I think it's pretty dang clear that I love Christmas, I mean I've been thinking about it non-stop since October. But sometimes I find myself questioning why it is that I love it so much. It's so easy to get caught up in just the overall feeling of holiday cheer (especially with displays already up in all the stores!), but lately I have been really thinking about the specific parts of the Thanksgiving-Christmas season that make it so special to me. And since it's been taking up so much of my thoughts lately, I figured I might as well share what I come up with here on my blog as part of a Christmas Love Series over the course of the next 39 days (that's how many days till Christmas!). So here we go...
Christmas Love Post #1: Christmas Traditions
I don't know about your family, but growing up we had plenty of things that we did every single Christmas season, the kind of things that always made me feel like it wouldn't be Christmas without doing them. It would always start with Thanksgiving actually, we would wake up, throw some Pillsbury Orange Cinnamon Rolls in the oven, turn on the Macy's thanksgiving parade, and pile into our parents bed to watch it while Mom drank her coffee. Since our grandparents lived about 2 hours north of us in Talkeetna and our family was so big, we would meet later in the day at a Lodge in Wasilla (the halfway point) for our Thanksgiving meal. I was always so excited, especially when my cousins were babies - I couldn't wait to hold them and play with them!
Once it was December we were allowed to start watching our favorite Christmas movies - I think the most watched were Frosty the Snowman and Rudolph the Rednose Reindeer. After playing outside in the snow, we'd come in to have hot cocoa and we would fight over everyone's favorite mug, the one with snowflakes on it (my nephews do the same thing now). We'd put up the tree and decorations in a very organized manner, with my mom carefully unpacking all the ornaments and handing them to us one by one to place on the tree. My favorite ornament was one that my Grandpa gave me, a cute bluejay with binoculars out, "birdwatching" for Santa and his reindeer. I'd always find a special spot on the tree for this one so that the binoculars were pointed out the window. Mom would put up the felt Advent Tree, and we'd each take turns putting an ornament on it each morning.
One evening on the week before Christmas, often Christmas Eve if we didn't have something else going on, we'd drive around to look at all the Christmas lights. Then we'd come home and gather around the tree, where Dad would read the Christmas story from Luke 2. Christmas morning, we weren't allowed to wake up our parents until 7am, and I'm pretty sure that we'd be at their door right on the dot at 7:01. We'd sit in my parents room with mom as she drank her coffee (are you noticing a trend here?), waiting for dad to come back from setting out our stockings. After opening our stockings, we all ate breakfast, usually a bowl of cereal and some orange slices. There was always family over, and as I got older I especially loved when Aunt Connie or Grandpa Wes was here, because they get up early just like me, and I could go sit with them at the table.
Once it was time for presents, the dogs always got the first ones - usually a toy or bone so they could go settle in their beds with their new treats. Then we'd open our gifts, one at a time, in order of age until they were all gone. We'd always be so excited to pick out our gifts to give each other, and it was so fun to actually see everyone open each gift. Once we were done with presents we'd snack from the trays of food mom put out on the table, and then preparation for Christmas dinner would begin in the Kitchen.
Now that we are older and none of us live at home permanently, we don't do a lot of these things. The first few years after I moved out, I would always feel excited for Christmas and then when it would get here, it just wouldn't be as fun as I remembered. I thought maybe it was because I was older and that maybe Christmas just wasn't as fun for grown ups. But then I realized after a year or two that I was mostly just missing those Christmas traditions more than I had every realize. I resolved to carry some of them on in my own home and start a few of our own. This has really helped Christmas to feel a little more special and magical, like it was when we were kids. Now that I have my own child, I am so excited for him to be old enough that we can really get into some of the traditions I've been holding off on.
And because I always love hearing about other people's family Christmas traditions, I thought I'd make a list here of traditions I love to share with you, some of which we will be doing this year and some we will be waiting to start until Riggs is actually able to understand them more.
* Host a cookie or gingerbread house decorating party (or both). I am planning on doing this at somepoint this year, at least with the ladies in my family!
