How to Give Your Family a Christmas to Remember

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Photo by Torsten Dettlaff on


I wanted to write this week about our Christmas tradition.  I’ve been doing this for 5 years now, ever since my eldest was 1.  And it’s come to be what Christmas is all about for us.  Instead of asking how many days until Christmas Day, my kids ask all year round, “How many days until we start the gold envelopes?”  It’s our own version of an advent calendar.  Though before you fear for them, they do get their chocolate version too!


It involves quite a bit of planning, quite a bit of pinteresting, and the organising of buying all the materials.  But as we’ve been doing it for so long now we often get to re-use bits from the year before.  So I can say it’s getting easier and less work each year. 


So as of the 1st of December they open a dated golden envelope every morning with a card in containing their Christmas activity for the day.  Now this is where the planning really comes in, because once I have my list of activities it does have to be tweaked so I’m not doing some mammoth baking or craft task on a school night where we’re in and out going to after school clubs with very little spare time.  Not to mention I want my bigger activities to fall on a weekend when we’re looking for something to fill the day.  So this is my list of activities for this year:-


1st December     Put up the Christmas tree

This falls on the 1st every year, even if we have to get up at 5am and start it before school and finish it after.  We always put ‘The Snowman’ on in the background too, and it just sets us up for the month.

2nd December    Make snowflakes for the windows

This looks fantastic.  I give them both a piece of cotton on a needle and they thread about 5 pieces of cotton wool or polystyrene on each.  Then I space them out randomly and stick the pieces across my living room windows to give the effect of falling snow.  Any excuse to play with a sharp object and my kids are on board.  But I have to say the look is fantastic and it cheers me up all of December.  Which is mad really, as the reality of snow falling sends me into a blind panic that I won’t get my car down the hill that we live on and we’ll be cut off from society for goodness knows how long.  Yet I seem to be okay with fake snow!

3rd December    Make paper chain decorations

Another must for the living room, and so simple for a 4 and 6 year old.

4th December     Write a letter to Santa

This is the one that sends me into a frenzy when their entire list suddenly changes from what they’ve been wanting all year.  But it has to be done.  And in reality they do just make it up on the spot and forget anything they asked for a couple of weeks later.  It’s just part of the magic of Christmas to write that letter.

5th December     Make cloved oranges

Now for some reason mine always rot and go mouldy on the Christmas tree, so I’ve not quite mastered it like I did as a child, but it wouldn’t be Christmas without the smell of cloved oranges in the living room.

6th December     Make paper snowflakes

This is just a simple craft activity to further decorate the house.  In reality this falls on my street fit class night so it had to be something easy so I don’t miss my one guaranteed night of the week to socialise!

7th December     Grow candy canes

My absolute favourite activity.  We take a tub of sugar, plant tic tacs, and overnight they grow into candy canes.  Now worryingly I’ve just had to explain to a 50 year old work colleague that no, tic tacs don’t actually grow into candy canes.  So whilst I’m not assuming you are not of the same intelligence as this lady, I will point out, as I had to for her, that I in fact take out the tic tacs whilst they’re asleep and replace them with ‘grown’ candy canes.  Just wanted to be crystal clear in case anyone messages me to say their tic tacs haven’t grown!

8th December     Buy and deliver food to the food bank

Another of my children’s favourite Christmas activities because it involves them let loose in Aldi with a shopping trolley and the amount of cash contained in the envelope.  They know the drill, canned and packet foods only.  Nothing fresh.  And they get as much as they can and get to pay the till assistant like a proper grown up (much to the annoyance of the growing queue behind us!)  Then we take it all to the food bank, where they’re made an absolute fuss of.  They sometimes even get a certificate or sweets from the staff.  But either way we have lots of conversations on the way there and the way back as to who the food is going to and maybe what circumstances they may be spending Christmas in.  We get to discuss what the children think Christmas would be like without any proper food in the house, let alone the full roast and trimmings that we have.  And I just think it’s a really good lesson for them to learn.  In fact my eldest saved up in the summer time to do the same exercise because it touched her so much.  She did sell some of my stuff without me knowing to raise the money, but we’ll let that one go as she’s only 6 and therefore just using her initiative!

