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Memories & Traditions

"Tradition is a guide, not a jailer."

W. Somerset Maugham

Memories, traditions, and holidays go together. In fact, they are inseparable. Think about it: what would a holiday be without the memories and traditions that separate it from the blur of every other day of the year? A holiday is a time when you remember -- holidays past, the year past, those you have known, and even who you once were. A holiday is also a time when you engage in familiar activities -- activities that have been repeated over the years and through the generations, and which you hope will continue to be repeated in future years and by new generations.

For individuals, the holidays are very much about memories and traditions formed in childhood. Memories make up the story of our life that exists in our mind. They help us make sense of our life and find meaning in it. Memories can give us comfort, direction, inspiration, and hope. Our children need memories and traditions to grow into their future, and we need our memories and traditions to step back into the comfort of the past for a moment. We want to relive those moments from the past when we felt safe, secure, happy, and connected (or at least the times we remember that way -- even if they didn't actually happen exactly as we remember them). If we don't have happy memories from holidays past, then it becomes all the more important to create special moments now that will become memories in the future.

The holidays are a natural time for generations to connect. The world of work slows, schools take time off, and everything in general seems to make a nod toward spending some time with family. The holidays are the one time of year when we are expected and encouraged to connect. They are a once-a-year call to family. It's not always straightforward or easy to make the connection. But you can celebrate the holidays in a way that works for you and your family, and a way that strengthens the bonds across generations (see The Magic of Traditions & Rituals section of this kit). We do need each other -- with all our foibles and frustrations. We need connections that matter, connections that are deep and meaningful. We need to connect to each other, to our varied personal and cultural histories, and to the traditions those histories carry.

Some useful books for adults related to building memories and traditions: 15 Minute Family Traditions & Memories by Emilie Barnes; Come to the Table by Doris Christopher; The Games We Played: A Celebration of Childhood and Imagination edited by Steven A. Cohen; The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Families by Stephen Covey; The Heart of a Family: Searching America for New Traditions That Fulfill Us by Meg Cox; The Intentional Family: Simple Rituals to Strengthen Family Ties by William J. Doherty; The Shelter of Each Other: Rebuilding Our Families by Mary Pipher; Unplug the Christmas Machine: A Complete Guide to Putting Love & Joy Back into the Season by Jo Robinson and Jean Coppock Staeheli.

Picture books are great to share with both young and old. Some storybooks related to memories and family, cultural, and holiday traditions: Christmas Tree Memories by Aliki; A Christmas Sampler by Joan Walsh Anglund; The Chicken Salad Club by Marsha Diane Arnold; Chestnut Dreams by Halina Below; The Christmas Cobwebs by Odds Bodkin; Something to Remember Me By by Susan V. Bosak; I Have an Olive Tree by Eve Bunting; Night Tree by Eve Bunting; A Visit to Grandma's by Nancy L. Carlson; A Very Special Kwanzaa by Debbi Chocolate; My First Kwanzaa Book by Deborah M. Newton Chocolate; Dancin' in the Kitchen by Frank P. Christian; Little Tree by e.e. cummings; Christmas: Celebrating Life, Giving, and Kindness by Arlene Erlbach; On Hanukkah by Cathy Goldberg Fishman; Tanya's Reunion by Valerie Flournoy; In My Family/En mi familia by Carmen Lomas Garza; Ramadan by Suhaib Hamid Ghazi; The Borrowed Hanukkah Latkes by Linda Glaser; It's Kwanzaa Time! by Linda Goss; Rodgers & Hammerstein's My Favorite Things by Renée Graef; Luka's Quilt by Georgia Guback; A Christmas Treasury: Very Merry Stories and Poems by Kevin Hawkes; Bubbe & Gram by Joan C. Hawxhurst; A Cup of Christmas Tea by Tom Hegg; Great-Grandmother's Treasure by Ruth Hickcox; Celebrating Ramadan by Diane Hoyt-Goldsmith; Houseful of Christmas by Barbara Joosse; An Island Christmas by Lynn Joseph; Victorian Christmas by Bobbie Kalman; Grandpa's Visit by Richardo Keens-Douglas; Christmas Around the World by Mary D. Lankford; All the Places to Love by Patricia MacLachlan; Seven Spools of Thread: A Kwanzaa Story by Angela Shelf Medearis; Gus and Grandpa and the Christmas Cookies by Claudia Mills; The Night Before Christmas by Clement Clarke Moore; Light the Lights!: A Story About Celebrating Hanukkah and Christmas by Margaret Moorman; Apples and Angel Ladders: A Collection of Pioneer Christmas Stories by Irene Morck; Habari Gani? What's the News?: A Kwanzaa Story by Sundaira Morninghouse; My Two Grandmothers by Effin Older; Rocking Horse Christmas by Mary Pope Osborne; Thunder Cake by Patricia Polacco; Welcome Comfort by Patricia Polacco; Dumpling Soup by Jama Kim Rattigan; The Very Best Hanukkah Gift by Joanne Rocklin; Twas the Night B'Fore Christmas: An African-American Version by Melodye Benson Rosales and Clement C. Moore; Chanukah Lights Everywhere by Michael J. Rosen; Baboushka: A Christmas Folktale from Russia by Arthur Scholey; Thanksgiving at the Tappletons' by Eileen Spinelli; Nine Spoons: A Chanukah Story by Marci Stillerman; Mimi's Tutu by Tynia Thomassie; Liliana's Grandmothers by Leyla Torres; Mei-Mei Loves the Morning by Margaret Holloway Tsubakiyama; Grandma's Records by Eric Velasquez; The Magic Menorah: A Modern Chanukah Tale by Jane Breskin Zalben; The Beautiful Christmas Tree by Charlotte Zolotow.

