Ideas for Starting your Own Christmas Traditions

By Maren A. Lam, guest contributor

"I have never had a Christmas like this before," my husband, Fred, told me while we spent our first Christmas together at my parents' place in Missouri. 

The night before, my dad read the Nativity story from the Bible to us. Thanks to my mom, we always had homemade meals and sweets. All of my siblings were there and added with 4 of my nieces and nephews, a lot of energy was under one roof. Apart from my teenage brother gift wrapping empty cereal boxes to bulk up the loot under the Christmas tree, things seemed pretty normal to me. 

Two years later, we spent the holidays with Fred's family in California. It was my first Christmas without my own family and I realized that each family has their own traditions even at Christmas time. We split our time between Fred’s dad and mom. His dad took us out to eat and then we spent the rest of the day with his mother's family at his grandma's house. People played games and socialized as we showed off our then-5-month-old baby boy. There was not a Christmas tree, we didn’t take turns unwrapping presents, and it wasn't a white Christmas. However, it still felt like Christmas. I believe the main reason it did is because we were spending time with family.

This will be our first Christmas on our own—that is Fred, two year old Calvin, baby Alex, and me. So I really want to do whatever I can to make the season feel special and start our own Lam family traditions. Here are my ideas for starting your own Christmas traditions: 

1. Christmas traditions don't have to be Christmas-y

Take your family to do something really fun. Fred and I are children at heart so we plan to go to an indoor water park on Christmas Eve (I don’t think our toddler will mind!). Don’t have an indoor water park? Go bowling, rollerblading, or to the arcade.

Or if you are trying to do something with a bigger group, do a lip syncing competition. I know a family that does a lip sync battle at Christmas and they have a riot. Christmas songs are rarely done and everyone unleashes their inner pop star. 

2. Yummy food

Food is a great way to start your own family traditions. For example, my sister feeds her family beans and rice every Christmas dinner. This started out of necessity when money was tight as a newlywed. She adds more substance to the dish these days, but it is a good way for her and her husband to reminisce. A lot of families I know do homemade cinnamon rolls. I don’t have much talent in the kitchen so I’m going to keep things simple, but still delicious, with German pancakes for breakfast.

3. Keep it local

There are so many festive activities to do for families in metropolitan areas this time of year. Many of these are free, which I love. Christmas lights, parades, sitting on Santa's lap, holiday parties, etc. I have made a calendar of events I want to go to this year and the ones I love will make the cut for next year. Even if you don’t live in a place with a lot of holiday events, taking a drive to see neighborhood Christmas lights is always fun. 

4. Evaluate your Christmas list

Gifts are fun to give to your kids but it is really a hassle to buy everyone else something. Do we really need to buy every adult family member something that they may or may not like? Try to scale it back if you can. My siblings and I do a gift rotation and there is a twenty dollar cap. It has really made Christmas shopping easier.

5. Teach

While gifts are fun, I want to teach my children how wonderful it is to give. One year, an unknown angel knocked on our door and fled, leaving behind a $100 Walmart gift card. We still don’t know who did it but I have always remembered it. I hope to start paying it forward now with my family. If you need ideas, justserve.com is a great resource for finding ways to volunteer in your community.

I don’t know if all of these ideas will become our family traditions, but we are going to make memories trying. Whatever you decide to do for your family’s traditions is sure to be special because you will be doing it with the ones you love. 

Your Map for Navigating the Holidays with Extended Family

by Guest Writer: Millicent Parsons

The holidays can be a minefield for family drama. Whether it’s overbearing in-laws, rude relatives, or too many people to visit, there can be a lot to navigate when the family gets together.

But you don’t have to let your family ruin the holidays for you. With some preparation and a touch of tact, you can survive—and enjoy!—the holidays with your extended family. Just follow these tips to prepare yourself and your next family get-together will be a piece of (fruit) cake!

Plan ahead

Does everyone expect a visit from you and then get pouty when you can’t squeeze them in? Nothing hurts more than unmet expectations, whether it’s a child not getting that present they wanted or an in-law who missed you at their annual holiday party. So plan early with your spouse whom and when you can visit this year, and then share those plans with your family members ahead of time so they know what to expect.

If it’s impossible to visit every obligatory relative each year, start a rotation where you see certain people every other year. Or celebrate Christmas with some family on a—gasp!—different day than Christmas to fit them all in. The key is to be flexible and communicate your plans in advance so no one is taken by surprise when the holidays roll around.

