You don't need to be elaborate--putting out birdseed or peanut-butter sandwiches for the squirrels will suffice. But for a truly lovely twist, you can take a cue from the Waterman family of St. Charles, Missouri. Inspired by Eve Bunting's book Night Tree, the Watermans get together each year with friends and family and trek into the woods to decorate a tree for the animals. The evening begins at home, with the preparation of appropriate goodies: pinecones rolled in peanut butter and birdseed, popcorn and cranberry garlands, orange and apple slices suspended from pipe cleaners. Once the feast is complete, the assembled throng bundles up and heads out into the night. Tree-decking is followed by sharing hot chocolate, holiday cookies and Christmas carols
Create a Photo Ornament...
For most families, ornaments are more than decorations; they're memories in miniature. Especially the homemade creations, whose cockeyed charm so perfectly captures the creativity of your child at a particular moment in time.
This year, why not take the idea a step further and let your kids put a little bit of themselves into the decorations--literally. Each child gets to choose a photo of himself or herself to incorporate into an ornament, which can be as simple as a Popsicle-stick frame or as sophisticated as a decoupaged Styrofoam ball. The only requirement is that the finished product reflect the personality of its maker (and include the year in which it was made). Your kids will have fun comparing their faces over the years, and you'll love seeing your tree transformed into a virtual family album.
Surprise a Public Servant...
It may shock your kids to learn that not everyone gets to take time off around the holidays. Firefighters, police officers and many other public servants give up their holidays to make sure that ours are safe and happy. The Kelner family of Muskegon, Michigan, decided to give back something to all these good-hearted folks, so for the past several years they've gathered holiday cookies and other treats to bring to the local fire station on Christmas Eve. The first year, they were surprised to find only one firefighter on duty; he was so thrilled to see them, he invited them in to share the feast. For the Kelners, that one small act of generosity turned out to be the highlight of the Christmas season.
If your family would like to play Surprise Santa, start by contacting someone in local government (town hall is usually a good place to begin) to find out where to go. But make sure your visit stays a secret--the element of stealth adds a little extra zip to your act of holiday charity.
Cure the Postholiday Blues...
If my daughter ran the world, it would be illegal to take down the Christmas tree before summer. And while I sometimes greet the end of the holidays with relief, I can't help feeling a little sad when that last ornament is packed away. So, I was thrilled when a friend shared her family's method for banishing the postholiday blues.
Every year, usually on January 6 (the Feast of the Epiphany and the end of the traditional 12 days of Christmas), her family has a quiet supper before taking down the tree. Beside each plate is a small package holding a single button, which has been chosen for its significance to the recipient: a flower button for a gardener, an anchor for a sailing fan and so on. Each person sews the new button on his or her stocking before packing it away until next year. My friend marvels that her kids are as excited to unwrap their buttons as they are to tear through the packages on Christmas.
FAMILYFUN TIP: For unusual buttons, try thrift shops or specialty suppliers, as well as www.dressitup.com.
Giving to Others...
Christmas is ultimately about giving. This is a great time to give to others, especially those who might otherwise go without.
There are many ways to sponsor a needy family for Christmas. Most churches know of families in need of help. Make arrangements to anonymously provide a family with groceries and appropriate presents through the church.