New Family Holiday Traditions

Foster family and community and make new memories with holiday crafts, natural decorations and group activities.

By Abby Olcese

November/December 2016


Try making homemade ornaments and decorations from items you find in nature.

Photo by iStock

Content Tools

1. Host a Food Swap

Cookies aren’t the only foods you can exchange over the holidays. Get to know your neighbors and foster culinary creativity by hosting a swap of homemade, homegrown foods. Attendees can trade goods — such as a loaf of banana bread for a jar of preserves — and many swaps also include a potluck component. To learn more about food swaps, or to find an established one near you, visit

2. Family Circle

Knitting is a perfect cold-weather craft, and a fun activity to do as a family or with friends. Help younger family members pick up new skills by teaching them how to make a simple project, such as a scarf or hat. Set up a plate of cookies, some tea or hot cocoa, and settle in for a fun afternoon. Donate finished hats or scarves to a homeless shelter. Find tips on teaching children to knit here

3. Volunteer as a Family

During the holiday season, there’s no shortage of opportunities to give back to our communities. Call your local homeless shelter, humane society or food bank and ask about volunteer needs. Once you’ve done a little research, decide as a family which opportunity best fits your schedule and abilities, and plan a time to help out.

4. Give a Group Gift

Consider giving one gift each year that the whole family can enjoy together, whether it’s a board game, a tent or even a family trip. Make a list of ideas, and ask everyone in the household to vote on their favorite — ensuring the gift you give is one everybody will be excited about.

5. The Gift of Verse

During the ancient Roman festival of Saturnalia, it was common practice to include a seasonal poem along with gifts to friends or family. Give your gifts an extra personal touch by including a few lines of a favorite poem, or, if you’re feeling creative, come up with a few lines of your own.

6. Make Salt Dough Decorations

Making holiday ornaments from salt dough is an easy, fun holiday activity for kids of all ages. To make the salt dough, mix 1 cup salt and 2 cups flour in a large bowl. Gradually add 1 cup lukewarm water, and mix until it reaches a doughy consistency. Knead until smooth, then use as you would modeling clay, cutting out shapes, making handprints or figures. Let the finished creations air dry (times vary depending on size and thickness). To make your projects colorful, add natural coloring in the form of spirulina powder, beet powder, cocoa or turmeric to the dough before mixing, or have kids paint creations using nontoxic paint.

7. Hunt for Natural Decorations

Take a group trip to a local park or nature preserve and look for pieces of nature to use as winter decorations around your home. Take care to respect your surroundings — only pick up items that have fallen on the ground (such as evergreen branches, acorns or pinecones) or take small cuttings from plants.