Make some rules

Sometimes the biggest stress of visiting family for the holidays isn’t the extended family so much as your spouse’s and kids’ behavior around said family. If your spouse can’t get along with your relatives but always sides with his, or your kids suddenly become spoiled brats at Grandma’s house, it’s time to establish some ground rules.

First, address any tension between your spouse or you and family members. Agree to have each other’s backs and be a team rather than “picking sides” if an issue comes up. Also identify any private information or couples’ decisions that shouldn’t be discussed with relatives.

As for the kids, remind them that Santa can still see them when they’re out of town and that as guests in someone else’s home they need to be on their best behavior or there will be consequences.

Avoid awkward or inappropriate conversations

Now that you’re at the big family get-together, how do you keep the inappropriate questions and heated debates at bay? Well, no guarantees, but there’s some things you can do to help.

Discreetly excuse yourself when undesirable conversations arise, or politely redirect the conversation. Avoid bringing up sensitive topics yourself, and steer clear of known instigators. If all else fails, go find something productive to do away from nosey relatives, like tidying the guest bathroom for the hundredth time or shoveling the nice relatives’ cars out of the snow.

Be polite and friendly

Manners are cheap and always appreciated—unlike that gift you picked out for your in-laws last year.

If you can be polite and cheerful at family gatherings, your chances of surviving unscathed will increase. All but the prickliest of family members like the “nice” relative, after all. So offer sincere compliments, ask others neutral questions about themselves, or keep your mouth shut, as appropriate. Don’t gossip or complain. And look for ways to be helpful when you think you’re going to crack (see above).  

But do have boundaries

Now, you don’t have to be a door mat if a family member does something truly offensive. The key is to be the bigger person and respond with maturity.

Nothing satisfies a Grinchy relative more than getting others worked up, so don’t react to rude behavior. Set boundaries and preserve the Christmas spirit by not participating in their drama. Respond with an even tone and brief statements when someone is rude, and let them know you can’t socialize with them if they continue to be offensive.

Remind yourself that their behavior is a reflection of them and you aren’t responsible for their feelings and actions.

Be flexible

No family gathering is ever going to be perfect, so cut yourself and your loved ones some slack. Focus on what’s important (hint: it’s family) and let everything else go.

And if things do start to go downhill, use these tips to redirect the drama and bring back the Christmas spirit, even if only for yourself. You don’t have to let your family’s baggage get you down. Prepare yourself to handle the crazy, and maybe be careful carrying your aunt’s heavy suitcase up the icy walk.

Funny, white elephant, gag gifts

In other words, the kind of gifts I will be giving my friends and expecting in return.

Because, let’s be honest. Anything I really want, I will be telling my Mom and husband to get me, and everything else will probably end up at the thrift store by summer. Might as well be funny…

Sure, she has everything but you need that perfect gift for your Mom!

Camille here, Anna’s assistant! Do you feel like your Mom is the hardest to buy for? It seems they already have everything you could ever want but you still want to find that perfect gift they will love. I have searched high and low and found a few gifts that I think your Mom or Yourself would love this Christmas! This may contain affiliate links.

Dad gifts that aren't a joke.

"Dad, I’m hungry"…“Hi hungry, I’m Dad."

“What’s Forrest Gump’s password? 1forrest1”

”How much does a hipster weigh? An Instagram.”

We have all heard the Dad Jokes but lets not have the joke be on us this Christmas! Camille here, Anna’s Assistant, with a list of great gifts for Dad, Husband, Brother, Uncle, or Grandpa! This may contain affiliate links.

Gifts for Rover

Camille here, Anna’s Assistant. I went to Anna’s house the other day and her dog, Freddie, was in plaid pajamas. I about died from cuteness. Right then, I new we needed a list of Christmas gifts for our furry best friends. This may contain affiliate links.

Lets hear it for the girls... Your sister, friend, co-worker, neighbor, cousin, wife, mom, or yourself!

Camille here, Anna’s Assistant. Lets be honest, this is my wishlist but If you are looking for a gift for your sister, friend, co-worker, neighbor, cousin, wife, mom, or yourself, look no further! Christmas morning heaven right here. This post may contain affiliate links.

First up, the BEST Tennies out there! They are a great running shoe and the perfect everyday shoe too! Cannot go wrong with the Classic Black and White Combo.

