You've perfected low-fat holiday cookies. You hit the outlets in early October for pre-season shopping. You've decked the halls, hung the mistletoe, lit the menorah and trimmed the tree. But what have you done to celebrate the true spirit of the holidays? Remember the reason for the season with simple ways to create a deeper connection.
1. Be of service. It's better to give than to receive -- and that applies to more than material goods. Some ways to spread cheer to those in need: Help your kids deliver homemade holiday cookies to a retirement home, schedule a visit to the children's cancer ward at a local hospital to deliver baskets of toys, help serve a holiday meal at a homeless shelter. To find more volunteer opportunities in your area, visit www.volunteersolutions.org.
2. Make food count. How much money does your family spend on "meaningless" food -- soft drinks, chips, cookies and the like? Reexamine your food choices and buying patterns, and pass the savings on: Calculate how much you spend on junk food and gift that money to a charity, or donate 2 percent of your food purchases to a food bank.
3. Create a ritual. Rituals anchor holidays, and give kids a sense of continuity and a tradition they can pass on for years to come. It can be as simple as lighting candles, singing songs, or saying a special prayer. Other ideas: Take a holiday hike in the woods, throw a latke party, host an annual holiday dessert potluck.
4. Share your toys. It's never too early to teach kids to share. Explain to your children that not all boys and girls have gifts to open on the holidays, and ask if they'd like to share some of theirs. Most kids are eager to pick out and wrap old favorites, especially if they're involved in delivering them to the recipients. Sharing toys goes for grown-ups as well: Old computers, golf clubs, CD players or cell phones are meaningful holiday donations. Check www.justgive.org for more ideas.
5. Tune out. You can't stop holiday commercialism, but you can refuse to partake. Kill your television, and engage kids and family in more festive activities. Give kids disposable cameras and have an afternoon of photo-taking; make cookies for an assisted living center; head to the local ice rink, museum or aquarium; drag out the markers and paints and make homemade New Year's cards; stage a neighborhood snow sculpture contest.
6. Simplify. It's hard to focus on the true meaning of the holidays when you're rushing from one shopping mall to the next. Try this: Six to ten weeks before the holiday season, sketch out a weekly calendar with all your holiday obligations -- then start eliminating. Weed out and delegate as much as you can (it's easier if you start early); you'll free up more time for real connecting.
7. Let your purchases reflect your values. Instead of supporting plastics, box stores and rampant consumerism, make gifts more meaningful. Shop on websites that help artisans in developing countries (find a list at www.fairtraderesource.org); buy at small, local stores; make your own holiday cards and donate the savings to charity. Or ask family and friends to skip your gift and make a donation instead to their favorite charity.
8. Feed your soul. As much as you want to connect with your family and friends, it's essential to carve out time for yourself -- even if it's just 10 minutes a day. Take time for meditation, introspection, yoga, a solitary hike, gazing at the evening stars. When days get busy and stressful, schedule an afternoon siesta during which everyone goes to his or her room for 45 minutes to read, nap and play quietly. If time alone is at a premium, get creative: Lock yourself in the bathroom with a hot bath, or drive to a park as a detour on the way home from the grocery store. And don't wait until New Year's Day to rethink your personal priorities -- list them now and let the magic of the holidays inspire you.
Stuff your digital stockings! Spread good health and tasty recipes--and support someone other than your local box store--with the Inspired Eats iPhone app. It's a great little gift for those hard-to-buy-for folks on your list, or an inspiring addition to your own holiday cookbook collection.
See sample recipes at InspiredEating.com.
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