If everyone in your family gets together to open gifts on Christmas Eve or Christmas morning, you might not have ever worried much about thank you notes. Your kids say thanks and give hugs in person, and that’s enough.

But in some families, grandparents and godparents and aunts and uncles live far away. When they send gifts to your children, they quite reasonably would like to know that your children received the gifts. And they would really like to know how much the gifts were liked. They would like to get thank you notes.

Most kids, though, don’t take easily to writing thank you notes. So it becomes a battle between you and them. And after days or weeks of struggle, you give up and call the relatives to let them know your little ones love the gifts. And your kids miss out on the joy of giving thanks.

That was the pattern at our house for way too long. But I finally figured out how to make it a joy! Or, if not a joy, at least something the kids didn’t mind doing. It might not have been loads of fun, but it was easy, and became part of our Christmas traditions.

Here’s how we made it work.

Writing thank you notes with kids

Before Christmas, we got pretty holiday stationery and thank you notes, markers and colored pencils, stickers and envelopes.

On Christmas morning, we’d go to the Divine Liturgy. After Liturgy, we’d come home and have our Christmas morning breakfast: sausage and biscuits and mimosas (and sodas for the kids). While the biscuits were baking, I’d put the stationery and such out on the dining table.

Then it was time to eat breakfast. We didn’t eat breakfast at the table – we ate in the living room. And when most everyone was mostly done eating, we’d start opening presents. One of the parents would get a notepad and a pencil, and write down the kids’ gifts as they opened them.

When present opening was complete, we’d eat more, and talk more. And when the kids started to look bored with food and conversation, I’d tell them, “Time to write thank you notes!”

That’s usually all it took. The kids would go to the table, and pick out the stationery and notecards they wanted to use, and write their thank yous. The youngest ones would dictate their thanks to a grownup who acted as their scribe. If they wanted to, the kids could decorate their notes with stickers and drawings. Sometimes, they’d pick out a pretty piece of Christmas stationery, and they’d all write their notes together on that one sheet of paper. When they were done, I’d put the notes in the envelopes and address them. One of the kids would add the stamps. And that was it. Mission accomplished.

Except when it wasn’t.

When it didn’t work

Some years, the kids disappeared to play with their new toys and games while I was still chatting with the other grownups. Those years weren’t quite as easy, but they weren’t hard, either. Remember, the cards and letters were all on the dining table. When it was getting towards time to clear the table and set it for dinner, we’d call the kids to come write their thank you notes. And (surprisingly!) they’d come. They might not all come instantly. But one or two would come, and grown-ups would join them at the table, and pretty soon all the kids would be there, writing their notes.

It didn’t take long to do it that way. Because writing thank you notes was a social activity and not a solitary chore, the kids didn’t mind doing it. And it was always done before Christmas dinner.

Read More

Five tips for a merrier Christmas: The days leading up to Christmas don’t have to be stressful and chaotic. Keeping Advent as a time of preparation can lower your stress and help you celebrate Christmas with more joy.

A Child Who Never Sleeps: Here are some things you can try, if you, or your child, struggles with sleep.

St. Stylianos, Guardian of Children: St. Stylianos was a hermit who lived about 1500 years ago and ran a daycare center. Really.

Buy the Books!

Catherine's Pascha and The Saint Nicholas Day Snow
These delightfully diverse books provide disability representation (Elizabeth, one of the main characters, is an ambulatory wheelchair user). They also give Orthodox Christian children the rare opportunity to see themselves in books, and children who are not Orthodox the chance to see cultural practices they may not be familiar with.

Catherine’s Pascha

Catherine doesn’t like vegetables. She doesn’t like naps. She doesn’t like it when her mom combs her hair. She loves hot dogs, chocolate cake, and her best friend, Elizabeth. Most of all, she loves Pascha! Pascha, the Orthodox Christian Easter, is celebrated in the middle of the night, with processions and candles and bells and singing. And Catherine insists that she’s not a bit sleepy.

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The Saint Nicholas Day Snow

Shoes or stockings? Horse or sleigh? Does St. Nicholas visit on December 6 or on Christmas Eve? Will a little girl’s prayer be answered? When Elizabeth has to stay at Catherine’s house, she’s worried about her grandmother, and worried that St. Nicholas won’t find her. The grownups, though, are worried about snow.

Celebrate the wonder of St. Nicholas Day through the magic of a book: The Saint Nicholas Day Snow. Available on Amazon, Bookshop.org, or my webstore.

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