Family fun for the holidays

Get the entire family involved in decorating. Photo: monkeybusinessimages

Fall always feels like a sprint, and as soon as Thanksgiving is over, it’s time to put our heads down and get to the finish line of the new year. All that racing and hustle and bustle of the holiday season can leave us and our kids craving those quiet and less chaotic moments. In December, these times can be hard to find unless we carve them out and make them a priority. We all need a break from the frenzy of holiday shopping, parties, and endless to-dos, so call timeout for your family and spend some time together. Here are some ideas for simple family fun around the holidays:


There are so many great family-friendly holiday movies and no better way to slow things down than to snuggle up with a Christmas classic. Because the ages in our house range from preschooler to tween, we have to choose wisely. For help making those choices, I always rely on Common Sense Media. Every year it puts together a great list for all ages of family-friendly movies for the holidays, which can be found at This site not only lists all the great movies, but it tells parents what to look out for. One of my favorites, A Christmas Story, takes on a whole different meaning when watching it as a parent with my kids. Or how Home Alone can be very funny with all the slapstick humor, but can also leave kids with questions like, “could this happen to me?” In the site’s reviews, it’s all laid out so you can find the best pick for your family. Whether it is Frosty the Snowman or Love Actually, watching these movies together immediately puts my family in the holiday spirit.


If you are looking for a little outdoor fun to feel festive, there are plenty of tree lightings. Some of the big ones are at Union Square, Pier 39, and the Ritz Carlton hotel. However, our family’s favorite is kid-friendly and close to home. We love the Presidio tree lighting, which consists of carolers and a countdown to light the tree and then includes snacks, arts and crafts, and even a lantern-lit evening forest walk. This year it will be held on Dec. 8 at 5 p.m. (

Another favorite festive tradition is to pack a “car picnic” and drive around to see Christmas lights in different neighborhoods. has reviews of some of the best houses or places to check out. We have found some amazing displays in Marin and in the East Bay, but there are plenty right here in San Francisco, including the famous Tom and Jerry Christmas House in Dolores Heights (3650 21st Street).


One of our family’s favorite traditions has always been the day we set aside to pick out and decorate our tree. Recently, due to my son’s allergies, we have had to go the fake route. An upside is the amount of time saved getting the tree set up and putting the lights on. This used to be a few-hour ordeal (I like a lot of lights), and now it takes 15 minutes, which leaves a lot more time to decorate.

We all take turns hanging our favorite ornaments on the tree. The kids love hearing stories about where the ornaments came from, who made which ones, and seeing pictures of their younger selves. Ornaments can hold so much meaning. My favorites are those we received our first married Christmas, the one after our oldest was born, and the one we got the first year we moved into our home. Ornaments are great ways to commemorate special events, so creating a family ornament each year is a great tradition to start. Each child can take turns for “their year” deciding how the family will commemorate the year. They can be made with pictures or as a craft with signatures or made online.

Each year before the mayhem of December hits, I promise myself I won’t let the craziness of the season overtake the true meaning — spending time with those we love and who matter most. Just as we schedule holiday parties, don’t forget to also schedule family time. You may find that in the simplest, quietest moments are when some of the best memories can be made and traditions evolve.

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Liz Farrell is the mother of three young children. She was formerly a television producer in Washington, D.C. and in San Francisco. E-mail: [email protected]