9th December     Christmas shopping for the boys

The girls have two cousins that they absolutely adore.  And again, they will find a small amount of cash in their envelope that day to take to the shops and pick them both a present.  It’s a great exercise in teaching them the gift of giving, and they totally get the excitement that we all get in finding that perfect gift.  In fact the secret rarely makes it to Christmas Day before they’ve told the boys what they’ve got them!  But each year we’re working on that.

10th December  Make sparkly icicles

Another Pinterest idea.  Basically we’re crafting foil into icicles, painting them in glue and dipping each icicle in glitter before hanging them around the house.  This is a new one this year so I’m yet to find out how this one goes down.  But anything they can get sticky doing is usually a hit.

11th December  Decorate the garden

A nice simple one.  A couple of pounds spent in the pound shop on Christmas decorations, then off they’re sent into the garden to hang them all around on anything with a branch or hook.  It’s usually mid-summer before we’ve taken them all down, but it does cheer up the garden while it’s looking so colour-less.

12th December  Write Christmas cards for your friends

A little pre-planning in the form of a class list, a few boxes of cards, and off they go. 

13th December  Decorate a gingerbread house

Now this activity has been off the list for a couple of years because my husband is OCD with mess and the whole living room got caked in icing.  But I’m bringing it back this year.  I got my gingerbread house from Ikea, and although I’ve got to assemble it myself with icing, I managed to get the decorations too.  So we’re all set to go.

14th December  Deliver cards to the neighbours

Hopefully this year I’ll be there to supervise this activity, as my husband was on his phone last year and they all got posted to any house they found.  I’m sure a couple of people re-posted them to the correct house, but everyone else probably just thinks I don’t know their names and it’s been too many years to correct me!  Either way, the kids love posting things, so this is always a hit!

15th December  Visit Santa

I don’t know where we’re going yet, but I’m thinking the little steam train at the local garden centre.  It’s the most random Christmas ride as it’s decorated in very non-Christmasy things like model aliens, and Disney gnomes that are missing heads or limbs.  But the kids are oblivious to the scenes and love it.  Us grown-ups call it the Chucky train and we’re convinced that anything that gets broken in the garden centre and is therefore unsellable becomes a decoration on this ride.  But it’s certainly a unique experience for all!

16th December  Buy presents for each other

This is the day I take each child out individually and we buy for the other child.  It’s just like the day we buy for the boys, except they get a little one-on-one Mummy time.  So this year I think I’ll take each for a cup of coffee and a cake while we’re at it!

17th December  Make stained glass lanterns

Another simple craft activity.  Glass jar, glue, tissue paper stuck on and some battery powered string lights from the pound shop.  And everything can be used again next year.

18th December  Make wrapping paper and wrap presents

The kids love this one.  A big roll of paper, lots of Christmas stickers, stamps, glue and glitter and they get to decorate their own paper to wrap their previously bought gifts in.  Then we can proudly display their finished product under the tree.

19th December  Make mulled wine and mince pies

My favourite activity as I get mulled wine.  As they’re 4 and 6 it’s a case of ready rolled pastry, a jar of mincemeat and some cutters.  And as for the mulled wine, I set the slow cooker going so it scents my house all day long.  Then they imagine mixing potions as they mix orange juice, cranberry juice, slices of orange, lemon, cinnamon sticks, cloves and nutmeg.  We leave it to cook for several hours and then they usually taste it, say they don’t like it, before I adopt it for myself and pour the port in.  Not your traditional mulled wine, especially as I put no actual wine in it so it can be non-alcoholic on the off-chance they like it this year, but I like it!

20th December  Drive around to see the lights

There’s many a famous street in the area that goes all out, so I can never fail to deliver on this activity.  But just being in their pyjamas in the car, with a McDonalds drive through if I’m feeling flush, is a great little activity to do.

21st December   Make a bubble wrap snowman

This is new this year on the basis I have a job lot of bubble wrap.  My plan is to roll and tape the bubble wrap into a snowman shape, then either papier mache or paint the bubble wrap before they dress him.  I’m going to wing it on the day, but I think the 3 bin bags of bubble wrap will be enough excitement before we even start the activity.  My husband is going to freak.  In my head I’m imagining something like the giant Santa that hangs on Manchester Town Hall, but we will have to see if my vision is accurate!

