5 Thoughtful Ways to Make the Holidays with Your Grandparents Extra Special This Year

published Nov 24, 2022
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Whether it’s setting each year’s Thanksgiving table with the pipe cleaner turkey napkin rings you made in second grade, playing the same Bing Crosby record every time you decorate the tree, or sticking to a precise order in which your family members open presents at your Hanukkah party, traditions fill the holiday season.

These traditions can also help anchor you to loved ones, both those you spend the holidays with in the present and to those who have passed. I have many fond memories of my grandfather creating an ice skating rink in our backyard each winter, right in time for a Christmas Day skate together — in fact, I still try to go ice skating the week of Christmas to honor him each year. 

If you’re looking for ways to make the most of your time with your grandparents or other elderly family members this holiday season, you’re in luck. I asked my friends and followers to share the sweet and sentimental ways they connect with their grandparents during this time of year. Who knows? Your newest family tradition may be hidden in the anecdotes below. 

Have a holiday movie marathon.

Sometimes the best memories are made in the simple moments, just soaking up each other’s company.

“My grandmother and I have always shared a love for movies and television — I swear she knows about the newest shows before I do! Every holiday season, we make it a point to pick a day to have a cozy movie marathon together — bonus points if it happens to snow that day,” says Kayla Delany of Nashville.

And really, there’s a holiday show for everyone, from whatever the newest Netflix holiday movie is to “Miracle on 34th Street” to “A Rugrats Chanukah.”

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Take a trip back in time.

The holidays are a nostalgic season. Embrace the feeling by joining your grandparents for a trip down memory lane.

“Before my grandmother began showing signs of Alzheimer’s, we would make a point of going through old photo albums with her, picking the most random and funny photos and asking her to tell us about that moment/day,” says Charli Penn, Apartment Therapy’s executive lifestyle director. “The stories were usually hilarious and always took us down a fun family history rabbit hole.”

Exchange yearly keepsakes.

“Every year at the beginning of December, my grandparents and I exchange a tree ornament — I get them one, and they get me one,” says Jeff Baker of Chilmark, Massachusetts. “It started as a way to mark the milestone baby years but has since evolved to encapsulate a memory or special moment throughout the year, like the time we road-tripped to the Grand Canyon together.”

You can mark the passage of time and honor special past moments by exchanging sentimental tokens, too, from traditional tree ornaments to dreidels or vintage snow globes. Soon, these mementos could begin to serve as a scrapbook of sorts for your relationship. 

“I made all my ornaments in my younger years (as little kids do), but as I’ve gotten older, I’ve started to pick them up designs from my travels around the world as a way to share that part of my life with them,” says Baker. “When I finally moved out on my own, I had a whole tree’s worth of ornaments that were mine thanks to this tradition, and I look forward to it each year.”

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Cook and (/or!) enjoy a signature dish.

Food can bring on the warmth and comfort both literally and figuratively, making it an ideal way to bond with a grandparent. It can be something as simple as sharing the same meal together each holiday season, from home-cooked Turkey Day stuffing to latkes from the deli down the block, and particularly ones that stir up old memories. 

“My grandfather moved in with me and my mom when I was 11,” says Zahra Barnes of Washington, D.C. “Most Saturdays until I went away to college, he’d make me a delicious breakfast including oatmeal and traditional Jamaican foods, like fried dumplings. Now, whenever I go home for the holidays, he still makes me that breakfast meal with the same amount of care. It has become a holiday tradition to have it together in the days leading up to Christmas (usually paired with an epic gift-wrapping marathon!) and acts as a special way to nod to our Jamaican heritage. It always reminds me of how much this show of love has meant to me over the years, and no one makes better oatmeal than my Gramps! I’m not sure if it’s the blend of spices he uses or the rich condensed milk he adds, but to me, that dish is the holiday season.”

Of course, creating food traditions can also refer to cooking! You can head into the kitchen with your grandparents to try out a brand-new recipe or a family one they can recite by memory.

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Engage in some festive play.

This holiday season, you might try to engage in a bit of competition with your grandparents, whether they favor Monopoly or mahjong. A little friendly family competition can lead to a whole lot of bonding — and sometimes hilarious memories you unpack for years to come.

“Years ago, when my grandma hit her fourth grandson in a row, it was clear the boys needed a little energy outlet during our family Christmas party,” says Alli Boyle of Center Moriches, New York. “To provide some silly entertainment, she hand-crocheted each family a set of indoor snowballs that we would bring to the party and have an epic ‘fight’ with every year after we finished opening gifts. It still goes down to this day, and now some of our kids are participating. It’s anyone’s guess who will throw the first ball, so you always have to be prepared — but usually, we try to give Grandma the honor.”