Our Christmases have changed quite a bit over the years with the various shifts within our little family and cross country moves of extended family members. The where and the how of Christmas is rarely the same each year but that hardly matters. Ive found that a combination of flexibility, knowledge of what really matters, old and new traditions and time management make our holidays great wherever and however they happen.
We have a lot of traditions that I've introduced to my boys and that I make an effort to hold onto each year, but these are the small things that can be accomplished as the days and our schedule allow.
We always make sugar cookies together. I can make up the dough one evening after the boys are in bed and then just leave in the fridge until we're ready to make them. If something comes up the next day and they can't be done, the dough keeps fine until we can. We can also just make the cookie shapes and freeze them to be decorated at another time. This is a tradition that my family had when I was growing up and it's one of those things I was always so excited about, year after year. Time with mom during this busy season is always a treat. I usually try to make these cookies with just one or two children at a time as well because it can get rather hectic. If that's not possible though, then we just make a mess and have fun all together!
As I was writing that last paragraph I got to thinking about the different things I bake each year, and how the cookie lineup is rarely the same. The one thing that has turned into a yearly tradition though without meaning to, are Christmas colored rice krispies for breakfast and to be made into squares. My boys always ask for that cereal this time of year and it always just gets made into squares without any planning from me!
We decorate our tree early, usually about a month before Christmas. I prefer to enjoy the anticipation of Christmas and celebrate it all month long. Once December 31st comes along though, everything is packed up and back in the basement until next year. I could never understand people who kept their decorations up well into January. To me, the Christmas season is December, not January. Our tree is also decorated with almost exclusively handmade ornaments. We either make them ourselves (another tradition) or the boys bring them home from school.
Decorations are something I don't care about very much and therefore prefer to spend my money elsewhere. Our tree was from freecycle two years ago and although it leans and is quite bare in spots, it's lovely once its decorated and it hasn't fallen over yet, despite cats and children! I usually pick up a couple of new things each year, mostly from the dollar store, but this is certainly the last christmasy thing I want to spend money on.
The boys are allowed to stay up late watching Christmas movies. Living in the earliest North American time zone, things come on tv late here. Most of the time a movie will run past their bedtimes, but this is the one time of year that I don't mind letting them stay up. Those precious moments of snuggling on the couch, watching Christmas classics are more important than my quiet evening relaxation time.
We all get new pjs on Christmas eve. I do this strictly for the Christmas morning pictures and there have been some years when the budget hasn't cooperated and so we just make sure to wear matching pjs that night. I care more about paying the bills or giving gifts than I do about spending $50 on pjs for us all.
New this year will be Church on Christmas eve. Because I hadn't attended a church in years, there was never a desire to do so on Christmas eve when it's busy and hectic anyway. But this year, things are different. We do go to church and we are very involved in ours. The bigs will be singing in the service on Christmas eve and it's important for us to remember why we're celebrating in the first place. I've always taught my boys about the real reason we celebrate Christmas but that was on such a lower level than we are doing this year. We're making it the most important part, which is as it should be.
Also new this year is our homemade advent. I've strung ribbon across a dining room wall and hung envelopes for each day. Inside is a treat, possibly a card with an activity written on it (pick out new mugs and have hot chocolate, make a manger for baby Jesus) and our Jesse Tree paper ornaments. Each evening one boy gets to open the envelope, show around the picture and try and figure out how it might be incorporated into the story. Then I read the associated passage from my bible and we discuss, before he gets to hang it on our tree. We used to pass out the candy first, but that proved to be a very bad idea and so now that's the last part. Our advent is such a mixture, but it's ours and hopefully it'll become a fond memory for my boys.
Christmas morning always begins with stockings outside the boys' doors. They are allowed to open these and explore their new treasures that Santa has brought them. At an appropriate hour, we get up and head downstairs as a family where we open gifts together around the tree. Our gifts only have our names on them and they do not distinguish between whats from Santa and whats from Mom. I just find it easier this way. All of my boys still believe in Santa but I don't make a huge effort to encourage it. If they question it, I usually give them a silly answer and laugh. Im not going to adamantly refuse to tell them the truth but Im not going to push the Santa thing either. When they ask about mall Santas, they're told the truth, but in a way that doesn't highlight the lying aspect.
Cinnamon buns and a jello salad usually accompany a large breakfast Christmas morning. This year though, Im going simple and picking up a fruit tray from the grocery store. I have frozen muffins in the freezer if I decide not to make the cinnamon buns and they'll do just fine. All I plan to cook that morning is bacon, because its a treat we don't have often.
New this year is the traditional turkey dinner. Ever since the divorce, the boys have been picked up a little after noon by their father and returned full of turkey in the evening. Because of this, Ive always just gone to my parents, or one of my brothers' houses for my Christmas meal and that's been fine with me! But Christmas this year lands on their regular scheduled visit with their dad and because he would normally pick them up at 5pm on Saturday, that's what he's going to do. It's too bad for the kids because they always enjoy spending the afternoon at their paternal grandparent's house with their cousins, presents and food. So instead Im cooking the dinner myself and Ive planned to have it at lunch time. Jason and Owen will be heading out to spend a few days with Jason's family and because its a four hour drive, they need to be on the road early. So that's just how its going to be this year. Ill have an enjoyable night in the quiet with leftover turkey for my supper!
When my parents lived here we always visited them on Christmas day, usually for brunch. But since they moved super far away, we've been trying out different ways to go about this. The first year, I hosted a Christmas eve party at my house and then a brunch on Christmas day for all my brothers and their families. This turned out to be too much for everyone's Christmas days and has since been dropped. Then we tried the Christmas eve at my brother's house and that was fine, but took up too much of our evening so Im not overly excited to try that again. This year Im sending my nephews home with the gifts for them and their parents when they leave tomorrow (I babysit them). I don't know if my brother has anything for us, but Im sure they'll find a way to get them to us if they do. My bottom line this year is stress-free and focused on Jesus and our own little family.
What are your family traditions?