood volunteers and donations, especially during the holidays.

  • Children as young as preschool-age can color pictures to deliver smiles to home-bound senior citizens through Color A Smile, or sort through their own toy shelves to donate to Second Chance Toys.
  • Grade schoolers can shop for a new present for children in need through Jersey Cares Frosty's Friends program.
  • Many local churches, mosques, temples, and community centers offer holiday giving trees, charity bazaars, and adopt-a-family programs.
  • Local animal shelters have holiday wish lists, too—like St. Hubert's Animal Welfare Center, which continually rescues hundreds of animals from disaster situations and overcrowded shelters.
  • Older children can help organize a hat-and-glove drive to bring warmth this winter to families through Jersey Cares or the Salvation Army.
  • Teens can also collect and donate feminine hygiene products to South Orange–based Girls Helping Girls. Period., which helps local women and girls.

Whatever your family’s holiday traditions and celebrations look like, I wish you all a happy, healthy, calm, and fulfilling winter break!

  • community service
  • experiences
  • family
  • family values
  • parenting
  • values