Happy Holidays? Host a Hoopla!

Dear readers,

We know it may seem way too soon for a winter holiday article; but before you curse us and stamp your feet, please know this is an encouragement to create an alternative to the traditional gift-giving this holiday season.
It’s a gift of time and creativity as opposed to a gift of money. Thus, we wanted to give you TIME to put it into action if it resonates with you. (And we hope it will!)


It’s that time again.

The Halloween fun-size candy bars were barely off the shelves when the candy canes and Christmas bells appeared.

If your response to all that is a hearty sigh and sense of overwhelm, I think I can help.

Want more holiday fun and less yuletide stress? Try this: Skip the gifts and create a hoopla instead.

What’s a hoopla? It’s a fun experience you create for your clan instead of buying material gifts. It’s a memorable time you share together that creates laughter and warm memories. It’s a gift that is a lot of fun to “make” (i.e. plan) and even more fun to “receive” (i.e.  participate in!).

Here’s the backstory

About ten years ago my family decided we wanted less stress and expense at the winter holidays. I’d grown up in a family that celebrated Christmas in a very American way — with a decorated tree surrounded by gaily wrapped holiday gifts. The spotlight moment of Christmas day was everyone tearing into those packages — wrapping paper everywhere and boxes piling up beside each person.

Even when I was growing up, I knew that there was a great cost attached to that experience. My mom was a single parent, doing the best she could to raise three kids and pay the mortgage. I can only imagine how stressful the holidays must have been as she tried to find the extra money — or went into debt — for all those presents.

As the years went by and I moved to another state and started my own family, I started to question these holiday rituals which I’d unconsciously carried on.

As a practicing Buddhist, I reflected on what Christmas meant to me and wanted to be more intentional about what/how I celebrated.

I really saw for myself that what I loved about the idea of Christmas was that people gathered together and got to spend more time with one another. Being with people I love is a huge value for me.

I loved that my West Coast clan planned trips to my mom’s in Ohio twice a year for two-week stretches. One of those visits was always at Christmas.  Thus, I associate Christmas with being at my mom’s.

I thought about what else I loved: the beautiful lights and the sharing of long, lingering meals. I liked my mom’s traditional decorations that got brought up from the basement each year, including the nativity set from the 1950’s which my mom added to over years from other discarded nativity sets — so there were extra wise men and giant sheep!

I liked the days surrounding Christmas when we played cards and board games, sipping eggnog and laughing a lot, sometimes spending entire days in our pajamas.

In all honesty, I didn’t like the gift-giving part.

There was an obligatory nature to it. Everyone made lists and everyone gave presents to everyone else. No questions asked.

Bless our hearts, most of the time we didn’t know what the other person most wanted or needed — or couldn’t afford those things. Christmas gifts never felt the same as birthday (or “just-because”) gifts when I could truly focus on the recipient. That pile under the tree often felt awkward to me — and the frenzy of opening gifts was my least favorite part of the holidays!

I also didn’t like the debt that showed up on my January credit card statement.

Here’s the Conscious Choice

I had some long conversations with my own family and with my extended family. We talked about what the holidays mean to each of us and what we want from them.

My mom was honest and said she liked being able to buy one or two gifts that her children/grandchildren needed. She said she really valued that we bought plane tickets to come see her and that we wanted to spend so much time with her. She wanted to be able to gift us in a way that felt good for her, but wanted us to follow our own values. Basically, we all decided that we would commemorate Christmas in whatever way felt true for each of us.

My son’s dad, my beau, and I decided that we wanted to come up with an experience we could create for our extended family instead of buying gifts. We talked about it to our son, who was nine at the time. We all decided to plan something we would call The Holiday Hoopla. We would send out invitations for a carnival, variety show and dinner to be held at my mom’s house during the Christmas vacation.

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Our first Hoopla

So that year, instead of buying presents for our family, we had a whole lot of fun planning the various carnival booths. My favorite was the “Validation Booth” in which we told each family member things we loved about them. We hosted an “alter ego” photo booth with a trunk-load of hats and costumes. The event also included a variety show with magic, Kung Fu demonstrations, juggling and piano playing. Afterward we served a big homemade meal and everyone talked about their favorite parts of the day.

What made this such a joyful and amazing event is that it was so much fun to plan, so much fun to host and so much fun to attend. My son was excited for weeks beforehand. He loved brainstorming booths, making signs and decorating.

Our family members who attended got to be a part of something that brought us all together in a new, creative way. It was festive and full of vitality. And the memories are ours forever — so many of them were captured in hilarious photos from the day! (Which I later compiled into booklets and gave as gifts!)

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Some other Hoopla Ideas

You could create your own carnival or holiday variety show. However, if that doesn’t appeal to you, consider what other themes your family might like! In the years following our first Holiday Hoopla we hosted events like Survivor Christmas Edition, Murder Mysteries, Make Christmas Great Again, Game-a-Palooza, Mock Chopped and Project Gaudy Runway.

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Our events always include a pre-Hoopla dance party and a post-Hoopla dinner. I usually try to slip in my own favorite game which is when each family member chooses an ornament from the tree and tells the “story” behind it. (These are made-up stories and they change every year depending on the Hoopla theme!)

We also try to include my son’s favorite game which is a scavenger hunt of some kind. Last year he wrote elaborate rhyming clues that led to hidden objects. Sets of hidden objects were clues to something else. It was mind-bendingly awesome!

Other favorite activities throughout the years have included the egg drop, gingerbread house decorating, ornament making, custom BINGO or crosswords and blind taste testing of jelly bellies — including the “bean-boozled” yucky ones!

This year we will be hosting our tenth annual Holiday Hoopla. I can’t tell you the theme because someone in my family might read this!

If you want some specific game ideas and resources, I’ve posted them on the Simply Celebrate website. Just search on the word “hoopla!”

Give it a try!

What would your holiday be like this year if instead of spending a lot of money and wandering the malls, or online shopping sites, you planned something creative and unique?

I encourage you to think about what kinds of things your family is interested in and brainstorm the possibilities!

If you try it, I hope you will let me know what you do and how it goes!

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Sherry’s mission is helping people find creative, intentional and impactful ways to celebrate life and to express love for family and friends. Visit her website or email her to say hello at Sherry@simplycelebrate.net. Sherry’s book, “Say it Now; 33 Creative Ways to Say I Love You to the Most Important People in Your Life,” is now available on Amazon. Join Sherry’s free 5-day challenge, "Olly Olly Oxen Free: Permission and Belonging," here.

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