Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Our Christmas Traditions

Shaggy and I used to spend a lot of time talking about what traditions we wanted to have in our little family.  But now our family is not so little anymore and our traditions are fairly stable.  Though they do fluctuate some from year to year--sometimes they get changed or forgotten, sometimes we toss in a new one just to spice things up.

Christmas is golden when it comes to traditions.  No holiday or event is looked forward to with such an abundance of delicious anticipation.  The kids don't need advent calendars to keep track of how many days until Christmas, it seems to be hardwired into their brains as soon as December rolls around.

First, of course, comes the decorating.  I have to be honest and say that pulling all the ornaments out and setting up the tree is not my favorite thing to actually do.  But I love it once it's done
I love how excited the kids get as they become reaquainted with beloved favorite ornaments.  And I love how my house looks so cheery and festive and colorful with everything set up.
This year, I learned something new.  How to take bokeh pictures of the lights on my tree.  It involved aperture and manual focus and blah, blah, blah (I know, this is not a photography tutorial!).  Anyway, it's such a perfect way to capture the spirit of the season.

At some point in the weeks that follow setting up the tree, I drag my kids to go take a photo with Santa.  Since I'm being honest in this post, I have to say that this is not their favorite tradition.  Except for R who absolutely adores going to visit Santa.  She will talk his ear off about what she wants for Christmas and how much trouble her baby sister causes and what kind of dance she is going to do for him.  She is our social butterfly.
I could document our family's expansion with Santa photos.  I have one from every year since K's first Christmas.  I am so overly fond of Santa photos that I even love the ones with crying babes.  To my poor children's detriment, I think they are adorable.

Once Christmas gets a little closer, we have a slumber party around the tree.  This is a fairly new tradition, added in the last few years and so is still being shifted and modified to make a good fit.  I think next year, we'll try doing this on their last day of school before Christmas break starts.  To kick off the real Christmas season, when their excitement can go into overdrive because they no longer have to worry about school.
We usually have to rearrange the furniture to make room for all the pillows and blankets and mattresses and stuffed animals and various other sleeping buddies that the kids can't live without.
The dog, naturally, invites himself to this party.  He believes that any blanket or pillow or jacket or various other soft thing that gets left on the floor, is left there for one purpose, and one purpose only.  To provide a more comfortable and cozy spot for him to lie down.  R now regularly provides him with something to cuddle and a blanket to keep him cozy.
Then we put on a recording of "A Christmas Carol."  We always hope that the younger ones will settle in to listen and then drift qietly into dreamland because they don't really understand the story all that well.  But that has yet to happen.  R was just too wound up being there with everyone and once she heard the word "ghost" and realized she was listening to a ghost story (she loves ghost stories), her imagination took over and any hopes for sleep fled.  They all stayed up way too late that night after the recording had ended and were fairly grumpy the next day.  But I like to believe that someday the memories of the whispering and the giggling and the "shhh, someone's coming!" will far outweigh any discord that happened later.
And then, of course, is the gingerbread.  I used to just buy the kits.  Because they were so easy.  But Shaggy invited the challenge of making homemade gingerbread.  Which just about derailed us last year.  But this year I found the most marvelous gingerbread cookie pan that makes perfect gingerbread house pieces.  It will definetly earn its keep through the years.

So I thought it would be fun to have a contest.  Gingerbread cookie vs. gingerbread cake.  Because gingerbread isn't my favorite flavor so I thought maybe I would like it better in cake form with cream cheese frosting. So I headed up the cake team and Shaggy was in charge of the cookie team.  We let the kids decide which team they wanted to help.  K was Shaggy's apprentice and S was mine.  The other kids were mostly opportunists and swarmed around only when they thought they could get some candy in their greedy little mouths.

It was kind of fun and a lot of work.  And I still don't care for gingerbread all that much.  Even with yummy frosting.
So who won?  The original idea was to post two photos on facebook and see which one got more likes, but then we worried about the kids feeling bad and fostering too much competition, so we tossed that idea out and just ate the gingerbread.  But I think that Shaggy's team would have earned a lot of extra votes because his house lit up.  The windows are backwards gummy bears and he rigged a reading light to go inside the house.  Yeah, I never would have thought of that.

But my frosting tasted WAY better.  Neener, neener.
Christmas Eve comes way too slowly for the kids and way too quickly for us.  There's a whole lot of magic to pack in on Christmas Eve.
The highlight for the kids is the opening of a gift.  Typically we let them choose from among the presents that are already under the tree.  But this year they didn't get a choice and we did it a week early. 
Grandma came to visit so we let the kids open the gifts we bought with the money she had sent them.  She had a particularly profitable year with her avocado stocks.  Fortunately.
 Unfortunately, J did NOT like his gift.  Fortunately, he swiftly changed his mind once he realized what it was.  Expectations can be dangerous things.
Then there's our scripture narrated nativity play which, in all likelihood will never have anyone besides Mickey Mouse cast as Joseph.  I don't understand this tradition, but then again, I don't work for the casting department.  And next there is the sprinkling of oats and glitter all over the lawn for Santa's reindeer.  A tradition which only surfaces when we have a child in preschool, since it seems to be a preschool thing.
And there's the Daddy reading of "Twas the Night Before Christmas."  Which is way better than the Mommy reading of the same poem, apparently.
Cookies, milk and a note for Santa.  And when we say cookies, we use the term very loosely.  R was the voice for the note this year.  This is what she said:  Dear Santa, I put reindeer dust on the lawn for the reindeer.  We made muffins for you.  There's m&m's on them.  I hope your reindeer don't stop going in the sky.  I hope your sleigh doesn't try to go down.  Deliver all the presents on time!  I hope you don't crash.  Sometimes people come to your house at the same time.  Santa, our Christmas tree is so beautiful.  Merry Christmas!  Merry Christmas!
She was appropriately thrilled, but not surprised that the "muffins" were gone in the morning.  I have decided that 4 is the quintessentially perfect age for Christmas.  There is just the right mix of awe and faith to make it truly magical to behold.
This is our Christmas Spirit box which got a facelift this year thanks to my newfound appreciation for mod podge.  We bring this out with all the Christmas decorations and fill it up with examples of the Christmas spirit that we notice during the weeks leading up to Christmas.  When we have Christmas dinner on the 25th, we open it and take turns reading all the notes.  I love that we get to focus on this when the craziness of gifts and wrapping is all over and done.  It gives us a chance to remember that it is the giving spirit and faith that really make the Christmas season magical.
Usually, I also like to take either a family portrait or one of just the kids (it all depends on how ambitious I'm feeling) in our Christmas finery.  Some years are finer than others (it all depends on which hand-me-down dresses happen to fit the girls).  This year, portraits of B is as far as I got.  After I had made sure all the kids were clean, and dressed, and combed, and brushed and I had my camera all ready, the kids were so stinking grumpy and uncooperative that I gave up.  Some battles are not worth fighting.

Christmas day will have to wait for a different post.  As will the stories of stitches and spots that made unwelcome appearances during our Christmas merry-making.

1 comment:

Mom said...

I really miss the way Christmas was when you and your brothers were little. Some of your traditions sound familiar and some are wonderfully new and original. I guess I would have to say that mostly I miss the excitement that's in the air at Christmas time when there are little ones around. No more visits to Santa! No more special treats for the jolly old man! No more stockings stuffed with crayons and candy and new toothbrushes! No more children "helping" decorate the tree! (Hence no tree most years.) I hope you always find a way to enjoy the special magic that is Christmas.