Traditions

The Christmas Season is Here!
 For as long as I can remember, when December 1st rolls around, the rest of my world takes a back seat to the smells, sounds, sights, scheduling and preparations of Christmas. Bring it on baby! I LOVE it! I have vivid memories of helping my mom when I was younger decorate our house. I can still smell the scent of bayberry that wafted from the newly opened box that sat on the floor. My small hands, lifting out a pair of candles that were ensconced in the most beautiful burgundy and green glasses that I had ever seen, gently placed them on the table in the Living Room. I can feel the cold green or red lightbulbs beneath my fingers as I went from room to room to turn the candles on that were placed in each window.( I also vividly remember how scared I was the one year that the bulb exploded in my hands as I was turning it and I never wanted to touch one of those again…I got over it) Year after year, box after box, house after house (we moved around a lot), I knew that the scene would be the same and FEEL the same. I give all the credit to my parents who created and carried through traditions with us as we were growing up. They were not elaborate  nor did they cost a lot of money. It STILL feels the same as we gather at my mom and dad’s house to decorate their tree, all now with our own families and unpack the boxes while reminiscing about each ornament as it is unwrapped…”Who has the throw up elf? Was it Meg or Wendy that threw up all over that poor elf years back?”…”Oh my gosh look what I made in 2nd Grade!”…”Why are we still hanging this ornament on the tree, it is so ugly”…”Remember when Grandma Howey made these ornaments?”Of course that very special  magic of being a child at Christmas has changed but we can still create our own magic and we can use the experiences that have gone before us to be that magic’s launching pad; Traditions!
I know that I wrote in an earlier blog that I have boxes of decorations that have traveled with me from my younger years, through college (come on…you had to have a decorated dorm room while watching Rudolph and drinking every time his nose blinked…I did go to school in DC and 18 was the legal drinking age mom and dad) and are still with me today. While most of them have grown much larger, I still have a couple of my original shoe boxes that are filled with mementos of my decorating past. I did have to throw away the wax candles in the shape of little choir people last year because the attic temps were not good for their appearance. But most of my my treasures have survived over the years and my kids have been able to pick through them and put what they like in their rooms.
 This brings me back to those traditions that have been created for us or that we add to and then bring into our own families.  Those sensory images that I have of  Christmases past create warm, pleasant memories that make me want to repeat them for my own family.Why not hinge your cart on the good feelings of the Christmas season to add a special element to the days of your family? I have tried to do this so that my children would be able to feel the difference when December comes marching in (much more quickly than it felt like when I was a kid).
Below I will give you some ideas of how we have added a special element to our Christmas season. You too might do some of these things with your own family already or you might want to incorporate one or two of them to create “new” traditions!
We start off with the weekend after Thanksgiving where the whole family is inundated with the Christmas music that I have put on throughout the house. They have all been reminded the day before that tomorrow is the day we take down the large and numerous Christmas boxes from the third floor. When “tomorrow”comes, they bound out of their beds with much enthusiasm and yell, “We have waited for this the whole year! Let me take down the first box!” They are so excited!!!
Okay…I embellished a little bit…well actually… I told a big fat lie! They moan and groan and do anything in their power to avoid the task at hand. I find them doing all sorts of things they have not done in weeks. “But mom, you told me that I had to practice my guitar,””but mom, I have to feed the goats”, “I have this really big essay due in two weeks and I better get started on it now!”All activities that usually take a tremendous effort to get them to do on their own accord have all of a sudden become the pressing activity that has to get done this very moment. Well I admit that this “tradition” does meet with resistance but before we know it, all the boxes are in their proper room, the Christmas music has lifted our spirits a bit and we have reinforced that age old idea of “look how much more quickly we accomplished this goal when we worked together!” “Mom you are so weird!” they say in unison.
Never the less, I continue…
At the end of November, I start by creating a list of the 25 days of Christmas. On this list, I assign an activity or a theme day according to what is going on in our family calendar as well as the local television schedule. We are not a huge TV family but I do go nuts over “A Charlie Brown Christmas”,”A Year without a Santa Clause”, “Santa Clause is Coming to Town.” etc….I think you catch my drift. (My children can not get over the fact that when I was growing up, I had to catch the special the one day a year that it was shown. I could not put a DVD in the disc player and wa la…watch it 22 times!) So after I go over the list of Christmas specials and the movies that we have, they might be incorporated into an activity.
 I keep each list from year to year so I can pull from this year and take from that year and then add new events or activities. Day 1 might read; “Shrek the Halls” by watching the movie and then decorating  your bedroom. Day 2;  Put all your names in a hat and pick each other as a Secret Santa. Do special things for that person that you picked. I then write those activities on a slip of paper and put them in a little house that I have just for that purpose that has little drawers in it.
I have also made a Christmas Activity Countdown Chain to hang up. I used gift tags that were snowflakes and glued them to a piece of card stock. I then wrote the numbers 1-25 on clear vellum tags with metal edges and tied them together with string of which I hung over a long length of decorative ribbon. I  created a card for each day with the activity written on it and glued a small envelope to the back where the slips of paper would go. The kids could not wait to get home and be the first to pull the strips of paper out to see what we would be doing!