For insights and inspiration, do read The Magic of Traditions & Rituals section of this kit. Related activities in this kit include "Simple Rituals" and "Kitchen Memories" in the Something to Remember Me By: Start With Story section; "Preserving Your Family Traditions", "Holiday Meal Memories", "Calendar of Memories", and "My Book of Memories" in the Scrapbooking & Other Photo Fun section; and "Did You Ever...?", "Keepsakes to Reminisce By", and "Holiday Reading Basket" in the Storytelling for Hope section.

Activities: One World, Many Traditions; Holidays Then & Now; Mini Christmas Tree; Celebrate with the Animals; Family Stars; Family Christmas Crackers; Draw the Memory; Family Memories Quiz Bowl; Find the Candy Cane; Spin the Dreidel; Smells Great!; Bake It, Decorate It; Instant Ice Cream; Ice Cream Party; Family Handshakes; TV Time; Calming Rituals; Time to Remember; Top 10 Favorite Things; Family Growth Chart; Celebrate Past and Future.


One World, Many Traditions

Connections: Schools (Social Studies, History, Language Arts, Art); Seniors Groups/Facilities; Community Groups.

What You Need: Copies of "One World, Many Traditions" sheets; paper and construction paper; pencil crayons and/or markers; scissors; tape. Optional -- gold thread or string.

Doing It:

This is a time of year when people celebrate different holidays in different ways. In general, holidays are an example of public rituals. They organize the collective behavior of millions of people and lead us through the weeks, months, and years. Holidays bring us together and affirm values.

People throughout the world have different traditions and rituals depending on the country they live in, their cultural and ethnic heritage, their religion, and even their particular family. Celebrate the diversity of the world. Studying the beliefs, traditions, rituals, and institutions of a wide variety of peoples broadens our own humanity. This is an activity children can do, and it's a great intergenerational activity (e.g. a class of students with a group of older adults in a seniors facility).

You might start by exploring some of the world's major religions with children, since many traditions and rituals are based on religion. A great introductory book is What I Believe: A Young Person's Guide to the Religions of the World by Alan Brown. It introduces Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, Sikhism, Shinto, and Taoism through the eyes of young members of those faiths.

Use the "One World, Many Traditions" sheets to discuss some of the holidays that occur at this time of year.

You can also read some books related to the different holidays. Storybooks about Christmas: A Christmas Sampler by Joan Walsh Anglund; Christmas: Celebrating Life, Giving, and Kindness by Arlene Erlbach; A Christmas Treasury: Very Merry Stories and Poems by Kevin Hawkes; An Island Christmas by Lynn Joseph; Victorian Christmas by Bobbie Kalman; Christmas Around the World by Mary D. Lankford; The Night Before Christmas by Clement Clarke Moore; Twas the Night B'Fore Christmas: An African-American Version by Melodye Benson Rosales and Clement C. Moore; Baboushka: A Christmas Folktale from Russia by Arthur Scholey.

Storybooks about Hanukkah: On Hanukkah by Cathy Goldberg Fishman; The Borrowed Hanukkah Latkes by Linda Glaser; Light the Lights!: A Story About Celebrating Hanukkah and Christmas by Margaret Moorman; The Very Best Hanukkah Gift by Joanne Rocklin; Chanukah Lights Everywhere by Michael J. Rosen; Nine Spoons: A Chanukah Story by Marci Stillerman; The Magic Menorah: A Modern Chanukah Tale by Jane Breskin Zalben.

Storybooks about Kwanzaa: A Very Special Kwanzaa by Debbi Chocolate; My First Kwanzaa Book by Deborah M. Newton Chocolate; It's Kwanzaa Time! by Linda Goss; Seven Spools of Thread: A Kwanzaa Story by Angela Shelf Medearis; Habari Gani? What's the News?: A Kwanzaa Story by Sundaira Morninghouse.

Storybooks about Ramadan: Ramadan by Suhaib Hamid Ghazi; Celebrating Ramadan by Diane Hoyt-Goldsmith.

