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Plan For Stress Free Holidays

Plan for stress-free holidays


Ahhhh, the holidays……  That is the most beautiful time of year! There is something comfortable and stabilizing about sharing the holidays with the family.  Usually, these days are filled with family news, fantastic food, and Fun!

However, as most of us know, it can be a stressful time, especially if you welcome new family members or entertain overnight guests.

“Have you ever experienced a political debate started by a cantankerous relative at a family event?”

The challenge of coordinating holiday planning can be a daunting task. With several adult children and twelve grandchildren, there have been many opportunities for creative thinking in organizing family events. We welcome the grandchildren at our family celebrations when they begin serious dating.  However, we also recognize that their family may expect them to be with their relatives.  Knowing that each family will have their annual traditions and customs does not make it easier when someone accepts an invitation somewhere else on your traditional family event date.  In anticipation of this possibility, you might Initiate a discussion about expectations and brainstorm options if there are divergent views. Some possibilities include:

  • Plan to alternate hosting of holidays each year.
  • Decide on specific holidays that each family is willing to host. For example, one family might always plan Hanukah, and the other hosts the 4th of July or Thanksgiving.
  • Offer to host joint gatherings.
  • Be flexible on dates and celebrate the weekend before or after the holiday.

Have you ever experienced a political debate started by a cantankerous relative at a family event? Not fun!  If you anticipate this might happen, setting some simple ground rules before this year’s gathering with a general focus on being kind and respectful can be helpful.  Sometimes, the invitation can include a friendly reminder that we understand that some of us may have different political or religious beliefs. In the spirit of the holidays, I would like our conversations to be focused on what unites us as a family.

Keeping family members engaged with activities and providing games that elicit laughter may help minimize possible conflicts. Diversion also works. Invite that grumpy uncle to hold the baby or ask that cousin for assistance setting up an activity.  Think of alternative conversation starters that might include travel experiences or favorite foods.  Numerous topics can be interjected if a discussion gets dicey.

The holidays are an excellent time to celebrate the treasured traditions of the past and even establish some new ones. Ask creative family members to help plan some of these activities.  Our grandkids have had some great ideas. Some of these are included here.

Halloween has become a favorite holiday for many families. There are numerous fun activities to share with your grandkids.

  • Have them help decorate your house!
  • Carve pumpkins and toast the seeds.
  • Bob, for apples or with older kids, make caramel apples.
  • Give a small baggie with toothbrushes, sugar-free gum, pencils, gizmos, and gadgets. It will probably not be their favorite treat, but it can elicit groaning laughter.
  • Request pictures of the costumes if they will not be with you for trick or treat.
  • Create a haunted house with them. Provide old sheets, scary makeup, and costumes so they can be ghostly and ghastly characters. Welcome guests (parents, neighbors) to be the “customers.”

Thanksgiving is a beautiful time to share the gift of gratitude.

  • Wrap up a gratitude journal and invite them to draw or write about what they are thankful for daily.
  • Trace hands on paper and color these in as “handy” turkeys. Use as place cards for Thanksgiving dinner.
  • Begin a round-robin gratitude dialog on Thanksgiving Day before the meal, inviting contributions from all who want to share.


December Holidays always seem to arrive so quickly. Planning is the key.   Kids will quickly forget that toy you gave them, so focus on the gift of your presence instead of buying numerous presents.

 My all-time favorite gift has been a memory book of pictures of them (and with them) from the previous year. This is a treasured reminder of what you shared during the year and is a reminder in later years of how quickly the kids grow. Their parents love these books.

  • Garnish a gingerbread house with frosting and candies. Put the house on a cookie sheet to collect the dropped candies and frostings.
  • Take a trip with your grandchild to a tree farm and select a holiday tree. Decorate it together. Some families buy a potted tree for planting in the yard after the holiday.
  • Invite your grandchild to sing or play holiday music for family events.
  • Create tray favors for a nursing home or local hospital. These can be as simple as a colored drawing or a foam door hanger adorned with stickers. Be sure to call the facility first to see if they have guidelines for this.
  • Investigate group games with picture clues, like Santa Bingo, so the younger children can play. If you have a lot of people at a party, form teams and offer silly prizes.

Of course, if you live quite a distance from your grandkids, you will want to find ways to connect via Facetime and/or Zoom.

  • See how many words you can create together out of the word: “Thanksgiving.”
  • The game BlankSlate works well via Zoom. All you need are index cards and markers. Bingo can also work via technology.
  • Try Karaoke or a holiday sing-along. Charades can also be played online.
  • Send holiday gifts that can be opened and played with while you are online with them.

How will your grandchildren remember you? Positive, loving support from close relationships is vital for a child’s optimal development. Grandparents have an extraordinary opportunity to make a ginormous (grandson, Isaiah’s word) impact on the lives of their grandchildren. When you purposefully engage in playful activities with your grandchild, you generate a lifetime of memories and create a Legacy of Laughter!

This article is adapted from Mary Kay’s Book, Legacy of Laughter: A Grandparent Guide and Playbook written with her 12 grandchildren. Free grandparent resources are on her website

Mary Kay Morrison

About the author

Mary Kay Morrison, Educator, Author, Speaker

Mary Kay is an educator who has taught at virtually every level of the educational spectrum, facilitating keynote presentations and workshop sessions for the past 40 years. She is past president of the AATH (Association of Applied and Therapeutic Humor) and is the recipient of the 2016 AATH Lifetime Achievement award. As founder of the AATH Humor Academy graduate studies program she continues to volunteer as the administrative director of the program. Her book, “Using Humor to Maximize Living” is the text for numerous humor studies courses. Her new book, Legacy of Laughter: A Grandparent Guide and Playbook has received positive reviews world-wide.

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