Christmas has come and went, and now we are left with the wonderful memories that we have created this joyous season. Christmas is my absolute favorite time of year and I look forward to it all year long, sometimes even turning on Christmas music as early as September. I make lists and mental notes of gift ideas for loved ones and buy gifts all throughout the year to avoid the holiday rush in the malls (and because there are better ways to spend the holidays than in crowded department stores). I buy tickets for holiday events as soon as they are available and my December calendar is filled up by mid November. Holiday cards are sealed and ready to mail by the first week of December and Cookie Exchange invitations have already gone out.
Because we are creatures of habit, we often rely on traditions and our family rituals during the holidays. I love traditions and carry on traditions that I grew up with as well as create new ones with my own family. When I look back, it’s not how big the gift was or how nicely it was wrapped, but the traditions and time spent with my family and friends that puts the biggest smile on my face and gives me hope and anticipation for the next holiday season. I wanted to share with you some of the traditions and rituals that we observe that have proved to make this wonderful time of the year, just that.
Cutting Down Our Own Christmas Tree
This is how we kick off the holiday season every year. We started this tradition when I was still a little girl living with my parents. We would drive two hours into the mountains (because that was the closest place in California to find a Christmas tree farm) and trek around in the snow until we found “the perfect one”. I love how this is so much more personal than just driving to the nearest Christmas tree stand and picking up the first tree you see. We usually do this on the Friday or Saturday right after Thanksgiving because I simply cannot wait another day for Christmas to get started. This year we moved to a new home and happened to discover that we share our backyard fence with a Christmas tree farm! How lucky for us! The tree literally could not have been any fresher; from the ground to our home in less than 15 minutes! Now that our kids are a little older, they love helping us walk around and pick out the perfect tree. This was the beauty we chose this year. A 10 foot Nordmann Fir. This baby stayed as fresh and green as day one for the entire month! We were very impressed with the quality of this tree.
Decking our Halls
I love decorating our home for Christmas and of course I do it at the first opportunity so we can enjoy it for as long as possible. Usually on Thanksgiving, or the day after, I pull out the Christmas boxes and get to work. Lights, garland, stockings, nutcrackers, pine cones, miniature Christmas trees, bowls of ornaments, banners, reindeer, candles, and holiday printouts can be found throughout the house. I like to change it up a little bit from year to year, adding on new ornaments to the tree, changing the framed prints, or just rearranging the mantle and table scape so it doesn’t look identical year to year. But the theme stays the same–sparkly gold and silver EVERYTHING. Yes, I can certainly get tired of cleaning the tables and floors from all the glitter but it is worth it. I love how luxurious and festive all the shimmer looks.
Christmas Movies and Hot Chocolate
After the house and tree have been set up, the Christmas movies make their debut. This one is probably my daughter’s favorite tradition. We make some delicious homemade hot chocolate (with mini marshmallows of course) and head downstairs for some family movie time. Some of our favorite movies are as follows: Home Alone, Home Alone 2, Santa Clause, Santa Clause 2, Elf, Christmas with the Kranks, I’ll be Home for Christmas, and of course How the Grinch Stole Christmas. All of which are rated G or PG which is great because we can all enjoy these as a family. And although Christmas has passed, I will still share my Hot Chocolate recipe with you. This stuff is so delicious, you shouldn’t wait another year (or another day) to try this recipe out! That powdered hot chocolate in your pantry will gather quite a bit of dust once you have a taste of this recipe and see how easy it is to make. It is thick, rich, and absolutely delicious. You can adjust the sweetness with the type of chocolate you use, and a bonus? It takes the same amount of time to make this as it does to microwave the other stuff. Plus, you have so many different options to customize it to your taste! You can substitute the whole milk with 2% to make it lighter, replace the semi-sweet chocolate with milk chocolate (or chocolate of your choice), add in a tablespoon of peanut butter or some crushed peppermint candy at the end, and if you are feeling fearless, replace the chocolate chips with your favorite chocolate truffles. Mmmmmm….
- 1 cup whole milk
- 3 tblsp. cream
- 1 tblsp. cocoa
- 1/3 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
- In a small saucepan over medium heat, combine milk, cream, and cocoa. Stir until cocoa dissolves. Wait until milk heats up a little bit and then add in the chocolate chips, whisking until milk begins to simmer and chocolate chips are completely melted. Pour into a big mug and enjoy with mini marshmallows and a candy cane.
Throughout the month of December, I try to plan family-friendly activities for us to go out and enjoy together. Some of our favorites throughout the years have been the Snowflake Lane in Bellevue, The Nutcracker Ballet (we personally enjoyed the performance by the Evergreen City Ballet a lot more than the Pacific Northwest Ballet and it happens to be more affordable as well), Scrooge, The Musical (may be a little scary for younger kids, but has become one of our favorite activities of the season), and 1st Avenue lights in Federal Way (entrance to neighborhood is at 1st Avenue S and S 300th Place).
