Home Commentary This Holiday, Save the Stories!

This Holiday, Save the Stories!

Published on December 18, 2012, by in Commentary.
Jean-Flosh Christmas 1960ish

My favorite aunt smokes and reads a Christmas letter while my mother plays her new recorder (a gift from my father that I immediately claimed as my own–and still treasure.)

When I recently came across this photo, I was reminded how important it is to save the stories behind the treasures and traditions of our favorite holidays. No matter whether you celebrate Christmas, Hanukkah, Chinese New Year, or Winter Solstice, you’ll soon be with family. Now’s your opportunity to create fun activities that bring generations together around your shared heritage. Here are a few ideas for activities for every different age group.

For young children:

  • Invite children to play Family History Detective — give them a set of clues like “which uncle knows how to drive a tractor and why?” – have a prize for the first / most right answers. Phrase your questions as answers and you can make this a Family Jeopardy game!
  • Tell the “Stories Behind the Stuff” — as you bring out the oranments and decorations, talk about the stories behind them. (Click here to read a recent New York Times essay expanding on this idea.)
  • Turn on an audio or video recorder (even a smartphone will do), then ask the children what they know about their names. Who’s named after who, and why? Are there names that have been handed down in the family? Capture the storytelling that comes out as your family explores “the name game.”

For older children and teens:

  • Make a Family Holiday Photobook. Gather  holiday photos through the years, then using a website like Shutterfly , upload them and write captions that tell a story about the people or the occasions in the picture. Order copies for each branch of the family. Be sure to name the people & guess at dates. Have fun looking for family resemblance between the generations.
  • For kids who like multimedia projects, use Powerpoint or a website like Animoto to turn photos and video clips into a presentation.

For any age:

  • Make a family time capsule. Gather items that capture your family today, like photos and video or audio recordings. plus a current local newspaper and map.
  • Write down the menu for the holiday feast plus a few recipes for those dishes.
  • Fill out the following questionnaire and add it to your time capsule.
  • Put your collected items in a box or sealed container and label with a date to open it — next holiday, or 5, 10, 25  years from now? If you have family members who can’t join the gathering, send them a family time capsule too!

I was recently interviewed by Carol Koby on her “All About Living” radio show about celebrating family history at the holidays–click here to listen.

-Sarah White



Occasion: _____________________________________________________________

Completed by: _________________________________________________ Date: ______________

1. Where are you today? Why? Describe the scene.

2. Who is with you today? How are they related to you?

3. Who is the oldest person present? Who is the youngest? How are they related?

4. Where did everyone travel from?

5. Who is absent, but present in your thoughts? Why?

6. Who is cooking today? Whose recipes will be used? Which foods are your favorites?

7. What is the holiday meal like? Use your 5 senses as you describe it. (sight, sound, smell, taste, touch)

8. What activities will you do / have you done today?

9. Do you have traditions you repeat every year at this time? What are they?

10. What do you like best about this celebration?

11. How has this celebration changed over time?

12. What stories did you hear? Who told them?

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