Spirit of the season

You don't have to tell children it's the holidays. They can feel it in the air!

By Candace Lindemann

Children's Author & Education Consultant

Candace Lindemann is a published children’s writer and educational consultant. She holds a B.A. from Yale University and an M.Ed. from the Harvard Graduate School of Education. You can also find Candace blogging at http://NaturallyEducational.com. While Candace’s degrees prepared her for a career in education, she’s found that the best preparation for parenting is on-the-job training.

You don't need to tell my kids it is the holiday season—they pick up the excitement in the air, like mini bloodhounds on the scent of hugs from the grandparents, fresh-baked cookies, and new toys. The holiday season is a sensory delight for babies—filled with sights, aromas, and song. I'll never forget the look of surprise on my daughter's face as she crunched her tiny toddler boots through her first snowfall or her bright eyes as she savored her first mug of hot cocoa.

Snowy days provide an opportunity to track "reindeer" hoof prints in our backyard and provide a blank canvas for food coloring paintings. We head inside to build marshmallow snowmen and make ornament crafts—a handful of ice-pop sticks transforms into a Star of David or a Christmas tree. Stringing garlands is a relaxing holiday activity—if you are concerned about your toddler munching on the popcorn, try cheerios or baby-friendly puffs instead. Or, hang the garland outside to attract woodland critters. Twinkling lights, fragrant mulling spices, and cheerful melodies are all a joyful part of this time of the year.

As with any new experience, we are on guard for hidden hazards—lit candles within baby's reach, breakable ornaments, and potential allergies to new foods. And there is such a thing as too much excitement, especially for a sensitive baby. My daughter had a fun few hours at her first Christmas, sitting in her Bumbo seat and tearing at wrapping paper. Suddenly, she became overwhelmed by too many people and began to melt down in a puddle of tears and screams. Balancing special occasion flexibility with maintaining baby's routine is a challenge. Fortunately in this case, some caroling from Daddy set things right.

Babies give old traditions new life in our family. Even though my daughter does not remember much from her first holidays, now that she is three she delights in hearing how she helped hang ornaments on the tree. When we look at photographs from holidays past, she grins ear to ear and points out pictures of herself as a baby. My little ones come along to drop off donations for those who need a little help with their celebrations. The continuity of tradition is reassuring as children develop and learn. As she grows older, my daughter has pitched in as the "elf," handing out presents to family members, and helping Daddy mix up special sugar cookies with her very own whisk (check out these Christmas Toddler Recipes).

We started a tradition of making our own holiday gifts for friends and relatives, setting up a workshop to rival Santa's: toddler finger paintings and drawings become cards, wrapping paper, or iron-ons for reusable market bags. We've made paint swirl ornaments, apple pomanders, and hand-painted mugs. Next year, we may try these mosaic flower pots or sachets. When a child puts time and creativity into the present, it really is the thought that counts.

Even the youngest newborn can feel the love that is in the air this time of year. And when we get too wrapped up in our holiday preparations, babies are quick to remind us of the true holiday spirit. They will not notice or care if the linens match or there are smudges on the windows from eager little faces—but they will carry inside an imprint of the joy and affection of being surrounded by loved ones.