I started this tradition with my daughter when she was two years old and have done so every year since. We try to challenge ourselves every year and decorate the house in new and unique ways to outdo last year! This year, I decided to go the extra mile and make everything from scratch. I mixed the dough, printed out templates, rolled the dough, cut it, baked it, trimmed the cookies, made the icing, put it all together, and then we decorated. Yes, it was a lot more time consuming but my daughter enjoyed watching the process and helping me out in the kitchen by measuring ingredients, rolling the dough and just learning about how it’s made along the way. (This was the in-depth tutorial that I used.) This also gave us the opportunity to pick out which house we wanted to build and then print out the templates accordingly instead of just getting precut houses that come in the kit. We decided on these two templates; one for me and one for Bella. There was enough dough from the recipe to make both houses and about 20 gingerbread cookies.
This was our first year doing a wrapping party but I have a feeling it won’t be our last. We got the idea from one of the books we read as a book club, Nobody’s Cuter than You, by Melanie Shankle. The point of a wrapping party is to turn something tedious and boring into a fun social event. Instead of sitting at home and wrapping presents for hours by yourself and dreading it the whole time, you invite your friends to come over and join in on all the fun. Everyone brings their own wrapping supplies and a snack, spreads out, and start wrapping while watching christmas movies, snacking and having a great time. This was definitely more fun than wrapping by yourself and because we were focused, we got almost all the wrapping done in one evening.
Probably my favorite of all traditions is the Candlelight service at Resurrection Church on Christmas Eve. Every year they come up with a new and exciting way to tell the story of Jesus and make sure everyone knows He is the real reason for the season. There is a lot of singing (which I love) and after a short word from the pastor, we light our candles and sing again in closing. It truly is a beautiful service and aids in helping us to slow down amongst the busyness of the season and really ponder the true meaning of Christmas.
Two years ago, we dedicated our son Jaiden to God on the Christmas Eve service and this year was extra special to our family because our daughter sang in the kid’s choir for the first time. Growing up, I remember what a big deal it was to sing in the choir and how we practiced for months before to perfect every song. This year she got to partake in the tradition as well and it brought a big smile to my face to see her up there singing her heart out and praising our savior. When asked what her favorite thing about Christmas is,(besides the presents) she said it was praising God and celebrating His birth. What a blessing!
Christmas Eve Dinner
This one goes back to when I lived at home and traced back even further to when my parents were growing up in Ukraine. It was customary to have a twelve dish Christmas Eve supper (also called the Holy Supper) representing the twelve months. We didn’t always follow tradition in keeping with the twelve meatless dishes (because we loved our protein too much) but there was never a shortage of delicious ethnic food to go around the table. The table was always set in an extra nice manner to mark the special occasion, candles in varying shapes and sizes were lit as the centerpiece on our long oval table. They would burn long into the night as we all sat around talking about past Christmases, traditions, and anticipating the morning to come. I made this delicious Honey Baked Ham for our family this year; prepping it and setting in the crockpot to warm while we were at the Candlelight service. When we returned, the sweet aroma of the ham had already filled the house. All that was left to do was to carve and enjoy. Which we certainly did, and are still savoring this morning.
The big morning we’ve all been waiting for was finally here. I prepped some cinnamon rolls the night before and took them out in the morning when I woke up. By the time we were ready for breakfast, the rolls had risen beautifully and were ready to go in the oven. While they were baking, I whipped up the cream cheese frosting and breakfast was ready. The perfectly indulgent and delicious breakfast for our Christmas morning. Everyone was fully satisfied with their gifts and this filling breakfast.
The kids, as always, got a load of toys, books, and clothes as presents. I got a new camera lens, a few camera accessories I don’t want to bore you with, and a beautiful new purse I’d been eyeing from my husband, among other things. I am so excited to start using and enjoying all of the thoughtful gifts I received, but as far as my kids go, we do things a little differently around here. Although they can unwrap all their gifts on Christmas morning and admire them, they can only un-package one gift per week. It may seem a little harsh to not allow a child to play with his brand new toys, but it works for our family- let me tell you why. (And let me know if this scenario sounds a little too familiar.) They open all 20 of their toys, play with them for two days, then tell you they are bored. They are no longer interested in all their new gifts that they were just so excited to receive only two days earlier. With our system, which was actually introduced to me by my sister, the kids can fully enjoy and play with each one of their new toys for a full week while anxiously anticipating and carefully calculating which toy they will open next. This might not work as well with younger kids but we started this tradition when our daughter was four years old and she has always understood the terms and never complained. I love that just as they are getting bored with one toy, they open up another and it keeps them busy and entertained for another couple days. It’s like Christmas all over again. I should mention that this doesn’t apply to clothes and books, because if it was up to them, those would never even get opened.
So there it is folks, a short (or not so short) re-cap of what Christmas looks like in our home. It is my hope that you will have the opportunity to adopt some of these traditions into your family next year and create new traditions of your own with every year. I am already looking forward to what Christmas will look like next year, and will have this year’s memories to keep me satisfied until then. Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to all of you, from my family to yours!