22nd December  Family games day

This year my kids have really got into playing things like UNO and scrabble.  And as I don’t do the big Christmas meal because we go to my mum’s, I thought I’d have all the family round with a buffet style feast, and force them to play games with my kids.  I don’t know how this will go as both the girls and their cousins are extremely competitive, but we’ll give it a try!

23rd December  Make eggnog, shortbread and watch a Christmas movie

I’ve never had eggnog, so this is a first too.  But this day falls on a Sunday, so I want some nice food, some nice drink, and to snuggle down under the duvet and watch something like ‘The Grinch’ or ‘Santa Claus the Movie’.

24th December  Crib service and Christmas Eve box

I love the crib service.  The kids drag their feet until they’re given chocolate by the church as a bribe to enjoy, but in all honesty it’s what Christmas is all about.  I feel so emotional listening to carols sung in a church, so this is Christmas to me.  And they’re totally geared up for kids with low attention spans, so I can enjoy this without worrying about whether my kids are sitting on their seats or lying on the ground telling me they’re bored.  Then we all walk home to open their Christmas Eve boxes filled with new pyjamas, a Christmas story book, hot chocolate and marshmallows, a cookie making kit, the key for Santa to let himself in, some reindeer food to scatter in the garden, and the plate to put out for Santa for his mince pie, milk, and a carrot for the reindeer.


So that’s my very lengthy Christmas tradition of the gold envelopes.  If you follow me on Pinterest at Recipeforhappinessnow or Instagram at recipeforhappinessnow I will be sharing pictures of my Christmas activities throughout December.


But please don’t read this and feel overwhelmed or that this tradition isn’t for you.  Even if you don’t have kids I think it would be a fun thing to do with a partner or even on your own.  You could challenge yourself to do something Christmassy every day, or to make or bake something Christmassy every day.  Or what about a random act of kindness every day?  You could even just keep it to weekends to cut a little of the planning work out.  Maybe a Christmas get together with a different friend every Saturday and Sunday throughout December! And you can make it as simple or as complicated as you want.  Pinterest is a fantastic source for so many good ideas.  We’ve been building this up over so many years that I have all the envelopes, cards, and a lot of resources all ready in my box in the loft.  At this stage I only have to tweak the list each year and replace a few activities they’ve outgrown to add in some new fresh ideas. 


So let me know if you have any different traditions at Christmas, or if you do anything similar to celebrate Christmas throughout the whole of December.  I wanted to get away from the kids just thinking of Christmas as a day they get presents.  And I hope over the years we’ve managed to put a bit of Christmas magic, a bit of religion, a few random acts of kindness and thinking of the less fortunate, and lots of glue, mess and chocolate into our Christmases.  And despite the immense planning involved, I have to say for me it’s all worthwhile because I know for my kids when they look back on Christmas in adulthood they will always remember the gold envelopes and hopefully bring back a few of their favourite activities into their own family Christmases. 


Boo Bagging

So as we approach Halloween I am going to share with you our Halloween tradition.  Now you may wonder how on earth this is going to tie in with happiness and well-being.  And when I tell you that this is something that I do with my children you may think, “Well I don’t even have children, so it’s going to be even more irrelevant to me!”  But hear me out. 


So I am dead against trick or treating.  I used to judge people massively who went trick or treating or let their children trick or treat.  And I will cover judgement in a completely different blog one day, because that is something that I am really working on – to not judge anybody.  So please don’t judge me for my judgment!  And I do now have a lot more tolerance for trick or treaters.  But my reasons are genuine behind it, in that I once knew an elderly lady that had her home vandalised by trick or treaters that she didn’t answer the door to.  And I too have had my car windows put through as a result of not answering the door.  So when I say it’s a judgement, it’s more of an ingrained fear.  A fear that actually drove me to park my car in overnight car parks on Halloween many years ago because I was that terrified. 


But what is important to me now, as I have learnt more about judgment and re-training my anxious brain, is that I can’t tar a 3 year old walking down my street in Halloween gear with the same brush as the people that I’ve based those fears on.   


Now with the basis for my beliefs laid out there I just didn’t want my children doing it, because I didn’t want to inflict that same fear on someone that had experienced what I had.  So I had to find a compromise, because let’s face it, what child doesn’t want to go trick or treating? 


