What could be more heavenly than spending the holidays with little ones? What!?! you ask. Little ones heavenly at holiday time? More like imps! Interrupting their parents' online shopping to tattle on a sibling. Sneaking into the stash of sweets meant for tonight's dinner guests. Spilling a drink on the freshly shampooed carpet. Whining about the gifts they didn't get instead of appreciating the ones they did.

Is it possible to find peace and joy in your family festivities? Yes, Virginia (and Maryland and D.C.), there is a Santa Claus. That is to say, your own goodwill and generosity will shine through to your children if you remember these tips for truly happy holidays for everyone.

Angel Food

The care and feeding of holiday angels needs to follow the same guidelines we should be adhering to throughout the year. Good nutrition supports good behavior. Be mindful that there will be more than the usual amount of sweets this time of year, including super rich traditional family goodies that have been handed down since before we knew better. Moderation is key. One way to trim the sugar load is to modify a recipe. The younger your children are when you make the switch, the less they'll notice. Sweet potatoes are sweet enough without marshmallows on top. Stir a little molasses into a cup of warm milk to take the comforting place of hot cocoa in their hearts. Or warm up some apple juice, even watered down a bit, perhaps with some cinnamon or nutmeg sprinkled on top. In place of making frosted cookies, use your holiday shapes to make wholegrain, seed-speckled crackers. (See recipe below.) Fun in the kitchen is a wonderful holiday tradition. What goes into the children can keep them wonderful, too.


'Tis better to give than receive, goes the sacred teaching. Generosity is something that should be practiced all year. Involve your young children in choosing and making gifts and cards for others. Good modeling includes verbalizing your thoughtfulness about the recipient. "Grandma loves frogs. A sofa pillow with a frog stitched on it will be perfect for her new apartment!" Don't miss an opportunity to point out how your angel has made others happy with her generosity. When you and your child share a smile in enjoyment of Grandma's delight at opening her present, you are reinforcing the pleasure found in being a giver. And as a recipient, graciousness can be learned, too. Model appreciation when you receive a gift, and help your little one express gratitude through your words until she can do it herself. "Oh, Grandma, Seraphina is going to have so much fun with this set of alphabet blocks. She's just starting to recognize 'S's' when she sees them!"

Transcending Time

The experience of time is very age-dependent―and relative to the situation. One can imagine an angel contentedly sitting on a cloud, softly sounding notes of heavenly music on his horn, oblivious to the passage of time. A young child, similarly, lives in the cloud of the moment, fully absorbed in his own experience. Rushing Gabriel to put his horn away―or harmonica, or recorder, or whatever―and jump to a new cloud, is very disconcerting. Give him advance notice that the cousins are meeting you at the skating rink this afternoon. Let him know when the time to finish his current activity is near. Introduce the shift as a segue. "Let's remember to tell Uncle Joey how much you enjoy playing with the horn he gave you when we see him and your cousins at the skating rink. We'll take good care of it, putting it back in its case on the shelf, so he can hear you play it soon." Special outings and visitors are a big part of holiday celebrations, but it is important for a little one to keep a familiar routine as much as possible. One atypical outing or hosting per day may be the limit for his tolerance for changes to his regular patterns. A large gathering with family and friends for dinner may be fine, so long as Gabriel sees at least some people and food he is accustomed to. Follow the festivities with his normal bedtime routine at home. Too much excitement or variability to his usual comfy cloud and you risk stirring up a squall.

Angel Guardians

Angelic behavior can happen by chance, but it is more likely to occur if it has been the dedicated purpose of an adult's intentions. Who is on duty? Plan ahead for activities just for children during your celebrations. Assign as many adults or responsible teens as needed to keep the children engaged. You might have a card-making station with paper, markers and stickers on a low table. Or design a seek-and-find game―with a suitable prize for every player. Or provide rehearsal space for the children to practice a holiday song or two that they can perform for and with the rest of the party later. Children won't interrupt adult conversations, get into foods they shouldn't get into or make terrible messes so long as they are carefully tended. If you want all of your guests to enjoy themselves, take care to have all of the children attended to at all times.

Give Them Wings

Angels are at their best when they can fly. That is to say, large motor activity is an imperative for young children. When it is cold outside, this need can accumulate. Your family holiday traditions might add a nice long walk, all bundled up, to the playground. We did this for a few Thanksgivings with our dad, leaving Mom to prepare the meal in solitude. She had a break from five young children, Dad was in his glory leading an expedition through the woods and, of course, we angels were quite ready to sit still for dinner after an afternoon of boisterous fun.

What do your angels enjoy doing? Dancing? Ice skating? Sledding? If we get more than a dusting this winter, you can take them outside to make snow angels on the lawn.