* Deck your halls on the same day every year. We always decorate our tree on either Black Friday (after shopping, of course) or the next day. Doing something the same day each year makes it easier to get excited about!
* Pick a night to drive around as a family and look at Christmas lights in your neighborhood. Most local newspapers publish a list of the best houses each year as it gets closer to Christmas day. Our family always has fun with this - many of the houses are great, but every year there are one or two that make the paper and leave us wondering why. Especially when there's a house right next door with a huge amazing display that wasn't mentioned at all...
* Attend a Christmas play or pageant. We do this some years and not other years, just depending on what we have time to fit in!
* Pick something to have every year for breakfast on Christmas morning. It should be something, Sticky Buns for example, that makes you say "It just wouldn't be Christmas morning without those sticky buns!"
* If you have a pet, get them something special (and entertaining) and let them open it before the rest of the presents. This way they are out of the way, and are actually happy about it. This really isn't an issue when you have small dogs, like our Beau, who is happy to sit quietly in your lap all day. It is very helpful when you have a 75 pound lab puppy who wants to "help" everyone open their presents...lol.
* Give your kids a new ornament every year. My Grandparents have done this for us and it was nice to actually have ornaments for my first tree away from home.
* Go out and search for a tree together as a family. Growing up we always had an artificial tree, but Steve grew up with real trees and he has really good memories of searching for just the right one with his family. Steve and I have been keeping our eye out for a good tree on our property and I have to admit it's kind of addicting and fun!
* New Christmas PJ's wrapped up and opened on the morning you put up your Christmas tree. I have seen a lot of pins about opening new PJs on Christmas eve, which would work if you pick a pair of PJs they can wear all year. For us I think we'll wrap up some Christmas PJs and give them to Riggs when we put up the tree so we can enjoy them the entire month of December.
* Get pictures take of you kids with Santa. We did not do anything Santa as kids (no I never believed in Santa) but for some reason as an adult I've become a little bit obsessed with him and can't wait to get pictures of Riggs with him!
* Record a short video of each child opening a special gift each year. I love this idea so much! How special to look back on how their "method"has changed and how much they and their interests have grown.
* Elf on the Shelf. I am in love with all the magic and excitement that comes with the Elf on the Shelf tradition. We will be starting this one as soon as Riggy is old enough! And there is a whole separate list of Elf traditions that I won't include in this post...
* Christmas book advent. Wrap a different Christmas book for each day from December 1 - 25 and let your children take turns opening one each morning, then gather around the tree to read it out loud. You could get them a new book each day or just slowly add new ones as the years go on. I also like the idea of keeping the holiday books separate from the rest of their books and then getting them out when the Christmas tree goes up and keeping them all in a special basket either in the kids room or the living room.
* Traveling Nativity. I read about this on a blog somewhere and instantly fell in love with the idea. You set up your nativity with the rest of your decorations, but keep baby Jesus somewhere special and hidden and place each of the wisemen somewhere far away from the tree. Each day your kids can take turns moving the wisemen closer and closer, and then on Christmas morning they "arrive" along with baby Jesus (which you put in the manger before your kids wake up).
* Set up a little tree in your kids room just for them to decorate. I love this too, especially if you have a lot of homemade ornaments that your kids are very proud of and you love but don't necessarily want on your main tree.
* Put out cookies/milk on Christmas Eve. This one only applies if you plan on incorporating Santa into your Christmas traditions, of course.
* Specific wrapping paper for each child. I have seen a few variations of this and my mom has even done this in the past, but I love this twist: don't put any tags on the gifts so the kids don't know which gifts are their until Christmas morning, when you reveal "their" wrapping paper by putting a little piece in their stocking. So cute and suspenseful!
* Go to a candlelight service at church. Some churches have these on the Sunday evening before Christmas, and some have a special Christmas Eve service, either way I recommend trying to make it to one!
This has been a very long post but there are just so many fun Christmas Traditions! Please share any that I may not have listed that are special to your family or that you plan on incorporating this year.