Ask Ann Cannon: All I want for Christmas is ... to make the holidays special for my grandkids without overdoing it

Ann Cannon

Dear Ann Cannon • I am a new grandmother to boys (I raised daughters only). I realize that I’m going to be setting up traditions or expectations for Christmas, so do you have any advice? I tend to overdo, but when I pull back, I pull back too much. How do I find balance? But, really, my problem is doing too much. Any ideas or suggestions for fun Christmas activities with very little grandchildren?

No Reindeer Be Running Over THIS Grandmother

Dear Grandmother • I applaud you for recognizing your tendency to do “too much.” Believe me. I’ve heard from many young parents who’ve complained (mostly kindly) about grandparents who smother their grandchildren with gifts. In my opinion, your decision to focus on experiences rather than things is a good one.

So, I floated your question on my Facebook page, asking for suggestions. A few of them follow. Not all of them work for very young children, but keep them in mind for when those babies grow up. Meanwhile, the gender of your grandkids really won’t be much of a factor. A celebration is a celebration is a celebration!

1. Make cookies and decorate them. Or make gingerbread houses and decorate those. Then blow them up on New Year’s Day. (This may have been my favorite suggestion.)

2. Make an ornament together. Write the date on it.

3. Spend time outside. Go see some lights. Make a snowman. Build a fort. Have a snowball fight. Take a ride in a horse-drawn carriage. Drink hot cocoa afterward.

4. Do a service project together.

5. Watch holiday movies. One reader said that she and her family read “The Polar Express” on Christmas Eve, make a pizza in the shape of a train, and watch the film. (They also eat the pizza train. Score!)

6. And speaking of “The Polar Express,” read a Christmas picture book together.

7. Take in a holiday-related performance — a play, “The Nutcracker,” a free organ concert in the Tabernacle on Temple Square.

8. Stage a game night. Play Christmas charades. Do some holiday Mad Libs.

9. Go on a Grandma Date. Share some special one-on-one holiday time with each grandchild.

OK. A few of the suggestions DID involve a minimal amount of gifting. Several grandmothers buy and give their grandkids Advent calendars. Others mentioned that they give their grandkids Christmas pajamas to be worn on Christmas Eve, although one woman gives her grandkids their pajamas on Thanksgiving for extended use, as well as for a family photo to be used on a Christmas card. Another reported that she and her husband invite the grandkids over and have them wrap a present (provided by the grandparents) for a cousin to place beneath the tree. Another gives each of her grandkids a new Christmas plate to enjoy during the month of December. By the time those kids leave their childhoods behind, this grandmother says, they’ll have an eclectic (and charming!) collection of holiday dishes.

Meanwhile, here’s an idea I’ve stolen from my own mother. Generous to a fault, she nonetheless resisted the temptation to overwhelm her grandkids with gifts on Christmas Day. Instead she gave them a savings bond and a carefully selected book. On the fly leaf of the book she did a personalized “Year in Review” for each child, highlighting their important life moments, large and small.

Hopefully, one or more of these ideas will resonate with you. Don’t feel like you have to have to do them all. In fact, PLEASE don’t do them all. You’ll wear yourself out and where’s the fun in that?

Do, however, take the time to enjoy the people in your life as this holiday season approaches.

Ann Cannon is The Tribune’s advice columnist. Got a question for Ann? Email her at askann@sltrib.com or visit the Ask Ann Cannon page on Facebook.