Not Today, Santa: Alternatives to Holiday Programs

There are lots of reasons why a public library might avoid holiday-specific programming, and there are many people who explain those reasons better than I ever could.

(See Abby Johnson’s 2016 column, "'Tis the season ... to Think Critically about Holiday Programming," in American Libraries magazine or Kendra Jones’ 2014 piece, "Librarians — Check Your Holiday at the Door," on Storytime Underground.)

sad gingerbread cookie
The library can be a welcoming place over the holiday season without a single Santa Claus, candy cane or menorah in sight.

Full disclosure: I am not completely anti-holiday program. In fact, we do holiday programs at my library. But I do recognize that holiday programming is divisive, and beyond that, the holidays are just plain hard for a lot of folks. 

With that in mind, I've been thinking about alternatives to holiday programs — gatherings that bring people together in the wintertime with nary a Santa Claus or menorah in sight. Here are a few ideas I'm working on.

Couponing program

Christmas or no Christmas, winter can also be a very expensive time of year. Everyone wants to save money.

If you know of a patron, friend or family member who has some amazing coupon-clipping skills, invite them to the library to do a presentation to share their tips and tricks — things like how to “stack” your coupons, which store-specific cards or apps are worth it, and what coupon policies various stores have in place.

Discuss how to get the biggest bang for your buck, and introduce money-saving apps like Honey or Rakuten. Cha-ching!

'Frozen' party

You might not be happy that winter is here, but I bet your young patrons are. As I’m sure you’ve heard, "Frozen 2" recently came out in theaters, so what better time to host a "Frozen" party for kids?

Make your library into a winter wonderland with snowflakes and frost everywhere, and search around your community to see if there’s an Elsa or Anna impersonator that would be willing to visit the library — kids are crazy about meeting their heroes in real life. Play games like “Pin the Nose on Olaf,” make some “reindeer chow” (it’s just puppy chow in disguise), or whip up some “snow slime.”

Invite the kids to come in costume if they’d like, and you can even do a singalong to the first movie. Set up a photo booth with props for some extra fun.

Sure, you might get a headache from all of the excited squeals you’ll hear from happy patrons, but just … "Let it go"! (I’m sorry, I still haven’t seen the second movie, so I don’t have a more current reference.)

Wrap & Yap party

This program has one foot in the holiday door, but I try to give it a secular spin. Winter is a time of year when many people give gifts, regardless of what holiday they celebrate. And isn’t it mind-numbingly boring to sit on the floor in front of the TV, wrapping your gifts alone? 

Let's Get Physical! flier
Encourage your patrons (and yourself!) to set and keep those resolutions all year long.

It was for this reason that I started my library’s annual Wrap & Yap party. I bring wrapping paper, some boxes of various sizes, ribbons, bows, and gift tags, and I invite attendees to do the same if they’d like. But the only thing they have to bring is any gifts they need to wrap. 

I put on Netflix’s “Fireplace for Your Home” and we enjoy good conversation, snacks and the crackling of a fake fire. It’s relaxing and casual, but it’s also a great way to get to know your attendees and catch up on the latest town gossip.

New Year, New You program

Many of us make New Year’s resolutions, but very few of us stick to them. Encourage your patrons (and yourself) to set and keep those resolutions all year long. 

Kick off the New Year with a New Year, New You program, or try a series of programs, each with a different theme. You could include things like a bullet journaling class, various exercise classes, a healthy cooking course, or budgeting presentation. Put out a display full of self-help books and invite a motivational speaker to present. 

I started an exercise program a few Januarys ago when patrons were requesting aerobics classes to help them lose weight as part of their resolutions. It cost the library hardly anything; I just found some YouTube videos appropriate for all ages and set out some bottled water, and we got great feedback.

Hygge program

Hygge (pronounced “hyu-guh”) is a Danish term for a moment or feeling that is cozy, warm and homey. Turn on that Netflix fireplace I mentioned above, provide some cozy chairs and blankets, whip up some hot chocolate or tea, and get your hygge on!

You could also provide music, board games, even a therapy dog to cuddle. Lay out some coloring sheets and books on hygge and encourage attendees to come in their comfiest pajamas or sweats. You could even make or purchase some traditional Danish treats to share. 

Winter can be a very stressful time for many, so this can also serve as a de-stress program. 

Do you have a favorite winter program from your library? Share in the comments!