12 Ways to Put Relationships at the Heart of Your Holidays

When her grandchildren come for holiday dinners, Phyllis Stanley tells them to leave their cell phones at the door. Thanksgiving and Christmas are about focusing on relationships and giving people value, she said.

And that’s becoming harder and harder to do these days as electronic media replaces one-on-one communication.

The Bread Ladies: Phyllis Stanley and Shirley Heinmets

Known in Colorado Springs, Colo., as the “Bread Ladies,” Stanley and her longtime friend Shirley Heinmets have shared their bread-making expertise and “from the heart” homemaking philosophy with hundreds of women over the years.  But grinding the grain and

getting the dough into the oven are only part of what these women teach in their popular bread-making classes. The rest is food for the soul.

It’s easy for parents to become so goal oriented – shopping, baking and wrapping – they forget Christmas is more about the doing than the getting done, Stanley said. “Even hardships shouldn’t stop us from giving life to other people.”

Whether you’re a parent, grandparent, or the neighbor down the street, here are some great ideas for ramping up relationships over the holidays.

Use holiday subtraction. If you are going to add something, you have to subtract something else, said Stanley. Rather than being alone, making presents and staying up late addressing cards, you might want to spend time being together with people. “I have to have a focus, and my focus is being together with people,” she said.

Involve children in doing things from scratch. “Who cares what shape of dinner rolls are?” said Heinmetz.  Kids can make a teddy bear or snowman out of bread dough, with raisins for buttons and eyes.  “What your son or daughter really wants is time,” she said.” You can never cross that off your list.”

Give children responsibilities. Kids can count how many people will be there and set the table, fold napkins, and help clean up afterwards.  Stanley’s granddaughters write two-line poems as mystery place cards. The name-cards give people value, Stanley said. “It’s a precious time before we start eating.”

Guests then have to find their poem to find out where they’re going to sit. Here’s one that was written for a grandson: “Reading and football are things he craves, and in high school he continues to get great grades.”

Give the gift of homemade food.  “There’s nowhere that I go that I don’t take bread.” said Stanley. “Just bake something delicious and take a little extra care in the presentation.  A beautiful package is an invitation of something to come.”

Invite friends in for dinner or coffee. If they happen to be busy on that day, ask them to come the following week. Set a date.  “I love having people in for Advent,” Stanley said. “There’s a hunger in their hearts to have a joyful experience.”

Allow time to enjoy your holiday tasks.  When she’s getting ready for a meal, Stanley said she doesn’t want to be stressed. I’m going start early because I want to enjoy setting the table and preparing the food.”

Make relationships the goal. Wrap presents together with your spouse; involve a child in discovering ways to fold the napkins.

Prepare the table-conversion beforehand. The table is a place of celebration and requires a lot of preparation – not just preparing the food, said Stanley. “As you’re baking bread, making soup, think of questions you want to ask around the table. We come up with a quiz, trivia, read things. It’s spiritual as well as physical.”

Make eye-contact during conversation. Kids don’t get that when they’re texting friends, Heinmets said. When we connect with our the eyes, it tells people they are important enough for our time and attention. Keeping our eyes “soft” tells them they are loved.

Prepare your children for gift giving. Have your children thank the person, one at a time. Ask them what it felt like to receive the gift and how it makes someone else feel to receive one.

Give something of personal significance. Stanley said last year God put it on her heart to give each person a book from her library, and she told them why they were receiving it. “I wanted to make it meaningful,” she said.

Make the home inviting.  Like the song, I’ll Be Home for Christmas, Stanley wants her home to smell good, be inviting, “A place where you have music and games.”

The easiest thing in the world is a baked apple. Cored and stuffed with brown sugar, raisins,  cinnamon and a pat of butter,  this simple treat will fill the house with fragrance and warm a hungry tummy.

Stanley spends each Friday morning with her granddaughter, who always wants to make something, she said. “It’s the idea that home is a place to learn and grow. You don’t have to do it all. But do something that connects you with people.”

When people come to her home, Stanley said she often asks them to stay for two minutes and they end up staying for two hours. “You need a platform for relationships.”

For Stanley and Heinmets, that platform arose out of bread.

Their cookbook, Homemade Recipes from the Heart of Our Homes, reflects their shared belief in helping people help others.  They want to give women a vision for the home, Stanley said, “Grinding their own wheat, making their own bread, doing things from scratch.”

It’s easy to get side-tracked, so busy that the people who are most important in our lives become part of the scenery, instead of the main characters.  “There will be a ‘too late’ time when the kids are no longer interested and available,” said Stanley.

The time to make your family feel important is now. FFG 


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