Happiness researchers consistently report that people find greater satisfaction from life experiences than from receiving material things.
In search of ideas for memorable, family-friendly experiences over the holidays, the Palo Alto Weekly polled some local preschools and elementary schools.
What follows is a list of the suggestions, organized by category for easy reference.
Ideas include simple activities for rainy days, outdoor adventures, where to find holiday lights and displays, ideas for home-based arts and crafts or cooking and family outings to museums and theaters.
Simply, at home
Dance with your children in the living room to their favorite holiday songs and yours
Read books together
Build a Lego castle
Make the tallest tower you can with tape and newspaper
Rent a holiday-themed movie and sit by the fire place with popcorn and hot chocolate
Invite friends over for board games
Write a letter to a classmate at school who has been kind or helpful
Make the tallest structure you can with uncooked spaghetti, yarn and tape
Write letters to parents thanking them for all they do
Build a puzzle together
Play a board game or teach your kids to play cards
Make the strongest bridge you can with tape and paper
Volunteer with your family in a local soup kitchen
Buy and wrap gifts of toys and clothing for the less fortunate
Make a donation to a charity
Check out familyholidayhelpers.org, a nonprofit website created by a mom of two Palo Alto students to help parents find volunteering opportunities during the holiday season in the San Francisco Bay Area
Lights and displays
Palo Alto Christmas Tree Lane: Fulton between Embarcadero and Seale
Holiday Lego Extravaganza: Museum of American Heritage, Palo Alto
San Carlos lights on Eucalyptus Street
Candy Cane Lane in Redwood City: 1200 block of Dewey Street
Oakland Zoo Holiday Lights, including nighttime train rides around the zoo
Train Extravaganza at 2387 Adele Ave., Mountain View: Six tracks run on a platform across the lawn in and out of front window. 6:30-9 pm Tuesday through Sunday, weather permitting, through Christmas evening
Fantasy of Lights at Vasona Lake County Park, 333 Blossom Hill Road, Los Gatos; 6-10 p.m. nightly through Christmas Eve, presented by the Santa Clara County Department of Parks and Recreation, $15 per car
Santa Cruz Holiday Lights Train: Dec. 19-23: Passengers sing carols, sip hot cider, listen to musical entertainment and get a visit from Santa as their vintage cars, adorned with thousands of lights, roll through the streets of Santa Cruz. Departs and ends from Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk. Reserve online. $22 per child 2-12; $28 ages 13 and up.
Christmas in the Park, downtown San Jose, 9 a.m. to midnight through Jan. 1
"A Charlie Brown Christmas" with the San Francisco Symphony, through Dec. 24
"Elf," the Broadway musical, through Dec. 28 at the Curran Theatre in San Francisco
The Nutcracker, San Francisco Ballet, through Dec. 29
The great outdoors
Visit the farm at Hidden Villa
Go bird-watching in the Baylands
Visit Foothills Park
Hike Windy Hill
Walk the beach at Pescadero
Go to Rancho Siempre Verde Christmas Tree Farm (10 miles south of Pescadero)
Hike at Coyote Hills Regional Park
Ride bicycles to Shoreline
Go to the snow for tobogganing, skiing or igloo building
Hike the Dish
Visit the Fitzgerald Marine Reserve in Moss Beach
Walk across the Golden Gate Bridge
Go whale watching
Visit the tide pools in Santa Cruz
Go ice skating at Winter Lodge in Palo Alto
Walk your own neighborhood to view the lights
Go caroling down your street with family and friends
Ice skate and see the Christmas tree at Union Square in San Francisco
Visit the Palo Alto Junior Museum and Zoo
Visit the Cantor Art Center at Stanford
Visit the Museum of American Heritage in Palo Alto
Visit the Palo Alto Art Center
Visit CuriOdyssey at the Coyote Point Museum in San Mateo
Visit the Exploratorium in San Francisco
Visit the California Academy of Sciences in Golden Gate Park
Visit the Planetarium at De Anza College
Visit the Tech Museum in San Jose
Visit the Rosicrucian Egyptian Museum in San Jose
Go on a long drive and listen to a good book on tape/DVD
Go see a newly released movie
Go out for ice cream cones
Visit one of Palo Alto's libraries
Arts and crafts
Decorate a gingerbread house. The simplest way is to buy a pre-made gingerbread house and, instead of using their decorations, make your own frosting and use your own decorations. If you want to build your own house, Fairmeadow School suggests this recipe for icing that will hold the graham crackers together: Beat 1 egg white until very stiff and spoon 250 grams of powdered sugar into the egg white. Add a few drops of lemon juice or vinegar to make the mixture sticky enough to hold graham crackers together.
Experience the beauty of light. Offer children various battery-operated tea lights to arrange on a table. Or go to a party-supply store to purchase a small to medium tube-style black light, which filters out most of the visible light and allows children to observe the effect of fluorescence. Highlighters become magical as they seem to glow on paper.
Make play-dough. Here's a recipe from GeoKids Early Childhood Development Center: Mix together 1/8 cup salt, 1 cup water, 2 tablespoons vegetable oil, 1 tablespoon cream of tartar, 1 cup all-purpose flour (plus a bit extra for kneading) and food coloring (gel is preferable).
Bake and decorate cookies together
Get a children's cookbook from the library and let the kids plan and cook a meal
Make home-made pizza dough (or buy pre-made at Trader Joe's) and have a family pizza party, where everyone gets to make his or her own with a variety of toppings
Create a holiday progressive dinner party for all ages. Start at one host-home for appetizers and proceed for dinner and dessert. The street where Barron Park School art teacher Charlene Temple lives will celebrate its 18th annual progressive dinner party this month
Involve kids in preparing a meal. Parent's Place in Palo Alto suggests making a hearty butternut squash and carrot soup (see recipe below). Kids can wash the produce and herbs and, with supervision, chop the carrots and onions
What you'll need:
3 tablespoons of butter
1 2 1/4 pound butternut squash, peeled, deseeded and chopped into 1/2 inch cubes (4-5 cups)
1 medium onion chopped fine
3 medium carrots, peeled and sliced thin
1 tablespoon of fresh sage leaves, chopped fine
1/4 teaspoon of freshly grated nutmeg
6 cups vegetable broth
1 1/4 teaspoon of salt
1 small tub of crème fraiche
In a large stock pot heat the butter on medium heat. Add the onions and saute for 5-7 minutes.
Add the chopped sage, squash and carrots and grated nutmeg, saute occasionally until they turn translucent for 10 minutes.
Add the broth and salt, bring to a boil and simmer and cook covered for 35-40 minutes until all the vegetables are soft.
Blend the soup with a hand held blender or in a food processor, until smooth.
Check the consistency of the soup, if it is too thick then add some more stock or water to your desired consistency.
At this stage, do a quick taste test of your soup to check the salt; add more as per your taste.
Serve hot in individual soup bowls with a dollop of crème fraiche. This recipe serves six to eight people.
Contributing writer Chris Kenrick can be emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org
Staff and families at GeoKids Early Childhood Development Center of Menlo Park, First Congregational Church Nursery School of Palo Alto, Parents Place of Palo Alto and Barron Park, El Carmelo, Fairmeadow, Nixon, Palo Verde, and Walter Hays elementary schools in Palo Alto contributed their kid-friendly ideas for holiday fun for this story.