So in desperate search for a compromise I went on Pinterest and stumbled across this apparently American tradition called ‘boo bagging’.  And this is what we do now every year as a compromise.  We pick out some random friends and neighbours, and we fill bags with sweets and toys, all Halloween themed loot; black and orange balloons, glow sticks, jumping pumpkins; you name it.  And we make a little bag of gifts.  Then in the darkness of night my children approach each house like 007 and we leave these boo bags as a surprise on the child’s doorstep.  We do this about a week before Halloween.  And in that bag there is a sign for them to put up in their window to say they’ve been booed, and there’s a poem with it that reads as follows:-


You’ve been boo’d

This treat is for you,

I hope you enjoy,

The idea is simple,

One I hope you’ll employ!

You pass the ‘Boo’ along to two other neighbours,

Along with any Halloween favours!

If we all do our part,

And spread the good cheer,

By Halloween night,

It will be very clear…

We are a friendly bunch,

We like to share fun!

So please help us keep

‘Boo’ on the run!


The idea is that apparently this tradition is carried out in streets where they will ‘boo bag’ their neighbours, and once the sign goes up to say they’ve been booed, other neighbours know they’ve already received a surprise and look for a neighbour without a sign in their window to leave their gift.  So everybody, in theory, receives a boo bag, and the joy of receiving a surprise gift is passed on throughout the street.  Hence why we put ours out about a week before Halloween. 


And we have had such a wonderful response to this.  We don’t tell people that it is us, and I feel that I’m giving my children that amazing feeling of being able to give without needing thanks.  Which is actually a wonderful feeling, as I’m sure Santa Claus will testify to when he sees a child’s little face light up on Christmas morning!  It’s that same feeling of knowing that you’ve made somebody happy.  And that is what this blog is really about. 


A massive source of happiness is giving and making other people happy.  There are a lot of things, and I’ll cover as and when appropriate, that I do to give to people.  And it’s pretty much always anonymous.  And I find the thought of somebody out there thinking, “Wow, somebody’s thought of me in my hour of need, or has thought to leave a boo bag for my child on our doorstep,” just absolutely fills me with joy.  So this post is meant to inspire.  It’s meant to make us think that maybe times of the year that bring a bit of fear or bad memories can be turned into something good if we just think outside the box. 


My children always get boo bagged back too.  Admittedly it’s usually Mummy that comes to the rescue.  But every now and then if we’re caught on CCTV and our identities are discovered, one of the recipients may drop the girls a boo bag back.  And their little faces and screams of joy…  They forget all about knocking on people’s door to demand sweets or money because they’re so chuffed and touched and surprised by what’s in that gift, that it makes me literally cry with joy to watch.  I feel it’s just such an important lesson to teach them.  It fills me with joy and I am more than happy to put the time, effort and money into this little project each year to make all these children happy.  And it really has inspired other people.  When we’ve been caught on CCTV we have been told by other mums that they absolutely loved the idea, they think it’s brilliant, and they’ve passed it on themselves.  So the joy has carried on further into the community.  Hearing that just really makes my day. 


And of course there is a great metaphor for life in this article.  We are all fearful of different things.  What excites one of us fills the next with dread.  Is jumping out of a plane on your bucket list or does the thought of even looking up at a parachute send you dizzy?  Our thoughts build our reality, so if we can change our thoughts we can change our reality.  If something fills you with dread or fear look for a way to change how you feel about it.  You may not always be able to do that, but to be aware that there’s a possibility of changing your thoughts that might actually lead you to happiness is a great place to start. 


So this is just a little bit of inspiration for anybody looking for something different to do at this time of year.  Let me know if you do boo bag your friends or neighbours.  And let me know what your children thought of the idea.  And for any American readers, please get in touch and let me know if this is genuinely a tradition over there, because nobody in England has ever heard of this!  And I just think it’s absolutely fantastic.  So I really am interested to know if this does go on in America.  And even if you don’t have children I think this would be lovely to do to your friends and neighbours.  There’s some great ideas on Pinterest for adult Halloweeen gifts, maybe a bottle of wine wrapped like a mummy with the same ‘boo’ sign and poem attached.  Spread some joy and see how it lifts your own spirits, because little random acts of kindness just absolutely make my day!