To do the activity, discuss the holidays people in the group celebrate. How many people celebrate which holidays? Discuss exactly how each person celebrates their holiday. What traditions and rituals do they have? How do the traditions and rituals of the older people differ from those of the younger people in the group?

Then, each person in the group draws a symbol to represent one aspect of their holiday traditions and rituals. Use the symbols suggested on the "One World, Many Traditions" sheets for inspiration. Each person's symbol must be different. The idea is to demonstrate how traditions are shared and yet at the same time unique. Each person should make their symbol distinct in some way. If you have several people in the group who celebrate Christmas, for example, try to get each person to choose a different symbol (one that's especially important to them). If more than one person chooses the same symbol, such as a Christmas present, try to make the symbols distinct. One person may open their presents on Christmas Eve while another opens them on Christmas Day. Have the former write "Christmas Eve" on their present symbol and the latter "Christmas Day." Make sure each person puts their name on their symbol.

Once everyone has completed their symbol, cut the symbols out and tape them along the wall to celebrate the diversity of traditions and rituals. Or, hang each symbol from gold thread or string and decorate the room by having them drop from the ceiling.


Holidays Then & Now

Connections: Families; Seniors Groups/Facilities; Schools (History, Social Studies, Language Arts).

What You Need: Copies of "Holidays Then & Now" sheet; pen/pencil.

Doing It:

The idea of this activity is to compare the same holiday across time. The "Holidays Then & Now" sheet offers a series of prompts to help people remember what holidays used to be like and compare past holiday celebrations to celebrations today. A grandparent and grandchild can complete the sheet together; older adults and visiting children can work together (e.g. in pairs, as part of an intergenerational program); or a teacher can have students "interview" parents or grandparents at home to complete the sheet.

Older people can complete the "Then" column and younger people can complete the "Now" column. If an older person has difficulty writing, the younger person can do an "interview" to fill in all the blanks. Write down a few key words under each column for each item. The important part of this activity is the memories that are evoked and the stories shared.

Some books that give interesting insights into Christmas past include Victorian Christmas by Bobbie Kalman and Apples and Angel Ladders: A Collection of Pioneer Christmas Stories by Irene Morck.


Mini Christmas Tree

Connections: Families; Schools (Science, Art); Community Groups.

What You Need: Large pinecone; water; bowl; small plastic margarine tub; heavier holiday wrapping paper; scissors; glue; sand; rye grass seed; spoon.

Doing It:

The Christmas tree is one of the most beautiful parts of Christmas. The tradition seems to have started in Germany. "O Tannenbaum" is a popular German Christmas carol about the Christmas tree. The first printed reference to a Christmas tree was in 1561. According to legend, Protestant church reform leader Martin Luther was the first person to bring an evergreen indoors. He was so struck by the beauty of the trees outside that he cut one down and brought it in to his family. He placed lighted candles on its branches as decoration. Originally, trees were small enough to put on a table, and decorations included candles, apples, cookies, candies, and paper roses.

The popularity of the Christmas tree spread to royalty in France and England. More decorations were added and people began placing presents under large indoor trees. In 1850, an American magazine printed a picture of Queen Victoria with her family around a Christmas tree. Families in North America copied the idea. In 1856, President Franklin Pierce decorated the first White House Christmas tree.

Most Christmas trees today come from tree farms. They take five to fifteen years to grow. More than 30 million trees are sold in the US each year.

Children can make mini Christmas trees to give parents, grandparents, and/or grandfriends in a seniors facility (the trees make a nice table decoration).

Start by decorating a plastic margarine tub by gluing holiday wrapping paper around the outside. Soak a pinecone in a bowl of water overnight.

Fill the decorated margarine tub with sand. Holding the wet pinecone at its base, sprinkle grass seed into it, making sure seed falls into all the crevices all around the pinecone. Carefully stick the pinecone into the sand so that the pinecone is secure and stands upright.

Water the mini tree every day -- sprinkle it with water all over, and keep the sand wet. In several days, the grass seed will sprout and the pinecone will look like a little Christmas tree.

Some storybooks about Christmas trees: Christmas Tree Memories by Aliki; Night Tree by Eve Bunting; Little Tree by e.e. cummings; The Beautiful Christmas Tree by Charlotte Zolotow.


Celebrate with the Animals

Connections: Seniors Groups/Facilities; Families; Schools (Science, Art); Community Groups.

What You Need: Popcorn (caution: it can crumble easily; Cheerios may be easier for very young children); needles (you can use blunt-ended yarn needles for very young children); thread. Optional additions -- fresh cranberries; pinecones rolled in peanut butter and birdseed; thin slices of orange and apple; ribbon.

Doing It:

Young and old can work together to create outdoor tree decorations that birds and other small animals can snack on. This is a festive activity even older adults with some functional limitations can do. If children and seniors are doing this as part of an intergenerational program, make some decorations to put up outside the seniors facility and some that children can take to put up outside their home.

For popcorn garland decorations, make sure you use 100% natural popcorn (i.e. without added butter or salt). Make the popcorn one or two days ahead so that it's cool and stale (it will be easier to string and less likely to crumble).

