I'm a big fan of traditions. For me, they provide something to look forward to and a memory that gets richer with layers. Right now is prime time for me to hog wild (maybe just a little over the top!) and inject the giving spirit into our home.
When you think about it, there's just a little over a month of time between Thanksgiving and the ball dropping on New Year's Eve. So we have a lot of fun to pack into a short timespan.
But also, I have no interest in exhausting me or my family so we pick and choose how to squeeze the best moments from our time together. Here are our current favorite holiday traditions - and I'm always looking to add more!
1. All the Christmas tree-ing together
Whether your tree is real or fake, prepping it and decking it out in all of its finery is a fabulous family tradition. We pack up the entire family, drive an hour in the minivan to arrive at a tree nursery we've really grown to love. They have a great selection of varieties, and we all vote on which tree we want. Then, grabbing a saw from the tool shed, we wander through beautiful rows of tress and decide on the perfect match for our home. We each take turns sawing the tree trunk - it's amazing what a challenge that is!! While the tree is bundled and wrapped, we enjoy a cup of hot cocoa and the rich smell of pine.
2. Gratitude stars
All of our Thanksgiving guests have a little homework to do before they arrive for the party. They receive an email with a printable page of stars upon which they write one person/experience/item for which they are thankful. Each person comes with 3-4 (as well as their names and year on the back) and while the meal prep is going on, we attach ribbons to the paper stars and read one another's as we place these first ornaments on the Christmas tree. Only the white lights and white gratitude stars fill the tree for the first week of Christmas to remind us what really matters in the season.
In a black, leather bound binder, I keep the stars through the years, and I love looking through them and remembering the guests and gifts of years past and seeing how many remain throughout the seasons.
3. Books around the tree
I've been collecting Christmas picture books since I was a girl. So, without having to do the math, let's just say we have dozens of beautifully illustrated holiday stories. Nothing goes under our tree except for these books!! And my children often prop themselves next to the tree, and flip through the magical stories. On the night before Christmas, we read the famous tale, and reading through our favorite stories has become a treasured holiday memory
4. St. Nicholas Day
Do you know the tradition of leaving your shoes out for St. Nicholas to fill? On the evening of Dec. 5, all five of us put out a pair of our shoes by the fire. Why? As the legend of St. Nicholas is told, on his feast day (Dec. 6), he visits all the children of the world, for whom he had great affection, and leaves them surprises in their shoes! I've heard of gold chocolate coins and silly socks being some of the most popular presents in his sack.
5. Advent calendars and countdowns
The great waiting until Christmas dat is all part of the fun! We use Advent calendars to build up the drama and to prepare our hearts. We have chocolate calendars to eat our way through the season as well as a calendar with jokes for each day! The printable village box calendar featured above from The Land of Nod is our latest, and it's just the right size for a small and special treats each day.
6. Light tours and hot cocoa
Do you have a park with a special light display or a neighborhood that has channeled the spirit of Clark Griswold? Make an event of it. We have a few neighborhoods that join together to put on a light show worth driving through. We stop off for hot cocoa and cookies at a local restaurant, and we dedicate an hour of one evening to pumping up the volume onChristmas carols and driving slowly through the streets. We began when our oldest daughter was in the backward facing baby seat, and we now have all three children ooohing and ahhing from their big kid chairs (sob, sob). What flicks make your list?
7. Invest big in the holiday movie
What a better time of year to be cozy inside watching the great Christmas movies? Around here, it's bitter cold and always snowy so we warm up the fireplace and snuggle under the covers for our list of must sees. For us that includes, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, Elf, Polar Express, and the original How the Grinch Stole Christmas. And once the kids have gone to bed, my husband and I break out It's a Wonderful Life, and I still cry every time George Bailey returns back to Bedford Falls.
8. Nativity helpers
We are a house of many Nativity sets, our largest is near life-size! Next to that set we keep a carved, heart-shaped bowl, filled with red and green string for our children to use to make a cozy manger. When family members are helpful and especially kind to one another, we put a string in Jesus's manger to keep him warm and soften his rest. We began this tradition when the children were toddlers and have kept it up. Sweet and simple.
9. Late night date night shopping
I saved my favorite for last!! Here's a secret tradition of mine. I put off Christmas shopping until the last minute - intentionally!
Three years ago, Christmas snuck up on us. I know, it's the same time every year, but we were so immersed in the daily stuff that planning for something even two weeks away seemed luxurious and frankly, impractical.
My husband and I had our social and professional calendars booked. When were we going to have time to shop for Christmas? In exhausted exasperation, we added a date for shopping after his office Christmas party.
On the evening of the office party, we donned our holiday duds (and even smelled good!) and we whisked off together, wonderful babysitter safely watching over the den for the duration. At the cocktail reception, we mingled with couple after couple, making conversation about one another's holiday plans. "Are you ready for Christmas?" we were asked over and over.
Funny enough, whether we were caught by surprise or not, it was coming - Christmas was coming. In the din of jovial conversations, I remembered the wonder of the season. I was struck by the silly and temporal nature of my worries as I explained over and over that we were behind on our preparations. You know how sometimes hearing yourself say something makes you realize just how ridiculous you are?
That we hadn't (gasp!) shopped for Christmas.
And although I was stressed by all that I had to do, I felt a glimmer of hope that no matter what was still left in boxes or unchecked off the list, Christmas was still coming. Christ's birth would still be celebrated - and in full force at our house.
I watched my husband explain to his colleagues, in good humor, how we were going out AFTER the party to begin our Christmas shopping.
We left the party, laughing together.
At 9pm, we were the best dressed shoppers. With barely a soul around, you could hear our heels and dress shoes, as we meandered the aisles - he pushing the cart and me with my arm wrapped through his - strolling and talking about our life together, our children, and the joy of the season.
It was that moment right before you turn over the snow globe, when everything stands still just for a little while. We slowed down the world and remembered the family we have built and the love that we share.
All the gifts were purchased. Checklists completed.
And Christmas did in fact come.
What makes your holidays season magical? Add your traditions in the comments section!!