All the baking, buying, and burning the midnight oil can make the holiday season feel frenzied. To make this season more meaningful--not to mention serene--slow down and refocus on what makes this time of year so special: family, service, and spirituality.

Celebrate Family and Friends

Show your little ones how much relationships matter--and how joyful they can be--by spending the season connecting with loved ones near and far.

  • Open holiday cards and letters with your children, making sure to talk about what your elementary school best friend was like in second grade or tell funny stories about Great-Aunt Shirley. Then let your little ones tape the enclosed photos on a map to mark where loved ones live--and help you remember them all season long.
  • Choose holiday gifts that bring you closer. For instance, create a mini photo scrapbook of your kids for far-away grandparents. Have preschoolers create homemade storybooks about their relatives. Or offer gifts of time, like a promise to take a gaggle of cousins to the zoo.
  • Dedicate a night to honoring your family's cultural heritage with traditional holiday foods (like lechon if you're Filipino, or a traditional Christmas pudding if your ancestors came from England) or by playing game.

Share Service

The simplest antidote to your children's seasonal gimmes? Teach them to help others. The more they give, the less your kids will care about what they get.

  • Create a construction-paper advent chain and write a simple good deed on each ring: pick up trash, phone a far-away relative, deliver a plate of cookies to a neighbor. For each day of December, rip off a link in the chain together and make time to help someone else.
  • Set aside a small amount of money for your children to donate to charity. Help them research where to give, like an animal shelter or the local library. Little ones can use their cash for something concrete, like a new toy for a child in need or canned goods for the food pantry.
  • When you catch your child lending a helping hand, place an ornament, like a snow globe or a bell, on her pillow. She can leave it for another family member she spies being kind. The pass-along prize motivates your kids to catch each other being good, so the holidays are happier for everyone.

Nurture Spirituality

Whether or not you regularly attend a house of worship, the holidays offer a chance to share your beliefs and values with your children--or just create a sense of peace and mindfulness.

  • Unplug electronics and turn off all the lights, except the ones that glow on the Christmas tree or menorah. In the stillness, talk quietly about your blessings and share your favorite wishes for the holidays.
  • Celebrate Three Kings Day (January 6, when the Magi supposedly visited baby Jesus) by leaving out a shoebox filled with hay (or, in a pinch, cookies) for the wise men's camels to devour. In the morning, the hay will be gone, replaced with a few small gifts.
  • Tune in your kids to some of the season's sacred music, like Handel's "Messiah." Find a performance in your area, or check out internet radio stations for seasonal selections.

For more fun ways to make the holiday extra-magical for your family, click here.