For inspiration and to set the mood, you can start your popcorn stringing session by reading Night Tree by Eve Bunting.

String the popcorn together using a sharp needle and thread. If you want to add some color, alternate a few pieces of popcorn with a cranberry. It might be easier to make several shorter lengths of garland, which you can then join together.

When you're putting up the popcorn garland on the trees outside, make sure you secure it so that birds don't carry it off or become entangled in it.

Keep an eye on the decorated trees to see who comes to visit.

Extension: You can add other decorations to the outdoor trees -- pinecones rolled in peanut butter and birdseed, and thinly sliced pieces of orange and apple. Hang these with pieces of ribbon.


Family Stars

Connections: Families; Schools (Art, Math); Community Groups.

What You Need: Copies of "Family Star Pattern" (2 copies required to make 1 star); pencil crayons and/or markers; scissors; double-sided tape; glue; gold string.

Doing It:

Hollywood has its Walk of Fame, with bronze star plaques embedded in the sidewalk honoring show-business celebrities. Why not celebrate your "all-star family" with a family star tradition? One family I know comes up with a creative new way to use stars to celebrate their family each year. One year, they decorated a star cake with stars and the names of all their family members. Another year, they used food coloring to make stars in the snow outside with the names of their family members. Yet another year, they made star decorations with their family member names on them.

Use the "Family Star Pattern" to make a special 3-D star for each member of your family -- children, parents, and grandparents. You'll need two copies of the "Family Star Pattern" for each star you make (each copy is one half of the finished star). Color both copies. For maximum 3-D effect, alternate light and dark colors. Use colors or patterns that represent the person to whom the star belongs. For example, if your brother likes blue, make his star using different shades of blue. Put each family member's name somewhere on their star -- and don't forget to make a star for yourself! As you're decorating the stars, be sure you can still see the guidelines for folding.

To construct a finished star, cut out both star pattern copies. Fold back all the flaps. Carefully crease along the interior lines of each copy so that the points of the star pop out. Make sure your creases all meet at the center of the star.

Put a small piece of double-sided tape on each flap of each half of the star. Put the two halves together so that each flap is attached to the inside of the other half of the star. Be careful not to crush the star as you're putting it together (you may have to puff it out when you're done). Glue a loop of gold string to one point on the star so that you can hang it when it dries.

Decorate a wall or corner of a room with all your family stars.


Family Christmas Crackers

Connections: Families; Schools (Language Arts, Art); Community Groups.

What You Need: Empty toilet paper rolls; pieces of lightweight holiday wrapping paper (6 x 12 inches); scissors; ruler; colorful ribbon; small slips of paper (1 x 3 inches); pen/pencil; felt marker. Optional -- coins; wrapped candy.

Doing It:

Celebrate special memories from the past year by making Christmas crackers with personal messages.

In 1844, Thomas Smith, an English candy maker, visited France and saw "cosaques," or crackers -- sugar-coated almonds wrapped in squares of colored paper that were twisted at each end. He returned to England and began making crackers that contained candy, mottos, jokes, and riddles. By the turn of the century, Thomas Smith's firm was selling 13 million crackers each year. Today's crackers are crepe paper-covered tubes with small trinkets inside. When you pull the end tabs, a chemically-treated paper strip inside breaks and makes a popping or cracking noise.

Make a Christmas cracker for each person in your family -- children, parents, and grandparents. Children can also make Christmas crackers for grandfriends. They are a nice holiday gift and can contain memories of activities young and old have done together.

For each person's cracker, use slips of paper and write out perhaps three special memories related to that person from the last year (e.g. a favorite outing, a movie you enjoyed together, a special gift received, a new skill learned, a shared hobby, a trip you took together, etc.). You can also include a joke, or a good wish for the upcoming year. Fold the slips of paper in half.

Roll a piece of holiday wrapping paper around a toilet paper roll (there should be about 4 inches of paper extending past each end of the roll). DO NOT use any glue or tape. Put the slips of paper inside the roll. You can also put in a couple of coins or pieces of wrapped candy if you like.

Twist the wrapping paper at each end and secure with a piece of ribbon. Print the person's name on the outside of the cracker.

You can put out the Christmas crackers at each person's place for holiday dinner, or use them as a stocking stuffer. To open the cracker, pull on both ends at the same time to rip apart the wrapping paper.


Draw the Memory

Connections: Families.

What You Need: Paper; pencil crayons and/or markers.

Doing It:

This is an easy game children, parents, and grandparents can play over the holidays or any time. Guessing memories is fun for young and old.

On their own sheet of paper, each person draws a picture of a favorite family memory. It should be something specific that everyone would know about, and ideally something that involved two or more people. You can limit memories to something that's happened in the last year, or be more general. As they're drawing, each person hides their picture from everyone else.

When everyone is finished drawing, hold pictures up one at a time for people to try to guess the memory. Hints are allowed if required!

