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How to Celebrate the Holidays with Grandparents—Even From Afar

by Meghan Fitzgerald

In a holiday season when we’re all looking to create joy, holiday traditions can give kids roots. Meaningful family rituals don’t have to be ages-old; in fact, you can use the traditions of your childhood to inspire new memories. In the process, you can even bring kids and their grandparents' generation even closer, even when many of us have to stay apart. Here’s how.

Step 1. Interview Your Loved One

Set up a call in which kids can “interview” older family members. No matter how long or how the calls unfold, use them as a delightful chance to learn a bit about why and how special family traditions started, where favorite recipes came from, and what songs loved ones have sung along the way. 

Encourage kids to ask grandparents or another older family or friend to share about their own favorite holiday memories and describe what the world was like when they were little. Kids can also ask elders to describe how you were during the holidays as a little kid—delighting in the chance to imagine their parents as kids, too!

Get interview questions!

To help, we’ve put together an interview idea list for kids of different ages. Download or print out this sheet of questions to ask, and pick the ones that work best for your family.

Taking the chance to revisit memories and share stories of family history will give a boost to the older generation. The act of reminiscing helps strengthen both mood and memory. And, even if kids don’t appear to understand all that is shared, they’ll pick up on more than you might guess. If you are able to participate or can listen in, you’ll likely love learning or hearing the old stories too.  

Whatever notes, recordings or memories you take away from the call can also become a treasured part of family history. Plus, as you’ll see below, you can parlay what you learn to give kids the chance to give their grandparents some of the most meaningful gifts of all!

Step 2. Songs

So much history and nostalgia is stored up in song, especially those tunes that we associate with positive holiday memories. When you talk with an elder, ask about their favorite holiday songs or favorite songs from when they were a kid. Recalling music that provided joy in the past also triggers powerful positive memories, giving grandparents an emotional boost. 

Want to boost that boost? Find one of their favorite songs and record a video of you and your kids singing or dancing along. The video becomes a perfect gift that the receiver can watch to spark joy again and again!

Step 3. Food

Often, the recipes we make carry smells, tastes and techniques that connect us to our past. Plus, even though a lot of holiday food seems really rich and indulgent, slowing down to cook together, and using what are often traditional foods, promotes healthy habits in the long haul.

Planning with Kids

Locate a recipe that’s a generational favorite and put it on your holiday menu. If you don’t uncover strong food traditions, research the traditions of people about whom you are curious or from whom your elders came. Find a recipe that intrigues you and give it a try—and start a new tradition!

As you prepare and cook, introduce kids to the smells, tastes and textures of various ingredients. Activating multiple senses gets kids even more engaged and can boost the memory-making process. 

If it feels natural, pause to reflect on how grateful you feel for these foods and the gifts we find in nature. You can also share in gratitude for the family and friends who came before us and handed down these recipes. These gratitude exercises can help kids feel their connection to the natural world, a sense of belonging within a strong network of people, and strong ties to cultural traditions.

Cooking with Kids

If kids are old enough to help measure and follow a recipe, welcome them to prep and cook with you. If not, set them up with a set of bowls and tools to explore some of the ingredients as you work through the recipe. As long as you work side by side, you are sharing in the process, and you can share pride in the delicious results!

Even if family can’t dine with you, share with them the photographs, short videos and stories of how you worked together to prepare and enjoy treasured dishes or create new traditions. What a wonderful way to keep traditions alive and reinforce positive holiday memories!

Step 4. Preserve Traditions

In their conversations, kids may uncover one or more special rituals that the family member or friend they interviewed repeat at the holidays. Maybe these are rituals that you already do with your family, or maybe they’ve gotten lost over time. If any sound interesting to you, enjoy them with renewed enthusiasm this year.

Growing up, we would go around to each window in the house and sing a different holiday song as we screwed in the mini bulb to “light” each electric candle. Although we don’t have candles in our windows, we do plan to walk from room to room, carrying and lighting home made lanterns to carry on the tradition. Our family can join us on the phone and sing along, too!

Share the joy

No matter how you weave in old traditions or create new ones, share photos or videos of your process and messages of gratitude back with the elders you love, and you'll fill their holiday buckets and yours with JOY. 

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