Embrace global festivals and culture
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Christmas, Easter, Bonfire Night and Halloween – the events that usually punctuate our year – haven’t felt sufficient in the pandemic, so in my family we’ve gone all out for occasions that would usually pass us by. Cultural appropriation maybe, but it has livened up Groundhog Day dinner times. We had a Diwali party in November, taking advice from an Indian friend on how to do it right, and cooked pakoras, wore new(ish) clothes, played games and covered the kitchen with fairy lights. For Burns Night my four-year-old helped make frozen cranachan, we ate haggis, played a bagpipe Spotify playlist and recited poems, including a welcome address penned by my seven-year-old, whose lines included: “I don’t know why but my dad is wearing a skirt …” (In lieu of a kilt, a peach silk number had to suffice.)
Nearer home there’s National Chip Week (20-26 February), a chance to get creative with veg and potato varieties and toppings. Or invent your own festival. In January we created what will now be an annual, hallway-based celebration of finally putting the coat rack up after four years on the to-do list. Games for walks
Next up are Chinese New Year on 12 February (cue paper lantern-making, dumplings and fireworks), Valentine’s Day on the 14th (an excuse to make cards and candles) and Pancake Day on the 16th. February in normal times means mardi gras carnivals in Europe, New Orleans and most of all Brazil, and the Sapporo snow festival Japan. These are great excuses to make costumes, artwork and traditional food, and dance to appropriate music.
Taking young children on walks inevitably involves some whingeing, but we’ve recently managed to increase our four-year-old’s tolerated walking time from two hours to three or four by upping our props and picnic game (see below).
Playing is also crucial: our four- and seven-year-old now have several favourite games.
Guess the animal (with yes and no answers to questions) can turn into an equivalent based on their latest interests. We’ve done guess the species of dragon from How To Train Your Dragon, though you have to know your Monstrous Nightmares from your Basic Browns. Spies involves the children secretly following us while remaining hidden: they dart from tree to tree, ducking when we turn to survey the scene. For Pirates, fallen trees make good ships, especially if they’re on a small island in a stream.
in Bad Dad, dad is a criminal trying to escape: he runs off and we give chase, yelling “Don’t let him get away!” and throwing pine cones at him. For Sloths, the children hang upside down from tree-branches being sloths and I am a hunter/conservationist coming to steal/help them. Motorbikes means running up and down steep-sided halfpipe-like paths and ditches pretending to be motorbikes, making higher-pitched revving noises when going uphill. (Yes, you have to not care about looking like a plonker if you encounter fellow walkers.)
if these fail, enlist professional help. Treasure Map Trails (£5.99 or £8.99 for two) makes unusual illustrated maps of 17 English towns with quirky features to spot. Treasure Trails (no connection) produces downloadable, themed walk booklets (£9.99) involving treasure hunts, puzzles and clues to solve on 1,200 routes across the UK. Picnics, but better
If there is still some debate over whether sustenance is allowed on our allotted daily walks, I’d be willing to argue in court that kids need snacks when being made to put one foot in front of the other. We now take three flasks on our family expeditions: hot chocolate for the kids (with mini marshmallows), a larger one of coffee, and one of hot food – typically macaroni cheese for us, but friends recommend frankfurters in hot water for picnic hotdogs.
It’s made a massive difference and it’s much easier to persuade them out on a “hot chocolate adventure” than a walk. Our country outings have been made even more enjoyable thanks to our mini raclette set (£20), a simple fold-up grill heated by tea lights. We melt cheese for crackers and sandwich crusts, wipe it clean, then melt chocolate for dipping apple slices and sometimes more of those marshmallows, which the eldest whittles sticks for.