Once a memory has been guessed correctly, talk about why it's a favorite memory.


Family Memories Quiz Bowl

Connections: Families.

What You Need: Slips of paper; pen/pencil; bowl.

Doing It:

This is another easy game that children, parents, and grandparents can play together. It can evoke a lot of memories and stories.

Each person in the group writes out about five questions (depending on the total number of people playing) about family history. Try to come up with questions that will bring up great family memories. Some examples of questions: Where did we go on vacation three years ago? What is Tom's favorite expression? What family tradition takes place each year when we put up the Christmas tree? What movie did we all go to see last month? When is Grandma and Grandpa's wedding anniversary? What was Sarah's favorite book when she was little? One caution: avoid embarrassing questions or questions that young children or teenagers may be sensitive about.

Write each question on a separate slip of paper. Fold up the slips of paper and put them into a bowl.

Pass around the bowl. One at a time, each person pulls out a question. The person reads it aloud to the group and then tries to answer it. If you answer correctly, you get a point. Then pass the bowl to the next person. If you choose your own question, refold it, put it back in the bowl, and pick another question. If you don't know the answer to a question, go around the room until someone guesses the answer (that person gets a point).


Find the Candy Cane

Connections: Families; Seniors Groups/Facilities; Community Groups.

What You Need: Candy canes.

Doing It:

This is the kind of simple game that can create fond, fun-filled memories. It's a great game to play in a family or with an intergenerational group of older adults and very young children.

A child leaves the room while you hide a candy cane. When the child returns, he or she starts to look for the candy cane. The group sings "Jingle Bells" loudly (when the child is getting warm) or softly (when the child is getting cold) to lead him or her to the candy cane.

Repeat until you run out of children or candy canes!


Spin the Dreidel

Connections: Families; Seniors Groups/Facilities; Schools (Social Studies, History); Community Groups.

What You Need: Copies of "Dreidel Pattern" sheet; new wooden pencil; scissors; tape; ten tokens per player (e.g. pennies, raisins, nuts, wrapped candies or chocolates, buttons).

Doing It:

Play this traditional Jewish game with young and old. If you have a large group of people, break into smaller groups of three or four.

A "dreidel" is a spinning top. The game of dreidel began when Jews were forbidden to study the Torah, the Jewish bible. Boys would get together to study in secret. If they heard the footsteps of soldiers approaching, they pulled out spinning tops and pretended to be playing games. The dreidel has four sides. Each side is inscribed with a Hebrew character -- nun, gimmel, hey, and shin, which together mean "A great miracle happened there" (see the "One World, Many Traditions" sheets for more information about Hanukkah).

Use the "Dreidel Pattern" sheet to make a dreidel. Cut out the pattern along the solid lines. Fold over all the flaps and fold along all the dotted lines. The four characters will form four sides of a cube. The square with the dot in the middle is the top of the cube. Tape the cube together, with the flaps inside. Push a sharpened wooden pencil though the dot in the top of the cube. Tape the four triangles at the bottom of the cube together so that they come together around the pencil. The tip of the pencil sticks out past the tips of the triangles. Hold the pencil vertically at the top and spin the dreidel on the pencil tip.

Start the game by giving each player ten tokens, which can be pennies, raisins, nuts, wrapped candies or chocolates, buttons, or any other objects. To play, each player takes one token from their pile and puts it into a common pile. Then, players take turns spinning the dreidel. When the dreidel falls, the side facing up tells you what to do. When the spin lands on nun, it means do nothing (pass the dreidel to the next player); gimmel means take all the tokens in the common pile; hey means take half of the tokens in the common pile (if there's an odd number of tokens, take an extra); shin means put two tokens into the common pile. After a spin, when there are no tokens or only one token left in the common pile, each player adds one token to the common pile before the next player spins. When a player has nothing left in their own pile, they're out of the game. The player who still has a pile when everyone else is out is the winner.


Smells Great!

Connections: Families; Seniors Groups/Facilities; Schools (Art, Science); Community Groups.

What You Need: Cinnamon; apple sauce; bowl; spoon; rolling pin; waxed paper; cookie cutters; thin straw; cardboard; ribbon. Optional -- small magnets or magnetic tape.

Doing It:

Make great smelling cinnamon ornaments as a gift for young or old. Children can make them for parents, grandparents, or grandfriends. And older adults, even those with functional limitations, can create something meaningful and special for a grandchild or young friend.

What's your favorite smell? Everyone has a favorite smell, and more often than not, it's connected to a cherished person or moment from the past. Christmas traditions are a rich source of scents that can stir powerful memories -- pine, spruce, or fir tree; holiday baking like shortbreads or apple pie; a fireplace; popcorn; turkey roasting; hot apple cider. The sense of smell is the most effective of all the senses for evoking memories. This has little to do with your nose and a lot to do with your brain. Unlike sight, hearing, and other senses, which are sent to the "thinking" part of your brain for processing, smell goes straight to the "primitive" area at the base of your brain that stores memories and processes emotions. With smells, vivid mental images often pop up along with feelings for the place or person you associate with the smell. Marcel Proust eloquently described the relationship between scent and memory in The Remembrance of Things Past.