Second, this has been on my list for years! The Jo Malone Perfume Sampler. Jo Malone is the crème de la crème of perfume and has SO many different scents its so hard to choose. This takes all the guessing out of it! Plus, they are designed to layer to create your perfect scent, so with the sampler, you can try out several different combos before you commit!

You can never ever go wrong with a great sweatshirt.

I wear thee Ugg ones every SINGLE DAY! They are fantastic and cozy. The chestnut is my favorite.

and now they are cozy in their new sweatshirt and slippers, they need a new book to dive into!

Hydro Flasks are as big as ever and several colors to choose from for that perfect gift.

New Sunnies!

Sorel Boots. Done. These need to be in every snow lovers closet!

The best Portable Charger EVER. This charger has over 13K reviews at 4.5 STARS! Santa…I need this in my stocking!

Do you know you can have your house smell like Anthro?? Greatest smell on earth. Volcano is life.

Cute, small, Tortoise Earrings that make a big statement.

And lastly, I don’t think my list could be complete without this years top shoe! A fresh pair of Vans will never be under appreciated!

Whatta man, whatta man, what a mighty good man on your list?

Yea he is, now lets get him something good this Christmas. Camille here, Anna’s Assistant. I have compiled my favorite things I knew would be a smash on Christmas Morning for my husband! But these would work for your brother, boyfriend, husband, or coworker! This list may contain affiliate links.

This Beard kit just is so fitting, it had to be included.

Unreal amount of color options in these Beanies.

If he has been extra good or just has been begging. This Traeger Grill is probably the top gift this year and for good reason.

So many socks and they never tire of them. Stance have always been great!

Protein Powder: Probably the most practical and useful gift besides toilet paper for your man.

Portable Speakers are the GREATEST! From the pool, to the garage, to the block party…Its dang useful.

Herschel Backpacks are classic and study.

Air Pods…Do I really need to say more?

Cause we all get Hangry every now and then.

Competitive yard games!

Hoodies are an always appreciated gift over here. Adidas is the brand on his wish list this year.

Don’t miss out on this new Silcone Ring thing. We have tried a few brands and Enso has held up great!

Lets be real, I need this and I’m going to gift it so I can use it! Photo Printers for all!

Baseball Games

Baby list, do doo, do doo, do do

Camille here, Anna’s Assistant. I have compiled a few of my favorite baby toys and new Mama and Dad gifts! Hope you find something perfect for your little one! This list may contain affiliate links.

New bath toys are the best!

And a Caddy for the said bath toys and cozy towels!

We have the cutest videos of our Daughter trying out her walker for the first time. This will always be a great go to baby gift!

More of a Mom to be gift but these Heart and Oxygen Monitors are genius.

Never met a baby that doesn’t love Sophie the Giraffe.

Let them hit the things you want them to! Classic Pound and Tap toy.

What kid doesn’t want their own personal roller coaster. They look pretty fun!

Rattles are never ever going to go out of style!

I may have just added this one to relive my own childhood playing the Chatter Phone.

This Cookie Monster was dubbed the FAVORITE from my son’s first birthday! It eats cookies, talks, and it just dang cute.

Anything with the word busy, I’m sold. Busy Gears.

Chicka Chicka Boom Boom will there be enough room? A told B and B told C…Ok you get it, this one is so good I know the whole thing by heart or this modern First Year book!

Jelly Cat stuffed animals are the softest things ever. Just trust me, these are the only stuffed animals you want hanging around.

For those terrible and terrific teens

I don’t know why people think teenagers are hard to shop for. Yes, they want more expensive things than their younger counterparts. But they are also happy with one or two things, and the little kids want LOTS of things. So it’s kinda easy to shop for teens. Just get them something that makes them cozy and something that makes them feel cool. Done.

My teens wanted to help make this list, so I had them create a list. They were all too eager to do it. Win/win for them. Maybe it could help you with your teens.

Here are some things my teenagers chose…

Gifts For the Children…

It’s for the children!

I always think of this Simpsons video when anyone says “think of the children” or “it’s for the children.”

It just makes me laugh.

Because, when are we NOT thinking of the children? Am I right??

Anyway, we have been working hard around here compiling gift ideas for your family, friends, and yourself. We are even thinking of doing a gift list for pets. Because my husband would be stoked about getting our dog a bunch of presents. ha!

