I always look forward to autumn every year. Since I’m such a homebody, I enjoy curling up with a book and some tea or working on a crochet project with a good movie playing in the background while the temperature drops outside. The new season also means our favorite holidays are right around the corner, starting with Halloween followed by Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, Christmas, Kwanzaa, and finally New Year’s Eve!
However, it’s easy to forget the true meaning behind these holidays when there are presents to be opened and food to be eaten.
With Thanksgiving only a few weeks away, I started to look back on my family’s celebrations throughout the years. It’s not the food I remember, but the stories that my family shared. It seems that the hours before and after the main attraction are the source of my fondest memories.
For me, Thanksgiving is somewhat of a rite of passage. I’ve finally earned my spot on the menu, volunteering to bring my mom’s rendition of green bean casserole and some sugary dessert. I’ve finally been invited to join my grammy and aunts in the kitchen with a glass of wine while we make gravy and leisurely cut vegetables at our own pace as we talk.
Fast forward through the feast. Everyone is full, warm, and maybe a bit loopy from all the dessert. This is my favorite time, when everyone gets together to share stories. I recall last year my dad and my aunts laughing heartily over high school stories, sneaking in a life lesson for the younger generations. I have a distinct image of my dad’s face as red as the roasted beets as he told a story from his “glory days.”
Sharing these personal, family stories are what I’m thankful for during the holiday season. Inevitably, the holidays make way for old memories and give rise to new ones. These holidays are a chance to introduce younger generations to the simple joy of telling stories.
In fact, the holiday break offers a unique time to build language skills for younger kids. We recommend 3 ways to incorporate storytelling during the holidays:
1. Plan ahead and look for opportunities to share family stories either 1 on 1 or as a family. Keep the situation spontaneous so it doesn’t feel too formal or structured, but think about timing and place so you don’t miss a unique opportunity.
2. Engage children in active conversations. Use open ended questions like: “Why was that important?”; “How could that happen?”; “What do you think that felt like?”; “What was your favorite part of the story?”; or “What happened next?” Open ended questions require a child to think rather than just respond so it helps them practice analysis, as well as their language skills. Open ended questions are also more immersive and can help engage a restless child’s imagination.
3. Read stories out loud. Our brains are wired to listen to stories so reading classic stories or traditional holiday stories aloud are a great way to build stronger family connections, enhance language skills (especially phonics and fluency) and to create new shared memories.
Folktales from the oral tradition like The Baker’s Dozen or Holy Molé! are entertaining stories that also help make a holiday tradition more meaningful. In The Baker’s Dozen, a baker from Colonial New England becomes famous for his St. Nicholas cookies. Eventually his popularity gives way to greed, and the baker gets stingy with the amount of cookies he gives his customers. With the advice of an old woman, the baker learns the hard way that it doesn’t cost anything to be generous to others. Set in a snow-covered village, readers will learn the importance of giving while also getting into the holiday spirit. Follow up with a cookie bake! Kids can bake cookies with the help of their parents and share them with siblings and friends.
Another great holiday story is Holy Molé! This whimsical origin story from Mexico is about a young boy named Carlos who makes a mess in the kitchen when the Spanish Viceroy makes a surprise visit. After his curiosity gets the best of him, Carlos causes ingredients to go flying, creating what is now known as molé sauce. In a miraculous turn of events, the Spanish Viceroy actually praises the sauce! We’re all familiar with the chaos that goes on in the kitchen during the holidays. In addition, Holy Molé! opens discussion for a subject common during the holidays, miracles. Use this book as an opportunity to talk about the meaning of miracles and individual experiences.
Many of our authors have taken advantage of their family stories to create collections, that, not surprisingly, turn out to be quite hilarious. Award-winning author Donald Davis comes to mind, with story collections like Mama Learns to Drive, Don’t Kill Santa!, and Listening for the Crack of Dawn. Donald’s stories provide a wealth of material that can be read out loud and enjoyed by young and old alike.
Not only does Donald entertain countless readers and people at his performances throughout the country, he originally enjoyed telling these stories to his own sons. In an interview with Donald Davis, he describes how stories not only help families bond, they also come to define a person.
In Donald’s family, his Uncle Frank was deemed the “family storyteller.” Because of Uncle Frank, other members of the Davis’ family began to realize that they too had their own family stories to share. Davis explained, “Family stories were a great part of the home culture growing up in North Carolina...It was a big bond among people.”
Not only are Davis’ stories hilarious, they have a universal feel that most people can relate to regardless of their family history. Perhaps reading some his timeless stories aloud or listening to others share their tales will spur a few memories of your own. The benefit to sharing stories is that everyone can do it. In fact, we do it routinely everyday! Even if you’re just answering causal questions like, “How was your day” or “How was your weekend,” you’re actually practicing the art of storytelling. Telling a story is the lifeline that connects all of our experiences and begins potentially significant dialogues that can help build stronger bonds between strangers, friends, family members, and entire communities.
This holiday season, and every day of the year, we encourage everyone to share their own experiences as well as listen to others tell their stories. Whether it is over a heaping plate of turkey and dressing with your family, sitting on a comfortable couch catching up with an old friend or taking time to share some tea with someone you want to get to know better, sharing stories provides an easy way to create new connections or strengthen existing ones.