The smell of cinnamon is often one that evokes memories or that people simply enjoy. This recipe for cinnamon dough is only for smelling, looking at, and enjoying -- DO NOT EAT.

Mix approximately 1 1/2 cups of cinnamon with a cup of applesauce. Combine well until you have a dough-like consistency (add a little more of either ingredient if the consistency isn't quite right).

Put the dough on a piece of waxed paper. Place another piece of waxed paper on top, and roll the dough out. Use cookie cutters to make different shapes. Use a thin straw to poke a hole in the top of the ornaments.

Place the ornaments onto cardboard. Let them sit in a warm place to dry. It may take a few days for them to dry completely. Turn them over every once in a while to let air get to all areas.

When the ornaments are dry, thread pieces of ribbon through the holes and tie the ends. Be careful with the ornaments; they'll last a long time, but are delicate.

Hang the ornaments in a room, closet, or car. They smell wonderful! You can also glue a small magnet or stick magnetic tape onto the back of the ornaments and use them on the refrigerator (if you're going to do this, skip making the hole).


Bake It, Decorate It

Connections: Seniors Groups/Facilities; Families.

What You Need: Cookies (e.g. sugar cookies) and/or cupcakes (white); decorations including different colors/flavors of icing, chocolate drizzle, candied fruits (e.g. cherries), nuts, and sprinkles.

Doing It:

Yes, baking and decorating are obvious intergenerational activities -- but I'm thinking big and fancy. I'm talking about lots of variety and creativity.

Children love to help parents and grandparents with baking. And activities related to food -- even when they're simple -- are generally winners in most seniors facilities. Cooking is familiar. Many people enjoy it and the end result. Older adults feel useful and productive as they engage in a meaningful activity.

Young and old can work together to bake cookies and/or cupcakes. Use your favorite recipes. Or, prepare the cookies/cupcakes ahead of time and make the focus of the activity the decorating. Make lots of options available for decorating and encourage everyone to be creative.


Instant Ice Cream

Connections: Seniors Groups/Facilities; Families; Schools (Science); Community Groups.

What You Need: For each serving of ice cream, you need -- 1 cup whole milk; 2 tbsp. sugar; 4 tbsp. evaporated milk; 1/2 tsp. vanilla; 1 quart-size Ziploc plastic bag; 1 gallon-size Ziploc plastic bag; crushed ice (ideally) or ice cubes; 1/2 cup salt. You'll also need spoons and bowls for the number of people participating. Optional -- gloves (shaking the bag can get cold!).

Doing It:

The holidays are a time for special treats, and everyone enjoys ice cream. Make this "old-fashioned" ice cream in a "new-fashioned" way. It's a very easy technique that young and old -- even older adults with physical and/or cognitive limitations -- can do.

Each person makes their own ice cream. Start by putting the milk, sugar, evaporated milk, and vanilla into a quart-size Ziploc bag. Seal securely.

Fill a gallon-size Ziploc bag half full of ice and add the salt. Place the smaller Ziploc bag into this Ziploc bag and seal securely.

Now shake the bag for about 5 to 7 minutes, until the contents of the inside bag have turned into ice cream. Scoop into bowls and enjoy.


Ice Cream Party

Connections: Seniors Groups/Facilities; Families.

What You Need: Vanilla ice cream; bowls; spoons; and LOTS of toppings -- sprinkles, cherries and other types of fruit, chocolate chips, cookie bits, nuts, chocolate syrup, caramel syrup, fruit sauces/jams, etc.

Doing It:

This is a great theme for a holiday family get-together (it makes it easier on the host -- tell everyone to have a light meal before they come and that you'll be providing dessert) and a good activity for an intergenerational holiday party in a seniors facility. Everyone creates their own fantasy sundae.

You can make ice cream using the technique above, or you can supply store-bought vanilla ice cream. The focus is on creating a sundae by choosing from a huge variety of available toppings. Supply smaller bowls and encourage people to go back and try a couple of different creations. For older adults with physical limitations, children can help make sundaes by following the directions the older adults give.


Family Handshakes

Connections: Families.

What You Need: No materials.

Doing It:

Your family is rather an exclusive club, so why not develop a secret family handshake?

Shaking hands is a ritual. You shake hands with friends, your family, and people you meet. How does each person's handshake feel? How do handshakes differ (e.g. length, tightness, full or half hand)? When is it appropriate to shake hands and when isn't it? Who do you shake hands with and who would you hug or kiss? Why?

Create your own playful "secret" handshake -- "for family members only." For example, you could do a double shake (standard handshake done twice, quickly); triple snap (snap fingers three times and shake); high five (hand and palm up, clap together); or a double cross (shake opposite hands at the same time).

