Giving Family Experiences-Our New Christmas Tradition

What do you do when you don't have space for anything else in your home and the holiday season is approaching and you're already freaking out about all of the kids' triggers related to the holiday season?

Since our move in June, we are slowly working on making our house a home, painting and furnishing it room by room.  But until that process is finished we have piles of stuff everywhere.

All of the kids clothes AND our clothes are piled high in the master bedroom.  Rows and rows of shoes line the floor in the front entryway.  Stacks of books lean against the wall and floor in several rooms of the house.  Toys are in plastic bins in any place that there is a space.  Paperwork is collected in bags or left on the computer desk.

We do not need or want anymore stuff.  Just the thought of more toys, books, and other miscellaneous items makes me anxious.

So, we're doing something else this year for Christmas.  Instead of giving the children gifts this year, we're giving them family experiences.  It's our new Christmas tradition!
Giving Family Experiences-Our New Christmas Tradition
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Giving family experiences for Christmas will also help with managing anxieties, PSTD triggers, autism struggles, and behaviors related to Reactive Attachment Disorder.  It's amazing how the process of giving and receiving gifts affects a child's ability to function in different ways.  

If you're not familiar with our story or your family is struggling during the holiday season as well, be sure to check out our book, Holidays and PTSD: A Parent's Guide to Survival.

I am so excited about this alternative with so many fewer triggers for everyone!

Our Plans

Here's how we've worked it out.  Grandparents are giving specific experiences aka family passes to some of our favorite places.  We as parents will be giving the kids a vacation where we will use a majority of the passes.

We will also be spoiling the kids with the luxuries a vacation can bring such as eating at their favorite restaurants, staying in a hotel, participating in special activities we wouldn't normally do.

And just in case you're wondering if the kids are on board, or if we made this decision ourselves, we let the kids decide.  Yep! That's right! They chose vacation over presents.  I'm smiling from ear to ear just thinking about.

Goodbye holiday stress!

Hello fun and relaxation!

Now before you get all worried that my children will not receive any gifts for Christmas, know the agreement is that each person in the family will buy one small gift for everyone else, which will be opened on Christmas morning.

Each person will also receive their stocking filled with fun goodies which seems to be what was most important to each kiddo.

Our Christmas vacation will take place the first week in December when my husband is able to take time off and when it's least busy with kids and college students still in school.  This will hopefully make up for the fact that Daddy has to work every holiday until the end of the year.

How to Come Up with Family Experience Ideas

Though your family may not live where we do, we hope that these family experience gift ideas will provide inspiration for you. Consider the following questions when coming up with family experience ideas.


  • Where would your family go if you could pick a mini vacation destination?
  • Are there special places of interest close to doctors, specialists, and/or therapist offices?
  • What are your children interested in currently in regards to history and science?
  • What places have age appropriate activities where your children will feel comfortable?


When asked where they wanted to go for our Christmas vacation, the kids decided unanimously voted to return to Williamsburg, VA.  It's only three hours from our home.  We have friends in Richmond that we visit along the way.

All of our children's specialists are located in Charlottesville, VA so we go there often.  Natural Bridge is located only minutes from our home.

This year in school we're studying American History because the kids have begged and pleaded to learn more about it.  Anything related to American History is the "cool" thing right now.  We have the musical Hamilton to thank for this.  I'm enjoying every moment of our studies!

All of my kids love science, and show a particular interest in zoology, botany, and astronomy.  There is no better place for them to learn about these particular topics than some of the experiences we've listed below.

With the children ranging between the ages of almost six and almost eleven in age, we work hard to find places where both the oldest and the youngest can enjoy themselves.  All of the experiences below are sure to be a hit for all.

Important Reminders!

When purchasing tickets and passes, it's important to remember the ages of the children.  Sunshine will be six years old in November.  Dinomite is turning eleven in January.

Be aware of varying prices for in state versus out of state residents.  At some places being a resident of the city or county can provide opportunities for huge discounts.

Consider a special experience within an experience.  Most places offer an initial price for entrance but also offer other unique opportunities that must be paid for.  There are so many ways to make an experience extra special!

Family Experience Gift Ideas

We have come up with five different types of family experiences that meet the needs of our own family and are realistic in regards to where we live.  If we still lived in the city, movie theater passes, a gift card to the bowling alley, concert or show tickets, and a few other items may have made our list.  Unfortunately those aren't really practical or possible here.

