by Michelle Hodnett
Project Dojo is a nonprofit community outreach program in Pueblo, Colorado, that works with at-risk children. Through the power of martial arts, Project Dojo seeks to inspire and motivate kids within a safe environment, while continuing to teach the traditions of martial arts. This is an article of Project Dojo co-founder Michelle Hodnett’s experiences on holding Dojo Christmas Parties.
‘Tis the season to be jolly! Be sure to let your community know during on-the-mat announcements that you will be holding a Christmas Dojo Party. Utilize your existing community by having an instructor and volunteer parents run the pot luck, crafting stations, face painting, and selling merchandise. Another black belt or volunteer should be taking pictures of the event for Facebook. (Note: make it clear to attendees that pictures from the event will be posted online. Most people will not have any objection, but it’s something you need to clarify. You may also consider having image use waivers signed, or posting a sign on the door at your party that says something to the effect of, “By attending, you agree that (YOUR DOJO NAME) can use pictures from this event which may include you on their Facebook page.”)
Start advertising Christmas Party Potluck:
Get a flyer going! Make sure you advertise this event. Get families and siblings into the dojo to draw new business.
Ask everyone to bring a dish! Get a list going a few weeks prior so everyone knows what people are bringing. You’d be surprised how many people have family sacred Christmas food recipes that are perfect for a potluck that they are thrilled to share. Our families take their homemade enchilada recipes very seriously in every dojo Christmas party we’ve had. You can even bring a dish or two – trust me, every kid is curious to see what kind of food their sensei can cook! The best part of potluck is you don’t have to pay for catering which gets expensive.
A quick note about food safety: Some of your students and their friends/parents may have food allergies of which you are unaware, and it is likely impossible for you to keep track of the dietary restrictions or preferences of every attendee at your party. The best solution is to ask that, if people bring food, they also provide a list of ingredients to be set out alongside it. Also on the table, you should set out a note that says something to the effect of, “Food has been provided by volunteers, not (YOUR DOJO NAME). If you or your children have food allergies, please verify the ingredients in the dish before eating it.”
Let your parents’ creativity shine! You’ll find that most parents are creative individuals who are happy to use their talents to run an arts and crafts table at your event. One basic craft anyone can do is to help kids make candy cane reindeer, use red or brown pipe cleaners, googly eyes, and red felt noses. Ask your parents for other ideas that are fun and exciting Christmas crafts for the kids to do.
Have a parent or older student leader run a face painting booth. Snowmen were a favorite for the boys and snowflakes with glitter were a favorite for the girls. If you have a large student body and only a few volunteers, save time by setting out a list of face-paint options for kids to choose from rather than letting everyone come up with their own.
Kids love to wear ugly Christmas sweaters! We asked everyone to wear their ugliest Christmas sweater and we had over 35 children show up in ugly elf sweaters. It looked like Santa’s workshop with elves walking around the dojo enjoying the festivities. We have also done pajama Christmas parties, which are also fun.
If you don’t already have one, it’s a good idea to build a demo team within your school. Your Christmas party is the perfect time to showcase those certain high rank kids that you train every Friday in routine. Three to five students normally perform a Project Dojo Demonstration with martial arts, acrobatics, weapons, and dance. Parents, friends, and family love to be entertained. It’s also a valuable chance to show current parents and potential new students what skills your dojo teaches.
Have your students take a silly photo together, like this "Christmas tree."
Free Toy Give Away:
If you are planning to a Christmas gift giveaway you will need a Christmas tree. We found an inexpensive, pre-lit Christmas tree for decoration. Every year, we ask parents to buy one $5 unwrapped gift to put under the tree. Each child in attendance gets a gift at the party. If you plan making it an open-to-the-public event, you may need to bring several gifts yourself. Dollar stores are great resources here: for $20 dollars, you can get almost as many small gifts to ensure no one goes home empty-handed.
Again, if you have a lot of students, and especially if you cater to a low-income demographic and have parents who are unable to spend $5 on a toy, you may need to ask for donations. One year the metropolitan detention center in Albuquerque, New Mexico, donated over 65 presents left over from their Christmas toy give away. Sometimes corporations with toys are willing to give. One year we had a moving truck company donate dish boxes, and we wrapped them up and placed them in three Applebee’s locations and had several employees donate.
Have children line up in single file to receive gifts. A few volunteers can help the children pick out a toy one at a time.
Book an Entertainer:
If you have it in your budget, book a Santa. If you want to go above and beyond in successful Christmas party that people will talk about for years then hire professional Dickens Carolers. The singing group from’ Upon a Star Entertainment’ gave an outstanding live singing performance. We had requested Carol of the Bells and the whole room was thoroughly satisfied and in good Christmas spirit. We still have parents buzzing about how over-the-top the party was. Hosting a Christmas dojo party is a super morale booster for the students and their families.
Michelle Hodnett is the co-founder of Project Dojo. She is a third-degree black belt with over 15 years experience as an instructor.
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