Our daughter Shanna believed in Santa until she was 9. He seemed to represent all things Christmas yet Shanna felt sorry for him. She was sure that a jolly old fella like himself would feel sad that mail only arrived in December so until she turned 9, she began corresponding with Santa every January for 11 months, purposely excluding December and asking only for his friendship.
I was inspired by her. After years of trying to figure out a way to change our superficial model of Christmas to one with more meaning, surely I could follow the lead of my young daughter to create a Christmas tradition that would take the main focus off gifts.
My criterion was uncomplicated but needed to cover the things that were important to our family:
1. Make it more about family and togetherness than gifts.
2. Include every one of all ages.
Our family has come to know this unpretentious photo booth hire event in Johannesburg as Christmas Olympics.
It begins right after lunch on December 25 with the gong of a bell which prompts last years Olympian to run though the house proudly wearing the cheap plastic olive leaf wreath on their head while carrying the makeshift torch (a wooden stick with a hand drawn flame)....happily donated when our three kids were still toting crayons.
Christmas Olympics is a great way to make sure that the very young and elderly stay as involved in the occasion as everyone else because they also choose a game they're good at.
While many people spend the 5 days before Christmas on shopping, my family are extra busy gathering "things" for their game or researching "party games" on the internet and that's half the fun!
The game each person chooses remains top secret right up until the moment they are designated to start their game. Each person's game time is indicated simply by where their name happens to be on the paper that tracks the game points. Christmas Olympics after all is meant to be fun with few rules!
If you have 5 family members, each game earns a player a point score from 1-5, depending on the position they ranked in a game.
The following is a small sampler of some of our Christmas Olympic games;
o Poop the Potatoe which really means hop around a table with a potato between your legs and while facing everyone, plop it into a bowl on the floor.
o Orange peeling contests. The longest unbroken rind wins and everyone gets treated to a fibre break from candy and chocolate.
o Snow golf...one or two holes on a short course (use food colouring around the hole)
o Staring contests
o Memory games. Read a meaningful or funny short story and ask questions later. It's really astounding how well adults DONT listen!
o Guess how many jelly beans, loonies or quarters. Winner gets points and the jar!
o Spin the coin. The longest spin wins.
o Card or dice games of chance.
o Find the Apple Pot. Blind folded, crawl along the floor smacking a wooden spoon to find a pot filled with water and an apple. Retrieve the apple with your mouth. This is timed. You can get creative by using a soft tomato or marshmallows (if someone has bad knees or back, place it somewhere on the counter)
o Guess what's in the sock? Each sock holds an item of a family member. Contestants get a single 10 second feel, 1 hint and only 2 guesses.
At the end of the day we've laughed, created memories and crowned the Olympian with the coveted but tacky plastic head wreath and surprisingly, everyone is always proud to wear it.
We all thank Shanna for seeing things differently from the rest of us and having the courage to act on it.
Our kids, though now young adults are just as excited about the afternoon of December 25.
Let the games begin...