 Another idea would be to decorate an envelope for each day and have the kids pull the slip out of that. You can get as elaborate as you want or do it very simply. The idea is to generate some excitement for something special to happen each day. The activity can be very simple, from reading a Christmas Story before bed, making or having a snack that is centered around the theme, making a craft, or as complex as making a Gingerbread House together.
As I mentioned, some of the activities can be based around a theme. For example, I might pick reindeer and call it “Reindeer Day.” I have a box of the kids old Christmas papers and art projects and I pull out all the reindeer ones and hang them on a bulletin board I have in the kitchen near the kitchen table. (I have also taped the pictures to a glass sliding door in my old house that was also near the kitchen table) We might make reindeer food that day out of oatmeal and a little glitter so that the reindeer can see their treat by the sparkle that comes from the glitter and the light of the moon. You can package the food in simple brown paper bags that the kids have decorated and labeled with the names of the kids who will be in attendance on the night Santa comes.
Let me tell you that many a hysterical conversation has been generated by bringing this old artwork out again! Creates great dinner conversation! Our youngest, who is is 10, attends a public school which unfortunately does not allow the little ones to celebrate Christmas but instead “Winter”,  so his Elementary school artwork has been limited on that front, but let me not digress, that is a topic for another blog! “
We have done Christmas Tree Day…guess what that activity was????
Candle Day…where we put the candles in the windows like when I was little and where we set up our Advent wreath, which we light to count down the weeks before Jesus’ birth. He is the reason for the season isn’t he?
You can get as creative as you want and as your schedule allows! Some ideas for adding a festive atmosphere to the whole month of December are as follows: pick one, two,or three and meld them to make them your own.
-Santa Day where you write letters to Santa and if your kids are older, be a Secret Santa to someone who needs something special in their life!
-Candy Cane Day where you dip candy canes in hot chocolate or in melted chocolate and let dry on wax paper. They make great stirrers for hot drinks.
-Gingerbread Day where you can do anything with Gingerbread!
-Gather the troops and sleep under the lighted Christmas tree.
-Decorate a tree outside for the birds with peanut butter or lard covered pinecones sprinkled with birdseed. String popcorn and cranberries to adorn the tree as well.
-Have the kids go through all their toys and clothes and package up what they do not need or want and purchase a new toy as well. Bring to a church, homeless shelter or somewhere else where they can be well used.
-Make up a gift list with the kids of gifts that they would like to either make or buy and who they would like to give them too instead of only making a list of what they want.
-Polar Express Day where you drink hot chocolate snuggled under blankets while watching the movie or reading the book.
-For a special treat, you can try to get tickets for a play or an event going on in your town that you can all attend.
-Drive through a lighted Christmas display, live nativity or an area of your town where people love to put up lights.
*Some of your activities can be based around things that are on your To-Do List where they can actually be helping you cross things off your list while having fun.
-Baking Day (self explanatory but make it fun with Holiday music, extra dough that they can play with etc)
-Wrapping Day where all the gifts that are to be given to others can be wrapped. We have all the kids wrap their little gifts to each other on the same day. They all dive into the wrap, tape, ribbon and go to different rooms to wrap and then they put their gifts under the tree.
-Card Party…ha…this one is tricky to get them to buy into. They usually like to stamp, glue or stick anything on anything so use those skills to get the job done!
Now you might ask…who has time for any of this??? and does it really matter? I say anyone does… and YES! Yes, it takes a little planning and sometimes my 25 days before Christmas are the 20 days before Christmas by the time I map it out. Some years are busier that others so sometimes the activities are well planned out in advance and sometimes they are done at the spur of the moment with what works for us in the amount of time that we have together that night. Whatever you can fit in makes the season that much more! More laughter, more time spent together, more memories to make! As my children have grown, it certainly has become more challenging to include them in on these traditions with their busy schedules and us going in different directions to accommodate those schedules. It also is challenging to come up with activities that interest them…the truth is that when they are approaching college…Santa, elves, and the likes are not as interesting as some other things going on in their lives. They do still enjoy cookies, candy canes, good movies and wether they want to admit it or not, time with the people who love them, their family (in whatever form that may take.) I have asked my husband in the more recent years…”Why do I still do this? The older boys really do not show much of an interest.” That question was answered by my 16 year old when he walked in the door from school the other day (before I had begun my 25 Days of Christmas after the 1st of December) and asked “Mom, when are you going to do those things that have the Christmas things on them?” WOW!! He had actually taken note that those “things” had not started yet and when I replied that they would start tomorrow, his reply was “good!”
I know that it will be in the near future that some of that magic that comes from believing in a man in a red suit with flying reindeer who comes down your chimney to bring you presents will be absent from our house. But I will continue to wholeheartedly embrace the season! The traditions will carry on in our house, that although changed will focus on the giving of the season, the warmth that is generated by the family gatherings, the decor and festive atmosphere, the Advent season and most of all the reflection of Love!
May you embrace the Christmas season and all that it has to offer, may you reach out to others who might need a “light”in their world and most of all…may you ENJOY those who are closest to you at this time of year!
Merry Christmas!
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