Ten Things to Make the Holidays Brighter
Decorate with Nature: Bring some of the natural beauty inside by making a real evergreen wreath, putting together a fruit centerpiece or fashioning ornaments for the tree out of pine cones, cinnamon sticks or winter berries.
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Experimental Treat: try making a cake, cookie or muffin recipe you've never attempted for dessert one night (for ideas, look in your cookbooks, holiday magazines or visit Cooking Light's 100 Healthy Cookie recipes page.) Ask the kids or friends to help with the cooking, decorating and tasting.
Give a Kid a Book: Any kid + any book you think they'd enjoy. For the older kids, get a copy for yourself and let the kid know you'd like to discuss it with them when they've read their copy. For younger kids, sit down and read the book to them. One of my favorite kids' books: Put Me in the Zoo by Robert Lopshire; great for boys or girls.
Help Out: Offer to spend an afternoon at the home of an elderly family member or friend and help them with chores or fix-ups around the house, run errands or do some baking with them. If everything at home is okay, take them out for lunch, shopping, or see a movie together (if you're looking for a great holiday movie to rent, check out this list of 25 classics from Moviefone.
Homemade Gift: Take a free afternoon or evening and spend it using your creative talents making a gift for someone you love. If you've never handmade anything, buy a simple kit from your local craft store to use for the project and teach yourself a new craft skill (decorating a flower pot is a fun project.)
Practical Party: Invite friends to bring over their unwrapped gifts and wrapping supplies, and have a gift-wrapping party (Moms, great to do while the kids are in school.) Make up goodie bags with scotch tape, adhesive gift tags and rolls of ribbon. Ask everyone to bring two jumbo rolls of gift paper; one to use and one to pass around. Serve coffee, tea, and a non-sticky treat like cookies or muffins. For creative gift-wrapping ideas, check out Martha Stewart's ideas here.
See the Lights: If weather permits, take a drive after dark and tour the homes in your area that are decorated for the holidays. Bring take-along cups of hot chocolate to keep you warm (for grownups, my favorite hot chocolate recipe here is delicious and not too sweet.)
Turn Off the Television. A recent survey of 45,000 showed that the happiest people watched TV 20% less than the unhappiest people. Put on a holiday music CD, break out the Scrabble or Monopoly board, or play a card game using cookies or chocolate coins as chips (for BestToyGuide.com's ten best board games for 2011, go here.)
Write a Letter: Pick two of the people to whom you send holiday cards, sit down, and hand-write a one or two page letter to put in the card. Here's a great blog post on the art of letter writing. If you can't think of what to write, tell them how they've made a positive difference in your life and thank them for it (our minister had us do this over Thanksgiving, and it was fun and very uplifting.)