My grandma used say that Christmas is for the children. She’d say this as she was making breakfast for a house full of people on Christmas morning, with kids running around showing off new toys, adults drinking coffee and visiting, and neighbors and friends dropping by. As a kid, it was great. I remember a few key gifts (for instance, my first turntable), but in hindsight holiday joy was about that warm, bustling house and all those people gathered together.

Fast forward a couple of decades and things have changed. My family is now spread out all over the country. Family gatherings are few and far between, and when we do get together, conversations tend to be short and superficial. For some, holiday family gatherings have turned into a predictable rut of food, booze and gadgets with a sidecar of stress. A study by the American Psychological Association found that 44% of people surveyed found family gatherings one of the top five sources of holiday stress. But this doesn’t have to be. Below are eight ways to remix stressful family gatherings and stoke the holiday warmth factor, Shareable-style.

Board games and puzzles are tried and true ways to bring people together, have some fun and reconnect. For a new twist on an old classic, try Co-opoly, a board game that introduces the ideas and practices behind running a co-op.

Take a Walk
Going outside can be the perfect fix for a stagnant gathering. Bundle up and take a stroll around the neighborhood, or take a nature walk. While you’re out, you can offer holiday greetings to neighbors, take in the sights and sounds, and break up the monotony of the day. And there’s something about walking that stimulates interesting conversation, so buddy up with that relative that you’ve been meaning to reach out to, or even the one you’ve been avoiding. They just might surprise you.

Family gatherings are great times to do some story collecting. Ask older family members to share their childhood holiday memories. Find out if there are any old family traditions you’d like to rekindle. You might be surprised at what you didn’t know about your family and stories are a wonderful bridge between the young and the old.

Open House
Nothing like opening your house to friends, family members and neighbors to send a little holiday cheer. If the family gathering needs a jolt of energy, consider making it an open house. Bringing new people into the holiday mix changes the social dynamic. It also creates an opportunity to spend time with loved ones, meet new friends and connect people from different areas of your life. Send out invitations, provide a table of munchies and the guests will do the rest.

Gift Circle
The idea of the gift circle is to connect people who need help with those who can help them. For instance, your uncle might need help shoveling his driveway when it snows and can offer accounting help. You might offer a guitar lesson and need a ride to the airport. Your cousin can help design a logo but she needs help knitting a sweater. Everyone presents both their needs and offerings to the circle and connections happen. It’s a great way to help each other out, and to spend time with family members in new ways.

Digital Detox
The holidays and gadgets, for better or worse, go hand-in-hand. Back in the day it was a walkman; today it’s tablets and smartphones. As gadgets are popular gift items, it’s no wonder that holiday gatherings can end up a show-and-tell of the latest and greatest. But, buck the trend (for a day anyway), and consider unplugging from gadgets during family gatherings. The time that is spent not looking at a screen is time that can be spent sharing ideas, thoughts and stories.

This one may not be for every family, but if you and yours are musically-inclined, break out the sing-along. Holiday songs are a great place to start but the repertoire doesn’t have to be limited. Sing whatever people want to. Music has a way of elevating people above petty squabbles and boredom and it has the potential warm up a room instantaneously. After you get a few numbers down pat, why not go caroling in the neighborhood? The neighbors will love it.

Make Something
Working on something together is a great way to bond with family members of all ages. Imagination is the only limit on this one. Try making baked goods, holiday decorations, cards, or presents. Upcycle the leftover cardboard and packaging; get out the playdough or modeling clay; build something out of blocks or building toys; get creative with crayons, paints or other art supplies. The idea is that by creating together, we build bonds by a shared experience and accomplishment.  And the bonus is that you avoid the dreaded family gathering rut.

Cat Johnson


Cat Johnson | |

Cat Johnson is a content strategist and teacher helping community builders create strong brands. A longtime writer, marketing pro and coworking leader, Cat is the founder of Coworking Convos and