This first gift list is all about the children. A kids Christmas gift list seems superfluous… I mean don’t they already create their own wish lists for Christmas, Hanukkah, and all other holidays where gifts may be exchanged?!

My kids start making a list of presents they hope to receive and then become determined that they’ll get whatever is on that list.

Say it with me, AS IF!

As my sons and I were compiling this list, there were a lot of items I showed them that they had never considered to put on a gift list. My eight-year-old son grabbed his “birthday/Christmas wish list” and promptly scratched a few things out to add many items listed below. Because SOMETIMES (or, rather, all of the time), parents know better.

I realize this is mostly geared toward the masculine child, so we are working on a more feminine kids wish list as well. Stay tuned.

I hope you find something in this gift list for kids that will help you on your holiday shopping. Most links are on the photos and to Amazon; they may be affiliate links.

We have had the Swurfer for a couple years and EVERYONE loves it. Especially neighbors. It’s a blast if you have a tall tree or sturdy branch.

The Air Hog was one of those toys that I showed to my boys and they both immediately put it on their wish lists.

We have had this over-the-door hoop for YEARS and my sons are just starting to get into it. I hear them slamming and shooting on their hoop all times of the day. Play basketball all year long! We shoot, we score!

Marbles, roller coaster, building stuff… it’s like a big kid marble run. And it breaks back down to easily fit in a box when they aren’t using it. Save it for the grandkids… someday! ;)

This large connect four game is so cool. It’s big, it makes a statement, and it’s NOT A VIDEO GAME! Score!

Maybe it’s because I have three sons, but this looks like a HIT! And a pedal go cart is up my alley… no need to worry about batteries, gas, or anything else that will probably break within the first week!

Cardi Me

Is it already that time of year? To send your holiday cards to family, friends, and some lady from Instagram and the Internet?

It SURE IS!

I asked my kids and husband this week if they wanted to do the holiday card wall and giveaway this season like we have done the last couple years. They were EMPHATIC with their YES! Everyone in our home—and so many that visit—LOVES seeing all of your faces and fun.

Bonus is, I still haven’t patched the wall from last year and a tape accident, so MIGHT AS WELL do it again?

Right?

For reference, this is what our walls looked like last year:

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What’s in it for you?

Other than HOLIDAY CHEER? Sheesh!

JK. For one, it’s fun. Two, you could be on our Stories on @kidsaretheworst and @annaistheworst and honestly, probably @thingsaretheworst, too.

Third, I have a few companies who have expressed interest in sharing products with some of the cards sent. We will randomly select a few throughout the season and then you’ll get a message and a surprise in the mail. So, THAT’s cool. But not guaranteed.

You in?

Send your cards to:

Anna Macfarlane
1338 South Foothill Drive
#206
Salt Lake City, UT 84108

Not our home address, never you fear. And if you want to send gifts to this address, nobody is stopping you, but also I would NEVER ask for them. Ever. Probably. Mostly.

Let’s card it up!

School photos

Sometimes I look back on the @kidsaretheworst Instagram feed and chuckle. When I post three times a day and multiple (sometimes upwards of 50) times on Stories, I don't think the photos always sink in. When I go back to peruse my own feed, it can really tickle my funny bone.

Recently, I asked parents to send in photos from school. I put many of them in Stories and here are a few of my favorites.

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The ALARMING Truth About Kids and Social Media

You can go almost anywhere online and read the TERRORS and HORRIFYING stories about kids on social media.

There is BULLYING.

And PORNOGRAPHY.

Kids are SEXTING.

Other children are talking to PREDATORS.

Guys, this is pretty scary. And very real.

It's also super sensational. Because SENSATIONAL NEWS SELLS.

Nobody clicks on an article that says, "Here are some interesting things normal kids are doing right now online."

There is no sense of URGENCY. No dramatic call to ACT.

But you can bet your bottom dollar that an article that says, "PRETEENS are in serious DANGER from a device YOU bought them!" that people would click. Often. Out of FEAR and CURIOSITY.

And yes, I am intentionally writing all of these words in all caps because I want you to FEEL it. Do you feel it?

***

Imagine you have a car. It's a couple of years old and you are just starting to get comfortable in it. Your glove box is full of all the right records, your extra pair of sunglasses, the first aid kit (finally!), and a small bag of snacks for emergencies. You have figured out the perfect distance of seat-to-driving wheel. It's just working great.

