happy family at christmas opening gifts together on the couch

Memories are Gifts that Last for a Lifetime

If you could use an injection of fresh ideas for how to make this Holiday Season meaningful for the children in your life, take a lesson from my friend, Connie Copeland. 

happy family at christmas opening gifts together on the couch

Connie’s clever creativity allowed her and her husband to give their four kids and now her 13 grandchildren the four things kids really want for Christmas, even when money was tight:

  • Relaxed and loving time with family
  • Realistic gift expectations
  • Evenly paced holiday season
  • Reliable family traditions

When her kids were little, Connie would spread the excitement of Christmas throughout the month with little notes—one tiny note per child, per day.

Most days the notes were the same for each child, such as: 

  • Tonight we hang the Christmas lights or tonight we go look at Christmas lights 
  • The family will do a puzzle tonight or play a favorite game 
  • Tonight we get our Christmas tree 
  • Today we bake the Christmas cookies 
  • Tonight we read the Christmas story; bubbles for your bath 
  • We’ll pop popcorn; hot cider and a movie tonight 

But on certain days one child’s note was unique: 

  • Today is your day to Christmas shop with Mom 
  • It’s your turn to open the Christmas Bag 

Inside the decorated cloth bag would be a small, inexpensive, or homemade gift. I made sure that throughout the month each child got an early gift or treat via the Christmas Bag.

Paper Angels

christmas card with hand drawn angel and snowflakesConnie would cut out very simple little angels from white paper—all one size—and place them in a dish available to all family members.

“Throughout the month of December, we would do a good deed for another family member, keep it a secret, but leave a tiny angel behind.”

Here’s an example: Make your sister’s bed and leave an angel on the pillow. No telling who did it—simply do kind deeds without expecting to get credit. 

Now that her children are grown and have families of their own, Connie mails angels to her grandkids, and they keep the secret deeds of kindness going at their homes. 

Oh, the Drama

One year, Connie wrote the Christmas Story in easy kid-friendly language. On Christmas Eve she and the kids gathered all the robes and towels, hung a cardboard star from the end of a string tacked into a broom handle, and staged the Christmas story throughout the house. “The men grumbled the most about doing such a dumb thing, but we had lots of laughs and made precious memories.” 

Get Crafty

Each Christmas, the kids, and Connie did a craft together. They made ornaments, bean bags, and pictures by gluing beads, ribbons, and pom-poms together. They stacked oranges into snowmen and used cloves for the eyes, nose, and mouth. 

“Another year, we glued all my old junk jewelry onto Styrofoam cones. Then we dusted the ‘trees’ with glitter,” Connie recalls. “We have enjoyed the flops as much as the successes. One year, the dog ate all the decorator lids we made from salt clay while we slept. She was thirsty for days.”

Next Generation

Now, when the grandchildren come for Christmas, Connie has a surprise bag for each day of their visit. The bag may be nothing more than candy or popcorn or a note that they’re going ice skating or whatever. 

“My grandkids and I begin discussing what they want for Christmas months before December. We write emails, send catalog pictures and screenshots, and make phone calls to share what we find. I have also sent clues like pictures cut up into puzzle pieces, riddles, and rhymes.

Movie Time

“One Christmas, I gave my grandsons $10 to make a movie for me. They used their parents’ video cameras and took movies of each other playing instruments, singing, and acting out Charlie Brown Christmas. It is a real treasure.

Like Being There

“I have given each granddaughter a teacup set. Sometimes, we have tea together over the phone.” 

Holiday Bingo

Every year, Connie and her family play Holiday Bingo. She wraps all kinds of random small $1-store gifts, including lots of what she calls really dumb things like a tire gauge.

Each family member takes as many cards as they can control, and then they play Bingo until she gives away all the prizes.

“We were a noisy, crazy bunch,” says Connie.

Keep it Weird

“One year, we created game stations all over the house and yard (we live in Arizona). We set up Hop Scotch on the driveway and bowling on the patio. We dropped clothespins in the bottle, Twister, Croquet, Penny Toss, and Guesstures. Each family member was given a sheet with each station outlined on it. Every time I rang the bell, they changed games and players. What a hoot it was. I still get requests for that weird event.”

For grandchildren who cannot come for Christmas, Connie sends little gifts for the Twelve Days of Christmas, with instructions that they are to open on the specified day.

Thank you, Connie. You have blessed your children and grandchildren with memories to last a lifetime!


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10 replies
  1. Bubba says:

    Christmas Tree Ornament Game
    A great after dinner or before bedtime game! Each child (or everyone) gets a mini flashlight. Turn room lights down or off. The “guesser” leaves the room while the “picker” secretly chooses an ornament on the tree, leaving it untouched. When the guesser returns, the picker gives clues describing the ornament (no helping from the other kids!) while the picker uses their flashlight to search for the ornament. When found, the guesser becomes the next picker. No tree, no problem! Instead of an ornament, find any object in the room. Our kids and now grandkids love this game! Enjoy!

  2. Nancy says:

    I love all your ideas and have shared your email newsletter with many.
    I had been reminiscing about games we played at birthday parties after watching PBS’s Boomer show. But Connie remembered one I had completely forgotten: dropping wooden (not the ones with springs) into a gallon size glass milk jug. I think we knelt on a chair and leaned ‘slightly’ over the back of it.
    So fun – those games and we made most of them out of nothing 😉

  3. Cath says:

    Hats off to Connie. These are lovely ideas. My son grew up way before Elf on the Shelf was an idea, so I missed that. Frankly, I think I’ve read more complaints about it than raves. I like these ideas better, and it seems more controllable. You do what you can manage, without pressure. I like the emphasis on family time and fun.

  4. ET says:

    Hi Mary. I like to make your caramel corn recipe for my clients at Christmas time. How many days can it be stored maintaining optimal flavor?

  5. Bonnie says:

    Starting from the time my daughter was a year old, we made presents to give to others. My criteria were that it had to produce at least 6 items (the #of close family members) in about an hour. We started with molded mint candies (yes, she ate more than she made), sun catchers, stamped key holders, pretzels, and several other things. The thought was always appreciated, even if the execution left something to be desired.

  6. Belle Mieloch says:

    Until my and stepfather could no longer come to us Mom had a stroke. I would make my Christmas Soup a Clioppino. They would come Christmas Eve soup for supper with homemade bread. Then candle light service at church. We would come home to punch cookies and snacks. They lived one state away in a small apartment. We would visit my husband family Christmas evening. Kids got to see both sets of grandparents. I miss those days

  7. Wendy Frush says:

    I have to thank you for your amazing ideas. Both my sister and I have used more than I can count from buying the towels and the vacuum you suggest to cleaning and laundry tips. My hair also thanks you as it is the best it has been for years with your product suggestions. But my favorite are the Christmas gift and memory ideas. I wait for these amazing suggestions. My grandkids are still talking about the books I got at the Thrift store for the 24 days leading to Christmas.
    I thank you from the bottom of my heart!
    Merry Christmas,


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