Play the handshake game: This is a fun game for children, parents, and grandparents when you get together over the holidays. Everyone adds a movement to the handshake they receive. For example, the first two people touch thumbs. The second two people touch thumbs and slide palms. The next two people touch thumbs, slide palms, and clap. The next two people touch thumbs, slide palms, clap, and clasp little fingers. Keep going around the room until you get thoroughly confused!

You can also play silly shakes: This is a fun game to play with a very young child. How many different body parts can you shake? Everyone knows you can shake hands. Trying shaking a foot, elbow, knee, pinky finger, earlobe, hair, thumb, nose, and so on.


TV Time

Connections: Families.

What You Need: No materials. Optional -- playing cards; paper cups; pile of folded socks.

Doing It:

Television takes a lot of time away from families. You have to choose whether you control it or it controls you. It is possible to use television as a family connection ritual. TV time can be family time if it's made up of a carefully selected show, within a limited time frame, that everyone looks forward to watching together. You know what your kids are watching and you can discuss what they see and put it into context. That's an example of you controlling the TV. But the TV controls you when everyone plops themselves down to watch whatever is on, when the TV is constantly on in the background, or when everyone retreats to their own room to watch their own TV.

You can also use the TV as a way to generate interaction, and create fun, memorable bonding experiences. For example, pick a show, preferably one with a lot of characters, like a family drama or soap opera. Turn off the sound, and have family members take turns making up lines for what the actor on the TV screen is saying (i.e. speak for the character as their mouth moves). Make it silly, fun, and creative. Different people can play different characters. It may take awhile to get the hang of this and loosen up inhibitions, but once you get going it can be a lot of fun. Some example lines you can use as you get warmed up, "I think I see what you mean." or "Can you repeat that? I didn't hear you." or "Sorry, I have to go. My toenails need trimming." or "Who does you hair?" or "Do you know that your shirt doesn't go with your pants? I'd go home and change if I were you."

When you're watching a TV show, slip in some family bonding time during commercials. When the commercials come on, turn off the sound and see how much of a group task you can do -- building a house of cards, making a tower by balancing paper cups (mouth to mouth, then end to end), or balancing folded socks on your head. Have the materials ready to go as soon as commercials start. Try to outdo your record from the last commercial.


Calming Rituals

Connections: Families.

What You Need: No materials.

Doing It:

Especially during the holidays, children can get overtired and overexcited. Rituals to help calm them down can be helpful -- and protect your sanity.

For example, designate one chair in your home as the "cuddle chair." The only thing you can use the chair for is cozy cuddling (never use it for a "time out" because this will give it a negative association). When children need to calm down, suggest a visit to the cuddle chair. Also give children the freedom to ask for "cuddle time." The cuddle chair could be part of a "Peace Place" in your home (see the "Peace Place" activity in the Peace Building section of this kit).

You can also use a "Freeze" game ritual. When kids are running around or screaming, make it a practice that when you shout "Freeze" everyone -- children and adults -- has to freeze in place. Then have a regular sequence of steps to calm everyone down. Say "Stand Tall" and everyone goes from their frozen position to standing straight. Say "Touch Toes 3 Times" and everyone touches their toes 3 times. Say "Reach for the Sky" and everyone stretches toward the ceiling. Say "Sit and Relax" and everyone either sits down in a chair or on the floor. You can change the exact steps if you like. The important thing is to have a series of steps and use the same series of steps each time. Then children know what to expect and will hook into the ritual.

A bedtime calming ritual can also be useful. Try "Sleepy Fingers." Start by making a big deal of yawning and stretching. Speak softly and slowly. "I'm so sleepy. And you know what? Your fingers are sleepy, too." Explain, "It's time to put you and each of your fingers to bed." With your child's or grandchild's hand open, bend each finger over gently -- one by one, starting with the little finger -- saying it's time for each to go to sleep. Comment on each finger: "This is the littlest one and he has to go to bed first because he needs the most sleep" and "This is the ring finger who has lots of work to do wearing heavy rings. He's all tired out!" and "This is the tallest finger. Do you think he'll fit? Let's try." and "Now the finger that does all the pointing. He's been very busy today too." Then say, "Oops, we're missing someone." With a surprised and concerned face say, "Well, we need to make room for this fella. Move over everyone!" Uncurl the fingers and slip in the thumb. With the thumb all tucked away under the fingers, grasp your child's or grandchild's hand in both your hands, say "Good night everyone!", and give the hand a kiss.


Time to Remember

Connections: Families.

What You Need: Small table with pretty tablecloth; flower arrangement; family photographs and keepsakes; candle; small basket; note cards; pen/pencil; special dinner and music.

Doing It:

The holidays can be a time to remember those members of your family who are no longer with you. We often miss people the most during the holidays. Developing a remembering tradition can be a comfort for adults, a way to reconnect with a special person and what they meant in your life, and a way to connect children with their family history.

