The last tastes of your holiday dinner -- whether it be a bite of pumpkin pie, a morsel of yule log cake or a spoonful of white chocolate mousse -- signals the next family Christmas tradition: what you always do after the holiday meal.
Some families spruce themselves up for the trip to church for an evening mass. Different houses of worship establish various start times for their Christmas Eve and Christmas Day services, but for many families it's tradition: They always go to the 8 o'clock mass. Some families even eat earlier to allow everyone sufficient travel time to church with arrival early enough to allow them to sit together.
If your family doesn't go to mass immediately following your Christmas dinner, or if you have several hours to fill between dinner's end and a midnight mass, for instance, you might establish a new tradition for the after-celebration hours. A fun post-meal activity allows the family to spend more quality time together, especially if they see each other only rarely.
Here are some after-dinner activities you might feature at your Christmas celebration:
--Playing Games. This is the No. 1 group activity reported in several surveys on parenting websites and mom message boards. After the Christmas dinner, game night commences with a round-robin tournament in Scrabble, progressing until a winner is named. Additional board games that relatives of all ages love to play together include Clue, Trivial Pursuit, Cranium and the kid-friendly Chutes & Ladders.
Right now, board game versions of popular computer games, such as Angry Birds, are among Christmas gifts that a game night could revolve around. Families also love Christmas-themed board games such as the "A Christmas Story" version of Monopoly. And card games, too, can make for a night of fun bonding, with Canasta leading the most popular card game list, followed by Texas Hold 'em.
--Acting it out. In addition to board and card games, charades is a popular after-dinner game for families and friends, with an easel brought out to hold the oversized art paper pad and thick markers used to draw out the clue. Or, in an upgrade of props, some families now use dry-erase whiteboards for their charades game.
And, in contrast to charades' required silence on the part of a player, karaoke fills the room with song, no matter how "pitchy" that song might be.
"We have a portable karaoke system that we bring out every year so that everyone can take turns singing solo or in groups," says new mom Melanie Robetz. "My sisters and I always sing 'Santa Baby,' and we always end with my dad singing 'Silent Night.' We all just sit by the fireplace cuddled up with each other and holding hands as he sings that song. It's the perfect end to Christmas."
--Watching a classic. On Christmas Eve, you'll find the iconic Jimmy Stewart-Donna Reed movie "It's a Wonderful Life" on television, and for many families, watching that film together each year is a can't-miss tradition. Just an hour after the family dinner ends, everyone gathers on the couches and bean bag chairs, with bowls of popcorn or a glass of wine, smiling at the most sentimental scenes and whispering the lines they know so well. Or simply pop in a DVD of an animated Christmas classic, such as "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" or "A Charlie Brown Christmas" for all to enjoy.
--Going caroling. It's a classic tradition: Everyone bundles up and goes door-to-door, singing Christmas songs to each household of neighbors and their guests.
"In addition to the well-known songs, we added in a traditional Ukrainian Christmas song for neighbors who were part-Ukrainian. Their extended family loved the gift of our song," says caroling organizer Tania Birch.
--Taking a holiday lights tour. Again, everyone bundles up and this time piles into family minivans and cars to caravan through some of the most spectacularly lit neighborhoods in the area.
A few days before Christmas, scout out various streets and developments in your community to find clusters of gorgeously decorated homes with thousands of holiday lights and perhaps even animated figures on the lawn. Some parks and zoos open up to Christmas Eve visitors, showing off their holiday light extravaganzas.
--Sitting outside by the fire pit. You or the party's host might have a permanent fire pit on a back terrace, gas-fueled and glowing with real flames. Sit around the fire and enjoy the warmth as you look up at the winter sky's stars with a mug of hot cocoa or a hot toddy in your hand. The quiet and the beauty make this one of the most peaceful and reflective of Christmas celebration closers to be shared with your most beloved family and friends.