My wife recently brought home a bag full of pinecones drenched in cinnamon. Our son was thrilled because for him this signaled the kickoff of the holiday season. Those pinecones and their not-subtle scent also got me thinking about how the holidays intentionally engage all the senses. It’s easy to conjure up the sights and sounds of the holidays – in fact, the first string of lights and the first carol of the season let the world know that something different is happening in our lives. Consider also how much taste and smell play into our impressions and memories of the holidays. Certain foods only appear in our lives during these days, and we go out of our way to bring seasonal smells into our homes, like cinnamon pinecones! Finally, the season is different in a tactile way – special items are unpacked and placed in positions of prominence, and who doesn’t like the feel of glossy wrapping paper and ribbon?

    Screens are somewhat limited when it comes to sensory input. They offer plenty of sights and sounds, but they cannot compare to the full sensory experience of decorating a tree, preparing latkes, lighting kinara candles, wrapping gifts or breaking out in song. When you know all five senses are going to be engaged in a particular activity, take a moment to power down all the screens in your midst so that you and your kids can get the full effect.

    This is also a time of the year when we reach for stories. First, there are the origin stories for each holiday, each with an element of mystery and wonder. Other stories have come along for the ride, adding to the magic and charm of the holidays. Here, screens can be our holiday companions, not only offering us a cornucopia of video specials but also instant access to written stories from across eras and around the world.

    As you watch or read holiday stories with your kids, help them to see patterns that emerge. What makes a story a holiday story? What feelings do they associate with them?

    Finally, be sure to tell your own holiday stories – those you have already lived, and those you are creating in the here and now. Help your kids to see that they are not only recipients of the holiday spirit, they are active creators of holiday joy and writers of their own stories.


    Benjamin Kramer, PhD, is the director of education for Austin PBS.

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