While the topic of death is usually avoided in the US, the remembrance of deceased ancestors and loved ones is a tradition among many diverse cultures around the world. The Mexican Day of the Dead is an ancient festival that commemorates the dead and celebrates the continuity of life. It takes place on the first two days of November. Families visit gravesites, place brightly colored flowers on the graves of loved ones, and picnic on the grass. Some families create altars in their homes to honor deceased relatives. It's a time to remember, to tell stories about the dead, and to feast. You can develop a similar tradition for your family.

Your way of honoring someone who's gone can be as simple as lighting a remembrance candle during a holiday meal or leaving an empty chair at the table. Or, you can do something more elaborate.

Cover a small table with a pretty tablecloth. Put a flower arrangement in the center. Place photos and keepsakes of the person you're remembering around the flowers. Share a meal of the person's favorite food. Play some of their favorite music.

Then turn the lights down low, light a candle, and place it on the table. Share memories of the person and why they were important to you. Have a small basket on the table. On a note card, each person can write out a memory or something they would like to say to the person. Drop the note cards into the basket.

You can leave the table up for a couple of days. Later, you can put the note cards into a scrapbook about the person.


Top 10 Favorite Things

Connections: Families; Schools (Music, Language Arts); Seniors Groups/Facilities.

What You Need: Paper; pen/pencils. Optional -- Rodgers & Hammerstein's My Favorite Things by Renée Graef and the song "My Favorite Things" from The Sound of Music.

Doing It:

Raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens, Bright copper kettles and warm woolen mittens...

What are a "few of your favorite things?" No matter how old we are, there are certain things that bring us joy, evoke special memories, or just make us feel cozy and content.

In a family or intergenerational group, you can share the book Rodgers & Hammerstein's My Favorite Things by Renée Graef. Play the actual song as well. How many people have seen the movie The Sound of Music? Get everyone in a "favorite things" mood.

Then, each person writes their "Top 10" list of favorite things. Start with number ten and work your way up to number one.

When everyone has finished their list, go around the room and have people read their lists. Why did each person choose the things they did? What memories are associated with each item on the list? Why did they choose what they chose for their number one "favorite thing?"


Family Growth Chart

Connections: Families.

What You Need: Roll of paper (e.g. shelf paper) about 7 feet x 6 inches; tape measure; ruler; pencil; markers; masking tape.

Doing It:

"Look how you've grown!" How many times do children hear that at family holiday gatherings? The physical growth of children and grandchildren is a way to mark time and celebrate change. It's also fun to compare heights of people at different ages. Start an annual Family Growth Chart tradition.

To make the growth chart, get a roll of paper, unroll it, and draw a straight line along the left side. Starting at the bottom, mark off inches and feet.

Each year during a holiday gathering, get everyone together to be measured -- children and adults. Lightly tape the growth chart to a flat surface on a door or doorway. Be sure the bottom of the chart is touching the floor. One at a time, people stand with their back against the chart to be measured. Mark their height with their name, age, and the date. Who's the shortest? The tallest? Who's height has changed the most over the past year?

Roll up the growth chart and keep it in a safe place until next year.


Celebrate Past and Future

Connections: Families; Schools (Language Arts).

What You Need: Notebook or scrapbook; pen/pencil; paper bag marked with each person's name and decorated; slips of paper; ribbon.

Doing It:

The first day of the calendar year, New Year's Day, has been celebrated since ancient times. Many different calendars are followed throughout the world. The one we generally use is based on the calendar in which Julius Caesar designated January 1 as the first day of the year. People celebrate with parties, parades, sporting events, family gatherings, a round of "Auld Lang Syne," food, and resolutions. New Year's is a time to remember the old year, and celebrate and make plans for the upcoming year. Janus (from which January comes) is a Roman god portrayed with two faces. One face looks backward at the old year, and the other face looks forward at the new year.

To remember the old year, start a keepsake notebook or scrapbook that contains annual family highlights. On New Year's Day each year, each member of your family should write down the highlights of the past year for them. Include information like your age, what grade you're in or job you're doing, favorite song, favorite movie, favorite book, favorite TV show, best moment of the year, worst moment of the year, biggest surprise, most important thing learned. Read last year's highlights as you record this year's highlights.

Now think forward to the year ahead. What resolutions would you like to make? Resolutions are decisions to break bad habits or start good ones. Maybe you want to stop biting your fingernails or start reading for 20 minutes every day. Too many big resolutions all at once can be overwhelming. It's not likely you'll stick with them. Instead, try a month-by-month approach. On slips of paper, each person writes out twelve resolutions they would like to implement over the next year. Roll up each slip of paper and secure it with a piece of ribbon. Put the resolutions into a decorated bag with your name on it. Once a month, perhaps during a family meeting, put your hand into your bag to pull out a resolution. Then, for the next month, focus on making that resolution happen.

From Holiday Activity Kit by Susan V. Bosak ©2003

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