Two kids with an American flag

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Along with patter of little feet comes a relentless litany of questions, often along unshockingly similar themes: When will Santa come again? Is the Easter Bunny coming this weekend? Can we light sparklers and smoke bombs again tonight? If you're a parent, you probably already have your canned response down, "It takes Santa all year to make toys for all the good boys and girls, sweet pea," or "Honey, the Easter Bunny is with his family." But the appeal of the event isn't the man in red or a large, chocolate rabbit—it's the family togetherness, fun and surprises that make kids love these holidays so much (along with the alleged grown-ups).

Just as one day someone decided that Fat Tuesday kicks off Mardi Gras, let's declare our own personal days to embrace a holiday state of mind—whether it's Wednesday or Thursday or whatever-day. Just for once, when the agents of stress and distraction start buzzing in, don't take the call. Instead, focus your precious energy on heartfelt ways to connect with your family. Create your own ritual celebrations that everyone will look forward to—part love, part laughs and a large dose of attitude. Here's my formula: create, interact, appreciate and add a little surprise. The only rule is to lead with your heart.

Here are some supremely simple ways to start: 
Create stocking stuffers for all seasons
Interact with a little bit of movie sugar
Start a family sand ceremony
Host an aloha party
Kids in their socks

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Create Stocking Stuffers for All Seasons
We love jamming a sock with goodies at Christmas, but why-oh-why does this fabulous tradition take place only once a year? Go get the craziest tube or kneesocks you can find, whether argyle or polka-dot or whatever. Help the kids personalize their socks with buttons, beads, sequins, patches, paint...the works. If you're really yearning for the full customization experience, make your stockings from scratch with colorful felt, or go funky and improvise with a pair of old tights or tie the ends of kids' jeans. Whatever you choose, just distinguish your design from the Christmas theme.

That night, hang each stocking with a ribbon on your kids' bedroom doors and fill them with your swag of choice. Imagine how crazy with anticipation they'll be and then how ecstatic when they wake up the next morning to find their stockings filled with stickers and pencils and toys, maybe a homemade treat or two, some sweet notes from Mom and Dad and more. Whether you make this a tradition for full-moon Mondays, freaky Fridays or just the 4th of every month, everyone will savor the surprise.

Homemade brownies

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Interact with a Little Bit of Movie Sugar
The monster box office releases always sweep in with the big family holidays, but why not escalate your ordinary movie night by making a ta-da! out of the pre-movie activities? Here's a simple idea: Instead of ripping open the usual box of cookies from the grocery store, actually make (or bake) dessert together, with extra bonus points for working in the film's theme. Say the team is screening Toy Story (the first or second at home and the third at the multiplex), then decorate and bake Woody Cow Patty Cookies, a perennial kids' fave—Google "cow patty cookies" or just "brownies" for an avalanche of recipes.

Check the website of the movie you're seeing; it might have fun downloads for kids, like quizzes and coloring pages. Also, seize the opp for a fun learning experience by giving the kids a Hamm-style piggy bank (like the Toy Story character) to start them on the road to the world of finance, saving their pennies and maybe even giving to charity. And if having a lot of leftover sugar treats around the house sounds like a bad idea, just wrap 'em up in bandannas for friends, neighbors and co-workers. That's the spirit of giving in action!

Sand in a jar

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Start a Family Sand Ceremony
Saying "I love you" or "thank you" can be difficult for some, especially kids. But turning the little words that mean a lot into a funny, colorful and interactive ritual, you'll have a winner—and get everyone talking.

Family dinners are a great place to start. Set up clear glass vases, one for everyone at the table. You'll be filling each vase halfway, with different colored sand—the kids will want to choose the color. Go around the table, asking everyone a question: What makes you happy? What's the silliest thing you did this week? What do you love most about Daddy?

With each answer, pour your sand into a large vase placed in the center of the table, making different layers of color as everyone around the table gets their turn. If you need to use a funnel, make one from the kids' gallery of art or a family photo; encourage the fam to keep adding to the centerpiece by adding to their answer throughout the meal. Put your own sand ceremony together, or buy the kit from Wedding Star, which offers a ton of different colors of sand and will engrave names on each vase!

Girl with hula hoop

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Host an Aloha Friday
Turn TGIF into a Hawaiian holiday, stay-cay, hula hoop marathon. Pick up the mood in an instant by grabbing an armload of hula hoops from your local discount store and then let the customization begin! Ribbon, string, stickers and markers will do the trick; everyone takes ownership of their hoop with personalized decorations. Dig up some Hawaiian music—anything from a little ukulele to vintage luau music to Elvis' classic Blue Hawaii soundtrack (Rock-a-hula, baby!). Start the marathon, encourage competition, award prizes.

If you're not sporting a hoop, a grass skirt from the party store will do as a visual contribution, or dig up some Lilo and Stitch masks for extra credit. Serve foo-foo drinks for the adult swim but pupu platters all around. If that's not enough, add flip-flop decorating activities via dollar store bling. Take the theme as far as you want, but just a little hula hoop silliness is enough to satisfy your laughter requirement. Just remember to insist everyone use the word "aloha" for hello and goodbye, as well as the shaka (the thumb-and-pinky shake that says "hang loose"). Yes! Hang loose!

Download the latest chapter of Allana Baroni's book, Get Social

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