Here is our family experience wish list this year!  I'm sharing it on the blog for a few reasons.
 I hope you are inspired!

Historical Sites & Museums


1. Annual Passes for Colonial Williamsburg
The kids love Colonial Williamsburg.  We've been there twice before.  During our last trip they all begged to ride in one of the carriages.  They also expressed interest in renting clothes to wear for the day so they could look like colonists from the time period.  Both of the experiences mentioned above are not included in the annual pass.

2. Jamestown Settlement and American Revolution Museum at Yorktown Virginia Residents American Heritage Annual Passes
We visited Jamestown and Yorktown during our last visit to Williamsburg and the kids had such an amazing time.  They have all asked to return to one or the other or both.  All four of the kiddos can't wait to come with a little spending money to use at the gift shops.

3. Monticello Annual Family Pass
This historical site has so much to offer and explore during every season.  The gardens are of particular interest to Sunshine who is the botanist of the family.  The older three children love learning more about Thomas Jefferson.  He's one of the main characters in the musical Hamilton.

4.  George Washington's Mount Vernon Family Membership
George Washington has been an adored hero in our home for quite some time.  This can be attributed to the kids' love for the musical Hamilton as well, but also their following of the last Presidential Election.  It is amazing how visiting the actual places where our Founding Fathers lived brings history alive and help the kids make connections they wouldn't otherwise make.

5. Nauticus Family Plus Membership
The boys are so excited to visit Nauticus.  They are quite obsessed with war and battles right now and have been asking to visit a place like this for a long time.  I love that it offers excitement and adventure for both the girls and boys.

6. Science Museum of Virginia Supernova Membership (Purchased)
All four kiddos love science, particularly astronomy.  This science museum is the perfect place for them to explore, learn and have fun!  It's also in Richmond which is on the way to Williamsburg.

Amusement Parks

All of the kiddos are excited about returning to an amusement park as it's one of their favorite places to go.  This park in particular holds a special place in their hearts because it's Peanuts Character themed and age appropriate for everyone. 

For those who don't know both boys have read through all of the Peanuts comics.  All four kiddos love the Peanuts movies, and Sunshine specifically loves all things Peanuts related to holidays.

Hotel Packages

We took the kids to Great Wolf Lodge during our last stay in Williamsburg. They didn't want to leave.  Whether the gift card is used towards a night's stay in one of their Kid Cabins, or used for the arcade, bowling alley, or breakfast buffet, you can be sure the kids will love every minute of their time there.

Zoos & Safaris

All of the kids miss visiting the zoo on a regular basis, since we moved from NY.  This zoo has so much to offer. Dinomite is begging to know when we can go.  There are so many fabulous animals to see here and they can feed them (extra cost), which is an added bonus.

The kids have visited the Virginia Safari Park twice and each time they beg to go back.  They love all of the animals there and jump at the chance to feed them (extra cost).  There's nothing quite like the up close and personal experience you get with animals here.  It may mean going through the car wash afterwards, but it's so worth it!

Restaurant Gift Cards

Buffets are the ultimate happy dining experience for us. The kids LOVE them.  When asked which buffet is their favorite, the answer is always the same:  Golden Corral.  It just so happens that a Golden Corral restaurant is literally two doors down from our favorite hotel in Williamsburg.  We eat there every time we visit.  I love that it has something for everyone.

There are very few restaurants in the world where everyone in our family can eat with food allergies considered.  KFC is the kids' favorite fast food place.  Whenever we go on vacation, KFC is almost always involved.

Chili's is a favorite restaurant from NY that the kids miss dearly.  During our last vacation in Williamsburg, we discovered that they have one there.  The kids were delighted and can't wait to go next time we're in town.

We are all so excited about our Christmas plans this year.  It's our hope that the kids will enjoy the experiences so much that this can be a tradition that continues over the years providing great opportunities to travel all over the United States and beyond!

I'd love to hear about family gift experience ideas that you have!

If you enjoyed this post, you may enjoy the posts below.
Family Christmas Traditions Christmas Visual Schedule for Kids Preparing Children for Their First Fine Arts Experience Christmas Movies for Kids Free Christmas Shopping Planner for Kids Holidays and Birthdays
Our New Christmas Tradition-Giving Family Experiences

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