Teaching Kids the Meaning of the Holidays: How to Plan a "Retro" Christmas

Teaching Kids the Meaning of the Holidays: How to Plan a "Retro" Christmas

Maybe the Grinch had the right idea when he stole Christmas.

Thanks to him, the Whos of Whoville experienced the true meaning of the holiday. As their consumerism raced away on a dog-drawn sleigh, they focused on family, friends and holiday cheer.

Sounds like a great idea to us.

This year, we're planning to enjoy what we call "Retro Christmas": A return to holidays past, when the season was about togetherness rather than excess gifts, affection rather than perfection. Think "Miracle on 34th Street."

Since it relies on simple presents and handmade decorations, Retro Christmas has the added bonus of cutting down our costs, but that’s not the point: We want to teach our children about warmth, cheer and the fact that happiness doesn’t come in wrapping paper.

And, although we call this “Retro Christmas,” you can adjust most of our tips to apply to whatever winter holidays you celebrate (except maybe for our advice on ornamenting your tree).

After all, the Whos did just fine in the end.

One Gift Per Person

Set a rule: Each person can only get one gift for each person. This rule isn't about being "Scroogy," it's about making gift-giving more meaningful. All too often Christmas morning is a frenzy of tearing through boxes in 20 minutes and barely remembering what you got. Instead, this year, buy one perfect present for each member of the family—and make opening far more fun! The added joy will come from putting more thought into finding the one thing that will put the biggest smile on each person's face.

An Old-Fashioned Tree

Instead of a lot of store-bought ornaments that don't have real value, dress your tree in décor that has history and meaning. One easy rule of thumb: Only hang ornaments from years past that have true sentimental value. Then add handmade touches with these easy DIY projects the whole family can make together.

Popcorn Garlands
altNot only are these strands classic, they're also cheap, easy and something kids will love stringing together. (Plus, you can serve them as bird snacks once the holiday is over.)

  1. Choose butter-free popcorn to keep hands clean, and consider using slightly stale kernels so the popcorn is a little harder. We prefer whole kernels rather than prepackaged because they're cheaper and oil-free. If you don't have an air popper, put half a cup of kernels into a paper lunch bag and fold over twice. Microwave for about three minutes, until there are more than a few seconds between pops.
  2. Gather a needle and thread (or fishing wire) and assign roles to your helpers by age: Little elves can hand you popcorn/berries, while slightly older ones can pick the garland patterns. Steady-handed helpers can use needles of their own.
  3. Make sure the eye of your needle is big enough to fit thread or fishing wire through it. Then add pieces of popcorn or whole, raw cranberries (which you can buy at the grocery store) until you've reached your desired length, then knot the thread and drape on your tree.

Handmade Ornaments

These DIY ornaments epitomize "Retro Christmas" spirit because they're simple, sweet—and when all is said and done, you should be able to look at your tree and see the personal touch of each member of your family.

All you’ll need are pipe cleaners and beads of any color or style with holes big enough to fit the pipe cleaners through.


Have your children thread beads onto the pipe cleaners. If the beads are too loose, fold the end of the cleaner over the first bead to prevent the rest from slipping off. Once the pipe cleaner is full, connect the ends by twisting them together, bend into any festive shape and pop the ornament on a branch.

Just One Cookie

Instead of whipping up dozens of your twelve favorite cookies, this year bake one timeless favorite: The simple, delicious sugar cookie that's a ton of fun for kids to decorate.

  • You'll need a basic sugar cookie recipe, a set of Christmas cookie cutters and red and green sprinkles. That, a clean surface and an afternoon for your kids to unleash their creativity ... and your baking is done. (Or, if your "Retro Christmas" just won't be complete without two cookie options, we also love these peanut butter "reindeer" cookies.)
  • If you usually give out lots of cookies as edible gifts, here's another idea we loved: Retro paper candy pouches. These work well filled with old-school Smarties, gumdrops or peppermints—and pretty much any candy that won't melt easily. You can sew them shut with adorable stitching, or, even easier, use a few swipes of a glue stick and add “seams” with a felt-tip pen.

Pinecone WreathDécor of Yore

Instead of dragging out all the lights and plastic reindeer, this year, make a simple, beautiful pine cone wreath with your kids.

What You'll Need:

A few dozen pine cones
A foam wreath
Brown paint
Hot glue gun
Wide ribbon

To make the wreath, have your kids help you carefully arrange the pine cones on the foam. When you're happy with your layout, use the hot glue gun to secure the cones (you'll need a lot of hot glue to make them stick). Add a festive bow, then hang with a secure hanger—the wreath will be heavy—and enjoy your homemade Christmas décor.

Family Time, Not Party Time
Instead of rushing around to ten parties (or taking multiple trips to the mall), this Christmas, spend at least one whole day holed up at home with the ones you love, the way we used to. Here are a few of our favorite activities when you want to spend quality family time:

Have a Christmas Movie Night

altBack in the day, the family congregated around the one TV in the household ... instead of splintering off between the laptop, the Gameboy and respective bedroom TVs. This year, snuggle up as a family with a kids’ Christmas classic such as "How the Grinch Stole Christmas," "A Charlie Brown Christmas," "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer." Hot chocolate with marshmallows is a must.


Go Caroling

There's no faster way to get in the holiday spirit than going caroling door-to-door—and nothing will bond a family quicker than trying to get (and stay) in tune. Before you set out, let each family member pick his or her favorite holiday song, so you can take turns leading the carols in case not everyone knows all of the words.

Four Retro Approaches ...

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Roast Some Chestnuts

There's nothing that says retro (or smells better) than an oven full of slowly roasting chestnuts. All you need is the nuts, a baking dish, a paring knife and this recipe. Your kids will love digging the meat out of the chestnuts, and the smell will imbue the whole room with Christmas cheer.

Give Back Together

Finding a way to give to charity as a family will have the added benefit of making you all feel happier over the holidays. Just as you did with the "one present" rule, take your child shopping with you and ask them to pick out one special gift for another child in need, which you can donate through a program like Toys for Tots.

More From LearnVest

Find out how making a gratitude list can change your life.
Check out our guide to cute DIY gifts you can make with your kid.
Here are 7 gift trends that won't break the bank.



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