Giving and receiving: Making Christmas meaningful for young kids

By Brittany Carlson


I’ve always loved Christmas, both growing up and as an adult. Now that I have two kids of my own, my favorite part of Christmas is sharing some of my favorite traditions with them and making new traditions as a family.


My goal is not only to have fun with my boys (ages 4 and 18 months), but to teach them that Christmas is about more than receiving presents, but about giving to others. Most importantly, my husband and I want to pass on to our children our belief that the best gift we could ever receive for Christmas is one that was given 2,000 years ago, when Jesus, savior of the world, was born in a stable.


So, while some of the activities I love doing with them are light and fun, others have deep spiritual meaning for us.


My favorite Christmas activity to do with my kids is to celebrate Advent: a season of eager anticipation of Christ’s birthday celebration in the weeks before Christmas. In our family, we light a candle on our Advent wreath, sing a Christmas carol together, read a Christmas story or passage from the Bible and pray together. My parents had Advent with my sisters and I when I was growing up, and it’s my great pleasure to pass it on to my kids now. I love the feeling of coming together for a few moments of peace, to focus on what is most important, in the midst of a season that is usually so hectic.


I’m also trying to teach my boys, especially my 4-year-old, Adam*, the importance of giving to others this year. I’m planning to make many of our Christmas gifts this year with the kids’ help.


So far, Adam and James* (18 months), helped me make salt dough ornaments for our family members for Christmas by putting their handprints in the dough before I baked them, the painting them and adding glitter to the handprints. It was a fun activity and I think Adam will enjoy watching my parents open theirs on Christmas morning.


Adam also helped me make and decorate some Christmas cookies to mail to loved ones we won’t be seeing this Christmas. We are also planning to make cookies and deliver them to local Soldiers who don’t have family nearby.


When I bake, Adam uses his stepping stool and helps me stir dough, makes shapes and helps to add ingredients (though he eats more chocolate chips than he puts in sometimes). One of my favorite traditions that has been passed down from my grandmother is making Christmas cut-outs and decorating them together.


One of my friends gave me a fun idea for involving kids in giving presents to others. She said she helped her kids make a list of every person they would see on Christmas morning, then brought them to the dollar store and gave them a dollar to spend on each person. She didn’t help them select gifts and did not watch them shop, so on Christmas morning everyone had a surprise gift from that child. I would love to do this with my older son, Adam.



Another friend of mine has a fun way of teaching her kids to give back at Christmas. She said on every day from Dec. 1-25, her children pick a card (numbered 1-25) from a basket, each with a different task related to giving. Tasks include mailing artwork to a loved one, donating to a food bank, handing out baked goods, or calling a loved one.


Here’s a shortlist of other Christmas activities I would love to do with my kids this year, along with more ideas from friends:


  • Go Christmas caroling and hand out homemade goodies
  • Go to a candlelight Christmas Eve caroling service
  • Visit with Santa at community center/when he visits playground on fire truck
  • Visit a tree farm
  • Go on a sleigh ride
  • Ride on a “Polar Express” ride
  • Drive (or walk) around at night and see the light displays in different neighborhoods
  • Visit a local farm holding holiday activities
  • Attend a local holiday parade
  • Check out a kids holiday workshops (such as those held at home improvement stores or local libraries)
  • Bargain shop at dollar stores or thrift stores


Some other great places to look for events and activities include searching for local events through Facebook, checking your local chamber of commerce website, and checking for events at your local library and church, to name a few.


Whatever you do with your kids this Christmas season, my hope is that you choose activities that bring you closer together, not the ones that add extra stress to an already busy season of the year. May Christmas be a special opportunity for you to teach your children why Christmas is important to your family.


*names changed for privacy


Brittany Carlson is a lifelong lover of words and all things chocolate. She is an Army wife and now has two sons, Adam (4) and James (18 months). She has written for several Army community newspapers, including the Stuttgart Citizen (Germany), Fort Leonard Wood Guidon (Missouri) and Fort Belvoir Eagle (Virginia). Brittany holds a Master of Arts in Journalism from the University of Missouri-Columbia. She and her family live in upstate NY. 

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