Ask the Archivist: Holiday Heritagefest
Looking for ways to infuse your holiday gatherings with family history? Check out these inspiring ideas from Janet Hovorka, author of Zap the Grandma Gap: Connect with Your Family by Connecting Them to Your Family History (Family Chartmasters).

Q. What’s the easiest way to turn holidays into heritagefests?
Food! Those labor-intensive recipes prepared at the holidays are probably from your family history. Make them together. If it’s a tricky recipe, teach it: Make sure your helpers know how much “a pinch” is. If you can’t make it together, at least make sure everyone knows where the recipes come from. Tell stories and pull out a picture of the grandma who was known for that dish.

Q. What about heritage decorations?
We’ve decorated Christmas trees with family photo ornaments, cranberries and popcorn, and other old-fashioned decorations. You can weave family history into a table centerpiece with pictures, books, flowers and an heirloom. Some ethnic holidays like Kwanzaa and Hanukkah are already all about tradition and heritage, so it’s not hard to pull in a family history perspective.

Q. How can we interest children?
Kids love pictures and anything about an ancestor at the same age they are now. Show them pictures of young ancestors and get out their toys, report cards and books they read, and sing the songs they sang. Pictures make ancestors more real—so do those cool objects.

At our family gatherings, we often set times for family history interviews. The kids are invited to ask questions. When the grandparents talk to the kids, that’s when the good stories come out (not so much with us grown-ups). I just leave my recorder running so I don’t interrupt the conversation. If I have to edit out two hours, that’s fine.

Q. What about older relatives?
The trick is connecting your family members’ interests to your history. Family history engulfs everything: culture, languages, art, science, etc. If you have a child interested in fashion or hairstyles, show old pictures of different fashions. Military history buffs will want to know about a Civil War or WWII soldier. A science teacher might be interested in a DNA test.

Q. Any ideas for family history gifts?
A. My kids digitized some of the family letters one year. My sisters sewed a quilt for me with squares my grandma made from the fabric of her mother’s dresses. Last year we went on a trip to an old ancestral hometown. My mom has made several children’s picture books with photos of ancestors as children and teenagers. Think of anything meaningful to your own family.
From the December 2013 Family Tree Magazine 
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