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Fun with the Family with Julie Lavender: Stop and smell the cocoa
Julie Lavender web
Julie Lavender

Welcome the true spirit of Christmas into your heart this season with quality time spent with family, gifts of encouragement and compassion for those in need and a smile for everyone you pass on busy shopping days. Allow ample time to stop and smell the cocoa and nibble on yummy cookies. Along with Christmas gifts and goodies, share these December holidays with your loved ones.

Aardvark Week - The aardvark is an interesting nocturnal critter that lives in the southern part of Africa. With large ears, really long noses and even longer tongues - sometimes up to 12 inches - aardvarks slurp up termites and other insects using their keen sense of smell.

Learn about other intriguing animals this month. Play a game to see which family member can be the first to name one animal for every letter of the alphabet. Then, use an encyclopedia or an educational website, like, to find out about other cool animals.

Have you ever heard of a fossa, guanaco or tarsier? Choose a new animal each day to learn bits of trivia about and find pictures of. And if you're really adventurous, find a zoo to visit over the holidays and look for some of the animals you studied.

National Candy Cane Day - Purchase a package of small, multicolored candy canes and use the wrapped candy to play a version of tic-tac-toe on the kitchen table. Then, take along the candy canes in your purse or bag to share with friends you meet during the day for a sweet, holiday treat.

Jack Frost Day - Be on the lookout for a frosty morning during the holidays and plan to bundle up in warm clothing and go for a walk. Listen as the frost crunches under your feet, and get close to look at the frosty patterns on grass and leaves. After your foray with the frost, go back inside and drink some hot cocoa and make a snowflake craft.

Give each person a strip of waxed paper to work on and lots of cotton swabs. Design a snowflake on the paper with the swabs, allowing the puffy swab ends to touch to form corners. You can cut or break the swabs to make interesting designs.

Once your snowflake is complete, douse the design with a lot of glue to make the pieces stick together. (It will dry clear." Sprinkle white or silver glitter on the glue while it's still wet. Allow the snowflakes to dry overnight, then gently peel them off the paper.

Christmas - Read the Christmas story in the Bible of Luke, chapter 2, and Matthew, chapter 2. Then, use star-shaped cookie cutters and sugar cookie dough and frosting or sugar sprinkles to make an edible reminder of the star that the wise men followed to find baby Jesus.

New Year's Eve - Spend some time as a family on this day to talk about the past year. Share fun memories, favorite family activities or trips, special accomplishments, favorite movies watched, new recipes or restaurants sampled or any other memorable event. Talk about some of the sad or difficult times, too, as a reminder of the love, support and bonding that took place as a family. Then, talk about the things you want to do in the upcoming year - adventures, accomplishments or goals.

Use a package of store-bought fortune cookies for the next part of the activity. With tweezers, gently remove the strip of paper inside the cookies. (Usually, a piece of it will be sticking out. If not, gently shake the cookie, and it should become visible.) Let each person write notes to every other person in the family on tiny strips of paper and then carefully slide the strips into cookies. Keep each person's cookies together so that they won't get mixed up. Then, on New Year's Day, have everyone open their fortune cookies with notes of encouragement, a "prediction" or "fortune."

Make the month of December a time of great joy, happiness and memories of a special birth long ago. Try not to let the busyness of shopping and errands outside the home distract you from what's most important - the family that resides inside your home. Sip hot cocoa together, enjoy the aroma of gingerbread and Christmas trees and a crackling fire, gaze at twinkling lights, join in song with carolers, and feel the warmth in your heart from time spent with those you love.

Statesboro native Julie Bland Lavender celebrates with husband David and children Jeremy, Jenifer, Jeb Daniel and Jessica.

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