This post was shared on the MOPS International blog, and also inspired a segment on Suncoast View, which airs on the ABC affiliate in Sarasota, Florida. Scroll to the bottom of this article to watch the video.

Between Black Friday and the Elf on the Shelf, it’s easy to forget the real meaning of the holiday season. Here are some of my favorite ways to remind my children (and myself) of what’s really important at this time of year.

7 Ways to Make the Holidays More Meaningful

1. Make a visual representation of what you’re grateful for.

7 Ways to Make the Holidays More Meaningful  7 Ways to Make the Holidays More Meaningful

In our family, that’s our DIY gratitude tree and our I Am Grateful Tablecloth. (Click on each photo for the tutorial.) On the DIY gratitude tree, I write what I’m thankful for, on each day leading up to Thanksgiving. It’s easy at first, but after a few days, I really had to reach inside and think through what I’m thankful for.

The I Am Grateful tablecloth comes out every year, and it’s a chance for our kids to name the things that they are thankful for. Then, it serves double duty as our tablecloth for all of November. (By the way, it was made with a $4 painter’s cloth from Home Depot!)

2. Make your own holiday gifts.

7 Ways to Make the Holidays More Meaningful

I’ve been making homemade Christmas gifts for as long as I can remember, and here’s why I love doing it: I think about each person as I make them their special gift. Whether it’s a cross-stitched pillowcase for my mom or a chalkboard handprint Mason jar for my dad, the time I take to craft that personalized gift is time that I spend thinking about them.

Of course, this is something the kids can join in on too. My 3-year-old keeps asking me what I’m getting him for Christmas, and lately, I’ve been turning the question around, to ask: “What are you going to get others for Christmas?” Helping my kids make their own gifts helps reshift that focus from what they are getting, to what they are giving.

3. Make it a priority to video chat with far-away family members.

7 Ways to Make the Holidays More Meaningful

Don’t overlook the importance of connecting with family far away. (And for our family, that’s everyone!) One Christmas, we signed up for a trial version of Google Hangouts so that all 4 of my siblings could simultaneously chat with my parents as we opened gifts. We connected from 4 different cities, and it was truly magical. Don’t underestimate the beauty in all being in one room, even if just virtually!

But even outside of Christmas Day itself, set aside time to reconnect with family and close friends through video chat. You could do this every Sunday afternoon, and ask the kids to choose who they want to Skype or Facetime with. It’s a great way to remind them that the people make the holidays, not the things.

4. Do a service project, or give things away.

This is something you can do with your kids, whether they’re toddlers or teenagers. I have 2 kids under 3 years old, so this year, we just did a beach cleanup through the free toddler group that I organize. I knew no local homeless shelter kitchens would have much use for us, but something my kids do know how to do is pick up trash! (Last year, we signed up with a group from our church, and sang Christmas carols at a local nursing home.)

7 Ways to Make the Holidays More Meaningful

The kids loved the beach cleanup! With each old Band-Aid or colorful Gatorade bottle cap they picked up, there was a round of cheers, and I think each toddler loved the instant gratification of seeing what they were cleaning up. As we did it, I explained that they were doing something for others by cleaning up the beach for the next people who come here. And we made quite a dent!

7 Ways to Make the Holidays More Meaningful

On a similar note, encourage your children to clean out their toy boxes and closets, and set aside the things they don’t want. Then, bring the kids with you to donate those items to a local women’s shelter, church or homeless shelter. (Plus, this will also help you make room for the influx of gifts they’ll receive at Christmas.) Or, go a step further and bring the kids to the store to pick out things they’d want, and then let them accompany you to give those things away. (Note: If you have toddlers like me, I strongly recommend waiting for this approach! Unless you’re not opposed to meltdowns in the toy aisle at Target. Which I do happen to have lots of experience with.)

5. Do a family Jeopardy night!

7 Ways to Make the Holidays More Meaningful

This is sooooo fun, easy and free! Mimic the popular game show, and write clues on the back of index cards, with each category listed above. We did this during our multi-city Skype session last year, and it was so much fun! Some of the questions were, “To what song did Lauren and Aaron have their first dance?” and “What was Dad’s nickname at church camp?” The great thing about it was, even though I organized the game, I didn’t need to know all the answers because the other players were there to confirm mid-game.

The best thing about family Jeopardy is that it reconnects every player, through the wonderful family memories of years past. Sometimes, those warm memories can fade with time, but an exercise like this brings them back to front-of-mind. And, even if you’re not close with everyone in your family, recalling those memories together can make you feel like kids again and help everyone feel all warm and fuzzy inside.

6. Go around the table and say something meaningful about each person there.

Many years, we’ve gone around the table and for each person, we’ll name something we’re grateful for about them. But, take it a step further and change it up. Recall your favorite memory with them. Or, name the great things you see them doing in the next year. Share the funniest things you’ve ever done together. Or something you’ve always admired about them.

Get creative with ways to build your family up. It doesn’t have to be the same thing, year after year.

7. Dig up those old family recipes.

7 Ways to Make the Holidays More Meaningful

Over the years, you’ve probably adapted old family recipes to fit your taste, but call your mom, grandma and sister and go back to the originals! Each year during the holidays, my mom made cheesy potatoes, creamed corn and Pride of the Crowns salad. I’ve asked her to write down the recipes and send them to me, so now, I have the exact measurements she used. She still makes the dishes, so even if we’re not together on Thanksgiving or Christmas, we can both know that we’re making the same special foods to warm our family’s bellies and hearts.

What are your favorite ways to make the holidays more meaningful? Share them in the comments section below, and some might be added to this post!