Dear Parents of Tweens & Teens: Let’s Take Back the Holidays!

Let's Take Back the Holidays

by Samurai Mom

See below for ideas to downplay the commercialism and focus on the fun in your holiday plans with friends and family. The emphasis here is on face-to-face connection without technology.

Have a wonderful holiday season!

As the holidays draw closer, you’re probably handling a million details. Gifts, family parties, greeting cards and nonstop advertising can whip even the most even-keeled family into a frenzy. As a concentrated timeframe for stress, few other months compare with late November-late December.  And every year I whisper to myself, does it really need to be this way? 

I have a lot of conversations with myself. Maybe too many. Doesn’t it seem a side-effect of motherhood? (by the way, you may have noticed that the voice inside your head gets a lot of airplay during stressful, busy times. According to, it’s called inner speech and it comes from Broca’s area, a region in the left frontal lobe.) 

As I’ve written in 77 Easy Ways to Give Your Teen an Experience Gift  and 100 Experience Gifts for Teens and Tweens Based on 11 Personality Archetypes, it’s tough to resist the fact that the winter holidays in the U.S. are coated in a solid layer of commercialism

Maybe it’s because of the media that connects us so closely with everyone else’s fictional or curated experience. The tsunami of all those shiny images makes it feel like a race to achieve the most Norman Rockwellian or Martha Stewartish holiday of all. 

I can’t help but place a bit of blame on all those Hallmark movies. 

Think back to your original ideas about the rituals and traditions of the season, maybe even before you had children. You probably envisioned reenacting some of the fun stuff from your own childhood, gathered around the tree or menorah. Were there smiles and laughter, maybe even SINGING in your plan? Stockings, visiting grandparents, special home-cooked meals? Check, check and check!  It doesn’t have to be fancy. It just has to be real.

Cut to today, your current frantic rush. If your fantasy (like mine) featured a softly playing Deck-the Halls song in the background, now would be the point where the arm of the turntable is yanked screeching across the album, interrupting your reverie.

It’s common in our culture to do too much, buy too much, send those cards out to a hundred people, and plan a gathering down to the nth degree in pursuit of perfection. 

And as much as I love Pinterest, I know in my heart that I can’t keep up with all that.

While we’re busy planning/buying/wrapping/sending/cooking/cleaning, in the back of our minds we know that time is passing.  Our kids are now teens and holidays have changed. They’re not little anymore, excited about Santa or trimming the tree. Everyone seems to be buried in activities or immersed in their phones.

If you’re open to the idea that the holidays could look a bit different in your house, read on.  With some planning, it’s possible to mount a small counter-culture practice.

Cook a dish with your teensMake room for connection, conversation and imperfection!  Let’s opt for silliness over stress. Let’s sit around in our jammies watching old movies. Let’s play games, read the day away, take a weekend trip together or plan a special meal.

You can still draw your teen in to share time and build new holiday memories by adding a bit of novelty and new activities to your family time. Check out the ideas below.

*Note that most of the ideas work best if phones and devices are put away or at least turned off. 

*This post contains affiliate links.  This means, at no additional cost to you, we will earn a small commission if you click the linked image and make a purchase. This helps us keep growing.

Overall Anti-Commercial Holiday Ideas

Taking Back Your Holidays: a Whimsical Guide to a Lighter, Brighter Christmas, Yvonne Lacey

Experience Lacey’s “unstoppable, bubbly yuletide writing energy” in this guide to bringing pockets of joy and peace back to your family over the holidays.

Note: That little red Volkswagen on the cover looks like the one we had when I was a kid. I loved everything about that little bug except the nearly absent heat.

Activity Ideas for Hanging out with Your Teens 

Interaction with teens often goes better when there’s a low-pressure, fun activity taking center stage – like playing a game or baking cookies.

1. Play a Board Game

Spy Alley  – Mensa Award-Winning Family Strategy Board Game

If you have a competitive thinker and strategist in your family, this may be just the thing to engage the whole family in a friendly match of wits.

Blank Slate – The Game Where Great Minds Think Alike | Fun Family Friendly Word Association Party Game


Goat Lords Game for Family, Adults, and Kids. Hilarious, Addictive, and Competitive Fun for Game Nights!

2. Sing Out!

Spontuneous – The Song Game – Sing It or Shout It – Talent NOT Required (Family / Party Board Game)

“The concept is easy, but you’ll be so surprised at how differently people think.”-RebeccaAnn, Amazon reviewer of Spontuneous


3. Get Cookin’

Food should not be underestimated as a way to boost kids off their phones and out of their rooms.  Here’s how:

1. Fill the house with cinnamon, chocolate or vanilla scent. 2. Teens magically appear. 3. Ask them to do a task to help you finish a yummy dish. 4. Ask limited questions but maybe share a short, funny anecdote. Great conversations can happen when your both engaged in an activity that doesn’t require a lot of sustained eye contact.

The Teen Kitchen: Recipes We Love to Cook, Emily Allen, Lyla Allen and Rachel Ray

The Baking Cookbook for Teens: 75 Delicious Recipes for Sweet and Savory Treats, Rachel Donovan

“I was shopping for a baking book written for teens, not childish but not too intense either. This book is perfect! Great selection of things teens want to bake, easy to understand and an explanation of baking terms & products the teen will need to understand. – Woolieart, Amazon reviewer of The Baking Cookbook for Teens”

4. Have an Actual Conversation!

TableTopics Original and Family Edition – 10th Anniversary Edition: Questions to Start Great Conversations

Make room for connection, conversation and imperfection!  Let’s opt for silliness over stress. Let’s sit around in our jammies watching old movies. Let’s play games, read the day away, take a weekend trip together or plan a special meal.

Do you think there’s room for improvement in how we as a society celebrate the holidays and what we value?

The thing to cherish is time. It’s like that Mark Twain quip about land: they’re not making any more of it.

Everything else – the fancy gifts, the glitter, the images of superior holidays in other families – it’s just a whole lotta noise!

In our house, we’re trying to get back to the celebration of small moments, the bigger moments, fun and laughter. We’re a work in progress. I’ll let you know how it goes.

Happy holidays to you and your family!

Picture on Broadway

Want to build memories with your teen?
77 Ways to Give Experience Gifts to Your Teen

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