But guess what? It's super dirty. There are smashed goldfish in the cup holders, half-used water bottles under all of the seats, footprints on the backs of the seats, random papers everywhere, and the outside has dirt, dust... and is that SAP on the hood? Oh boy. What a mess.

Guess your only option is to throw the car away. Just toss it out and get a new one. Don't trade it in. Don't sell it. Just bring it to the dump and throw it out. You should be walking more, anyway. Get a bike, why dontcha?

It's dirty. And it probably needs an oil change and maybe some more wiper fluid. TOO HARD!

Throw it out and tell everyone else to start walking, too. Because WHO KNEW THAT CARS GOT DIRTY AND NEEDED WORK? No thanks, you did not sign up for that.

Is my analogy sinking in yet? Is it clear that I am equating throwing out a really great car because #dirty and #hard and #potentiallydangerousanyway with kids and social media (and YOU and social media)?

But, but, but... someone has told me some super scary stories about kids on social media. I don't even want it in my house.

I get you, girl. More than you know. Guess what else is scary? Freaking cars. They are legitimately TERRIFYING when you think about it? We are all just driving these machines around willy nilly, hoping we don't crash into each other and literally DIE. Then we let our kids drive them, too. WHAT ARE WE THINKING?

Let's all walk. Throw out the cars and walk, you guys. That's the only logical decision here.

Who is with me?

Anna, you're crazy. Cars are necessary. Smart devices and social media are not.

Sure. But maybe...

Cars were seen as a public nuisance and "epidemic disease" in the early 1900s. Many people decided that they would never adapt to cars, so they used their horse and buggies, bicycles, or walked (but guess how many pedestrians died by being hit by cars in the early 1900s?? A lot!).

From America on the Move: "In the 1910s, speeding, reckless driving, collisions, and pedestrian fatalities were new problems requiring new solutions. The first remedies comprised a social response focused on controlling and improving driver behavior."

New problems require new solutions.

Social response.

Controlling and improving behavior.

Not "THROW OUT ALL OF THE CARS AND BACK TO HORSES WITH YE."

The virtual world is a lot like the physical world. It is important to be educated and aware. To make improvements. To help our children succeed. We can prevent many accidents and collisions with proper solutions.

College admissions are looking at their applicants online. A dean of admissions at a law school told me how they look at the application, and then look online for the applicant. Too much posting, anger, bickering, cursing, drug references, partying, etc were RED FLAGS.

But guess what else was a RED FLAG?

Not having a presence at all or having a questionably small presence. Do these students not realize that networking, communication, research, and community happen online? How can they expect to know if this applicant is well-adjusted, well-intended, and well... ready for a world where people are online?

This is not always the case, but it is an interesting notion.

I've also known teenagers who hang out at certain homes to get on their "private" social media accounts because their parents won't let them have one. I have seen kids glued to their screens with no sense of the world around them.

It isn't all or nothing.

***

All of this is pointless if we are going to just hand our young children a car and say, "Good luck, little Billy. Drive safe and follow the laws of the road!" Little Billy is 11. He can barely see over the wheel. And nobody ever told him about the laws of the road.

You wouldn't do it for a car. Don't do it for a smart device or social media. Plan with your kids. Have a dialogue. Teach them the laws of the virtual road and WHY they are there. Learn the laws yourself. Check in regularly. Sign a contract. Do ALL OF THE THINGS.

This is why I wrote the Family Social Guide. It's laid out for you. It's easy... well, it's still work, but it's a lot easier.

How do you talk about bullying, harassment, predators, age requirements, privacy, pornography, depression, third-party ISPs, COPPA, positive experiences, controlling your feed, and enjoying social media in an informative, but light-hearted way?

Leave it to me. I got you covered.

But even if you don't want my guide, you still have the power to HELP YOUR KIDS SUCCEED in a virtual world. You don't have to throw it all out because it is scary. That doesn't make cars go away.

Make a plan. Start talking. Get informed.

Don't be scared. Be empowered.

Don't throw your car away. Clean it. Get some air in the tires and an oil change. And then brush up on the rules of car etiquette and safety with your kids. Same goes for social media and smart devices.

You're good to go!

(This guide is for parents and kids age 10 and up.

I am currently working on a guide for those with children under 10. But trust me when I tell you that there is a lot of content for parents in this older guide that you will want to know for yourself and to start preparing your little kids. I have conversations with my eight-year-old with some of the topics in this guide.)