If you’re stuck with grinchy teens who are sucking your spirit drier than a festive martini, it’s time to shine a light.
Back when my kids were small and relatively cheerful, Christmas would roll around and it would be a delight. They’d start discussing when it was time to put the tree up in early November (1 December and not a moment sooner is the only correct answer here). We’d drag all the old decorations out from the garage and make running repairs on the ornaments they made in preschool.
Up went the lights and the advent calendar and on went Wham’s Last Christmas (my husband’s favourite song ever and banned until 12.01am on 1 December). The house was awash with Christmas spirit and the entire month would be dedicated to togetherness.
These days… not so much.
The weight of no light
Firstly, we barely ever see any of our children any more. Max lives away, Arabella is a social butterfly (having been a shy caterpillar for most of her life) and Lottie is loving her first job.
Secondly, having been my sweet little Christmas lights for years, they’ve suddenly all turned into grinchy teens. Christmas is just not cool, apparently.
Thirdly, for a while there I wasn’t exactly Mrs Elf myself. For if the kids aren’t into it, well that’s a lot of faffing I can cross of my to-do list, right? So, last year the tree went up but that was about it. No major decorating, no lights, no activities. It was a very calm not-so-silly season and… I missed it.
It turns out that as much as we hate doing all the things, it’s far worse to do none of the things. So let’s just do all the things and revel in the season. The kids will get caught up in it all if we’re strategic. Here’s how to bring the grinchy teens into the Christmas light.
1. Go hard on the traditions
As much as teens scoff at anything they consider naff (I’m pretty sure naff is not the word they use), secretly they thrive on tradition. If you carry on following your family formula, your kids will be full of “remember whens”. You’ll know this when they refuse to let you introduce anything even remotely new to the formula. This is the way we decorate the tree and that is when we view the lights and this is what we eat for lunch.
If you’re an elf family (and, yes, we’ve dabbled), my big tip here is to pass the Elf duties over to the kids as soon as they are old enough. Year one of teen elfing was a magical display of creativity. By year two it was ‘hide and find the elf’ only. And by year three no one could be bothered to find the elf at all – result!
2. Make some new traditions
So the kids grow up and so should Christmas. As the kids got older, we introduced new traditions that we can carry on well into the future.
Embrace the Grinch
You know the drill: if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em. Teens love the Grinch and if that plays more of a staring role in your Christmas this year, so be it. Add a few grinchy decos, a Grinch mask for giving out the presents… whatever it takes.
Dress the dog
I am not an advocate of clothing for canines, but at Christmas… well, just look at that little guy up there. A Christmas dog is guaranteed to get the teens into the festive spirit.
Late night Christmas movie countdown
When the day is done and everyone is winding down, we’ve been putting on a schmalzy movie to watch with the Christmas lights sparkling in the background. The best thing about the kids getting older is the movies get more interesting. A few current faves:
Christmas cocktails on Friday evenings
Obviously it’s a mocktail for the under-age teen! But getting together as a fam before everyone heads out to do their own thing (even if it’s just up to their room to do whatever it is teens do all day in their rooms), is special. Trust me, even the grinchiest of grinchy teens won’t turn down a free drink. A Grinch cocktail would be particularly welcome (see above).
Baking gingerbread biscuits to share
The best bit about this ‘new tradition’ is that the kids make them with their friends and I do nothing. They then deliver a batch to the neighbours, wrapped in a festive tea towel ($5 for three from Kmart).
Hosting an all-ages Christmas party
This is the most fun ever, with everyone in the family getting to invite their friends to celebrate together. Naturally the teens go and do teenagery things in one part of the house and we grown-ups do our thing in another, but it’s still very special to come together to host a shindig. We spruce the house and prepare the food together and generally enjoy going large.
3. Bring them in and use them up
There is nothing a teenager loves more than being in on the secret. So let them help you wrap everyone’s presents except their own. Then enjoy a couple of weeks of listening to them drop outrageously obvious hints to everyone about what’s in each package. Hours of hilariousness, I promise.
You can also ask your grinchy teens to help with:
- Decorating the house
- Putting up the Christmas lights
- Planning the menu
- Doing the grocery shopping
- Present shopping
- Writing Christmas cards (does anyone still do cards? We used to send and receive many, but I haven’t sent any for many years. Slowly receiving them has dropped off too and this year we haven’t received a single one.)
- Making the Christmas playlist
4. Use the advent calendar
We’ve had many incarnations of an advent calendar over the years. My very favourite will always be the kindness calendar:
This year, with just one lonely teen at home (brother lives at uni and sister was off travelling after finishing her HSC), I made the most of the advent. Each day there has been a little gift just for her and she is genuinely excited to see what’s in store each day. I had such fun choosing jewellery, cosmetics and little trinkets to put in each pocket. To see her gratitude has been a gift for me each morning too.
Other ideas to put in each advent calendar pocket:
- a fun Christmas activity
- a clue to a riddle that builds over the 24 days of advent
- a fresh memory to share from their childhood
- a trivia question
- the name of a Christmas song to play each morning
5. Encourage them to give back
Something we know as we get older is the more you give, the more you get. This is never truer than at Christmas. Even if you have to drag them kicking and screaming, sign your kids up to volunteer their time. I guarantee their resistance will not last very long. Taking part in community events at Christmas time will pull them into the joy of giving faster than anything.
Here are some ways your teen can volunteer their time:
- Present wrapping (most shopping centres offer this)
- Packing food boxes
- Singing in a carol choir
- Cooking, delivering or serving food at soup kitchens
- Sorting through donations at op shops
- Visiting elderly residents at care homes
- Walking dogs for animal shelters
All the best for helping your grinchy teen remember that being fun and festive is way cooler than channelling a lonely green cynic.