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Experiences to give and traditions to share this holiday season

Katie Pinke's husband and son dust off their old band instruments and play Christmas carols on Christmas Eve. Katie Pinke / Forum News Service1 / 2
Katie Pinke2 / 2

Our girls watched the Hallmark movie "Miss Christmas" a few weeks ago, and since then, my husband has been calling me Miss Christmas. In past years, I've been Miss Christmas to the max, filling our calendars to the point there was no downtime during the holiday season. By the time Christmas Day rolled around, I was exhausted. As the children have gotten older, I've scaled back on my Miss Christmas endeavors.

By scaling back at the holidays, I'm able to give more, enjoy more and relax more. I allow myself time to visit and soak in the peace of the season. I've also realized our kids need less "stuff" and more experiences and traditions with us and our loved ones.

Instead of piles of presents at Christmas and throughout the year, we purposefully gift experiences to our children. Many of the experiences are a first for my husband and me as well.

For example, when we travel to a destination, we spend money on admission to a children's museum or a landmark in the area rather than buying souvenirs. During the past few years, we've been to children's museums in Boston, Salt Lake City and Greenville, S.C. This past fall, we took our daughters to see the Statue of Liberty, on a tour of Ellis Island where their ancestors came through as immigrants, to visit the American Museum of Natural History and to our first Broadway musical, Wicked.

Our oldest daughter, Elizabeth, turns 10 years old on Dec. 9. She isn't going to have a big birthday party. Instead, she chose to attend Elf the Musical this past month in Bismarck with our family and a few friends.

I recently received validation that we're winning on the experiences effort. While driving to school this past week, our eight-year-old daughter, Anika, asked, "Since we're going to Colorado at Christmas is that our Christmas gift? Or, will we also get a present?" Anika had already processed that her plane ticket from Jamestown to Denver and a visit to see her aunt, uncle and cousins might be her experience and a gift in and of itself.

Aside from giving fewer gifts and more experiences at Christmas, I focus on continuing important traditions from my childhood and have started a few new ones for our family, which include:

• No matter how long it's been since you went to church, go to a Christmas Eve candlelight service. There is nothing more traditional on Christmas or that fills me with God's love than a candlelit church and singing Silent Night, or Stille Nacht if you live in my corner of the prairie where we still sing the original German lyrics.

• Make a family favorite dish or create your own. For my husband's family, it's oyster stew. For my family, it's lutefisk. I don't think my husband or I particularly like our family food traditions at Christmas, but we continue them because they are a nod to our loved ones and traditions.

• Create your own Christmas program. Our kids create the program and even write it down. My husband and son dust off their old band instruments and play Christmas carols. Those who can play the piano share a song. We also sing solos, duets, trios and quartets of Christmas songs.

• Read from the book of Luke in the Bible on Christmas. My Grandpa Sonny started this tradition. It's our first Christmas without him, but the tradition will continue and gives purpose to our celebration.

This Christmas, don't get caught up in buying the perfect gift for everyone on your list or the hustle and bustle of the season. Think about the experiences you can give and the traditions you can share.