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Student Opinion

15 Prompts for Talking and Writing About the Holidays and the New Year

Share your traditions, weigh in on a seasonal debate, write a creative story or reflect on the year behind you while preparing for the one ahead.

Hands fill up plates from dishes of food on a table with a red tablecloth. A bowl with a green salad is in the center of the table, and next to it is a casserole dish of macaroni and cheese and a candleholder with six red candles.

By Natalie Proulx

Merry Christmas , happy Hanukkah , joyous Kwanzaa and happy New Year.

To celebrate the season, we’ve rounded up 15 prompts we’ve written over the years that you can use for writing or discussion in the classroom, among your friends or at your holiday gatherings. You might talk about your beloved family traditions, weigh in on a seasonal debate, write a holiday-themed short story or poem, or reflect on the year behind you and prepare for the one ahead.

Each of these prompts was inspired by a New York Times article, essay or image, and many of them are still open for comment for students 13 or older.

For more writing prompts and conversation-starters, see our related column .

1. What Holiday or Holidays Are You Celebrating This Month?

Hanukkah? Christmas? Kwanzaa? A combination? Something else? Use this prompt to talk or write about your own holiday celebrations — or those that other families have that you wish you could be a part of.

2. What Are Your Family Traditions?

Students who weighed in on this prompt told us about preparing 12 meals for Ukrainian Christmas, making the haft sin for Nowruz, lighting the candles on the menorah for Hanukkah and playing the game White Elephant. What rituals help you mark the holidays or reflect on the year?

3. What Foods Will Be on Your Holiday Table?

Food is an important part of holiday celebrations all over the world. What dishes will be on your table this year? You might talk about the best festive snacks and finger foods with this prompt , or take inspiration from Lunar New Year and share your favorite holiday food traditions with this prompt .

4. How Do You Decorate for the Season?

Traditional or modern? Over-the-top or more understated? Discuss the way your family decorates for the holidays — or how you wish it did — with these two prompts. How do you think you will choose to decorate your home when you are older?

5. What Role Does Religion Play in Your Holiday Celebrations?

Several of the winter holidays have religious roots. In “ Saying Goodbye to Hanukkah ,” a writer asks whether you can celebrate traditionally religious holidays without religion. What do you think? Read the essay and then use this prompt to talk or write about how much religion is a part of your life and your holiday celebrations.

6. Do You Look Forward to Family Get-Togethers This Time of Year?

The approaching holidays often mean spending more time with family members, who come from near and far. Who do you look forward to seeing this time of year? Do you enjoy large family get-togethers or do you find them overwhelming? Use this prompt to talk or write about your most memorable family gathering.

7. What Makes a Great Gift?

What are you giving this holiday season? What are you hoping to get, or what have you already received? Use this prompt to share your gift-giving dos and don’ts, talk about the best and worst gifts you’ve gotten and weigh in on the adage “It’s better to give than to receive.”

Or, use this prompt to debate the commercialization of Christmas and whether experiences make better gifts than physical items do.

8. Should Phones Ever Be a Part of Family or Holiday Gatherings?

Now it’s time for a holiday debate: Are phones and other electronics welcome at your family or holiday gatherings? Do you think they should be? Can they ever be helpful? Or are they a distraction from spending quality time with your loved ones? Discuss these questions and others with our related prompt .

9. What Will You Be Watching, Listening To and Wearing This Season?

“National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation”? Mariah Carey’s “All I Want for Christmas Is You”? An ugly Christmas sweater, perhaps? Use these prompts to debate the best and worst holiday films , share what’s on your seasonal playlist and plan your special holiday outfit .

10. What Can You Do for Others This Year?

This year, Nov. 29 was #GivingTuesday on social media, a day when you were invited to take a break from buying things, and, instead, show generosity to others. The Giving Tuesday website suggests thinking about it this way:

Whether it’s making someone smile, helping a neighbor or stranger out, showing up for an issue or people we care about, or giving some of what we have to those who need our help, every act of generosity counts, and everyone has something to give.

What do you have to give? What people, issues or causes are important to you? What can you do this holiday season to give back? Tell us here , and then get more inspiration from the Opinion section’s Holiday Giving Guide .

11. What Seasonal Story Could These Images Tell?

Related Picture Prompt

essay school holiday

A magical gift. A sledding adventure. A family gathering. What story could these images from around The Times tell? Choose one or more of the holiday- and winter-themed picture prompts from the slide show above, and then write a creative short story, poem or memoir inspired by them.

Another option? Use one of these images to play Exquisite Corpse with your friends, family or classmates: One person starts by writing or saying aloud the first line of a story based on the image, and then another person adds on, and so on.

12. What Were the Best and Worst Things About 2022 for You?

The Times’s art and culture critics often end the year by compiling a series of “best of” lists — the best TV shows , movies , art , songs , podcasts , books , comedy , poetry , theater , dance performances and more .

What would be on your “best of the year” list? What would be on your “worst of the year” list? What art or pop culture did you love or loathe? What news, sporting events or viral social media moments did you think were great or terrible? What were the most notable aspects of your personal, family or academic life? Use this prompt to help you make your “best” and “worst” lists and then compare them to those of other students.

13. What Would You Pick as Word of the Year?

Every year the Oxford English Dictionary selects a “word of the year” that is meant “to reflect the ethos, mood or preoccupations” of the previous year. For 2022, the publisher chose “goblin mode.” What do you think of this choice? What is one word or phrase that you think sums up this year? Weigh in on our related prompt .

14. What Was the Best Day of Your Year?

When you look back on the past year, what would you say was your most memorable day? Were you celebrating a big life event or achievement, like getting your license? Or were you doing something more mundane — perhaps talking to a friend on the phone, making a meal for your family or taking a long walk alone? What made that day so special to you?

Even though this prompt was written in 2021, you can still use the article and questions to take some time to appreciate your favorite day of this past year.

15. Do You Make New Year’s Resolutions?

As one year ends and another begins, will you take stock of all that you have (or haven’t) accomplished and make resolutions for the year ahead? Or, like other Gen Zers, according to this article , do you set goals all year round? Use this prompt to talk or write about the various goals or self-improvements you are currently working toward, as well as those you’d like to focus on in the New Year.

Students 13 and older in the United States and Britain, and 16 and older elsewhere, are invited to comment. All comments are moderated by the Learning Network staff, but please keep in mind that once your comment is accepted, it will be made public and may appear in print.

Find more Student Opinion questions here. Teachers, check out this guide to learn how you can incorporate these prompts into your classroom.

Natalie Proulx joined The Learning Network as a staff editor in 2017 after working as an English language arts teacher and curriculum writer. More about Natalie Proulx


  1. 15 Prompts for Talking and Writing About the Holidays and the

    15 Prompts for Talking and Writing About the Holidays and the New Year. Share your traditions, weigh in on a seasonal debate, write a creative story or reflect on the year behind you while ...