Six ways to change up your holiday for the better

December 11, 2013

The holidays are all about tradition, and that’s part of the reason we love them. But sometimes it seems as if we go through December on autopilot, doing everything like we did for years before.

Why not get out of the holiday rut this year and add one or two new festive features? You don’t have to replace the cherished rituals your clan looks forward to. (We always loved bringing out the basket of holiday cards the family received and having a pick-the-best-and-worst-holiday-card contest.) Think of something to add a fresh perspective to one of December’s practices, such as decorating, gifting, entertaining or just sharing the spirit of the season.

Here are six holiday change-up ideas. Tweet us your own with the hashtag #holidaymix.

1. Simplify

You don’t have to produce a multi-course, formal holiday dinner every year. Why not go out for a midday meal and invite friends and family for a dessert party later? You’ll save time shopping, cooking and scouring pans, yet you can still pull out your best china and crystal. Kerra Michele Huerta, a Dupont Circle designer who specializes in small-space living and writes the blog Apartment Envy, hosted what she calls a “bite-size” Thanksgiving this year. She served cranberry turkey sliders, butternut squash turnovers and other mini-treats. “Appetizers and cocktail hours are almost always the best part of any event,” she wrote. “So why not have an entire night of that?” Huerta began at 4 p.m. and kept popping things out of the oven. “It’s hard to sit down in a small space for a long time; this way you can move around and be informal,” Huerta says.

2. Nurture generosity

Let your children experience the joy of giving, not just the joy of getting. Make a plan to help kids create their own individual gifts for you. Annabel Wrigley, owner of Little Pincushion Studio in Warrenton, holds seasonal workshops so children can sew their own creations. This year, she’s featuring lavender sachets in fun fabrics for moms; for dads, it’s fabric bow ties and cotton canvas travel kits lined in waterproof fabric. “Kids love stamping their own fabric designs and putting personal touches on everything. We live in such a matchy-matchy world that kids love the opportunity to mix or make their own prints,” Wrigley says. “It’s all about asserting creativity without us telling them what to do.”

3. Upgrade your outdoor look

Washington flower designer Allan Woods says that this time of year, plenty of people hang up a standard-issue front-door wreath and figure they’re done with their outdoor decorating. But a little bit more attention goes a long way. Woods often rejuvenates empty flower urns and window boxes that are looking sad and frozen. “We clip off whatever plants are left in the pots down to the dirt. Then we add in magnolia branches, pine branches and some ilex berries for color. You can also put in some giant sugar pine cones,” says Woods, who owns Allan Woods Flowers in Woodley Park. “We stuff it all in and make a beautiful, abundant arrangement.” Woods says that if you want to dress up your plain green wreath, use wire to attach some real fruit such as pomegranates, green apples or lemons.

Read: Who says Christmas trees have to be three-dimensional — or trees?

4. Color-code

Instead of reusing old wrapping paper or refilling worn gift bags from Christmases past, a commendable recycling option we’ve all tried, do something unexpected under the tree just this once. Try wrapping the gifts of every family member in a different color or pattern. Don’t tell them their colors until Christmas morning. Then there’s no need for gift tags. Or try this: If you own a lot of ornaments or want to start a new collection, choose a color theme for this year’s tree. Stick to all red or all white ornaments; or hang only metallic, shimmery decorations or only clear glass balls on the tree. Next year, change it up again.

Read: Tips for organizing holiday decorations

5. Reconnect

Put aside an hour sometime during the holiday season to reconnect with a long-lost friend or relative or two. Think of someone with whom you’ve lost touch but who might be in need of some attention. Families can have a conversation about who would be a good person to reach out to. Ask children to recall former neighbors or faraway cousins they would like to chat with. Instead of just sending an e-mail, call the person or do a video chat on FaceTime or Skype to make the experience more meaningful.


A box of homemade cookies could be an unexpected holiday treat for someone who makes a difference in your life. (Bigstockphoto.com photo)
6. Share

Think of three people who make a difference in your life in small ways, and add them to your gift list. Give them a little something for the holidays, whether a loaf of cranberry bread, a Starbucks gift card or a bottle of wine. Some of the unsung heroes in your life might include your mechanic, neighbor, trash collector, parking attendant, school crossing guard, bank teller, barista or grocery store checker. Put a note with your gift saying, “Thanks for all you do.” My mom always used to give her doctor’s office receptionist a plate of homemade European butter cookies or a holiday plant such as an amaryllis. The receptionist remembered that small gesture throughout the year.

The home and design coverage of Jura Koncius has taken her inside hundreds of homes, from tiny studios in Penn Quarter to country castles in Warrenton. Jura also hosts the Home Front live chat, Thursdays at 11 a.m. ET.
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