Here are a list of ideas for things to do in December leading up to Christmas. Some of these we do, or have done, and some I hope to do as the kids get older. More details can be found on my Massive Christmas Ideas list on my lists page.
Watch Christmas Movies: I started collecting a list of movies, and they can be found on my Christmas Ideas List. Let me know if I'm missing any great ones! We love watching movies - our Christmas tradition for the past few years has been to watch 'Love Actually', but that's not exactly appropriate for children... I thought maybe one year (when both girls are old enough to stay up late every night) we could do a movie advent calendar and watch a different movie each night.
Advent Calendars: There are a million different ideas for advent calendars to use through the month of December, and there are a lot I'd like to try at least once. I especially like the type that includes an activity for each day like making cookies or chocolates, drinking hot chocolate or making Christmas decorations. There is a more complete list on my idea list also.
Other activities that could go with an advent calendar, or just on their own include making Gingerbread houses, driving around looking at Christmas lights, going Christmas caroling, doing a Christmas scavenger hunt.
While I was looking for ideas, I came across a few awesome and unique ideas that I really want to try sometime. They included:
- Bake cookies with friends and deliver them to a nearby fire department or police department. My church did something similar to this one year, and it was great! It never occurred to me to do this personally in your neighborhood, but what a great idea! I found this idea at Heart of a Homemaker.
- A Reading party! I know this is nerdy, but you invite a bunch of friends and grab a bunch of books and read them all aloud. This reminds me of being in gradeschool and sitting in the Library 'pit' while the Librarian read to all of us. I enjoyed it... This would work for a short chapter book also with older kids. I found that idea at Super Mommy or Not.
- The Mini-Van Express - you hide 'golden tickets' in your children's bed one night for a Pyjama-clad journey to drive around the city looking at Christmas lights. I love the surprise aspect of this idea - so much fun! I found this idea at Confessions of a Homeschooler where they suggest also coming home to drink hot chocolate together. You could also bring travel mugs of hot chocolate... Nummy!
- Practice receiving gifts. This isn't necessarily a really 'fun' idea, but it would be a good way to teach your children how to be and act grateful for items. I read about a family that would play a game that involved giving each other 'gifts' that they found around the house. The receiver would have to say something nice about the gift, and the giver would explain their reasons for chosing a certain item. For example - the giver would choose a piece of ripped paper with blue on it because the receiver loves the colour blue. The receiver would say 'Thank You' and say they loved the shape of the rip, or that they couldn't wait to use it to make a collage or something... just an idea. I don't remember where I read this, but if it's you - let me know and I'll link to your website!
I always want to include some kind of donating or charity work around the holidays for my kids to learn that not everyone is as fortunate as we are. I kind of failed on this one this year (and last year...), so hopefully I'll actually do something like this in the future...
Food! There are some baking items that I have done every year (except this year, because I haven't done ANY baking - it kind of stresses me out, I'm so disappointed in myself) but I hope to have a few things that people can count on me for.
I just posted my Massive Christmas Ideas list on my lists page. Lately I've run across a few posts my Moms who say that having a long 'to do' list at Christmas time only stresses them out more. I understand how that could happen, but I am not one of those people. Lists keep me going, and although I always try to get everything done, I'm ok with it if I don't. And in the meantime, I think I find it happily distracting!
If you happen to be one of those people who is more stressed out by lists, I would advise not reading mine... :)
Here are some of my notes (and photos, of course!) about some traditions we've begun and would like to continue surrounding decorating the Christmas tree.
First, I have no rule about any time being 'too early' to set up the Christmas tree. If the mood hits, I'd like to just jump in full force, however, I understand most would call me crazy for that, and Christmas decorations SHOULD be special for Christmas, so I tell myself no earlier than November 1st. And absolutely no later than halfway through November... Just a note that in Canada, we celebrate Thanksgiving in October, so after Halloween, the next holiday is Christmas.
Brian and I typically don't plan this ahead, but in the future we will have to. We will pick a day to decorate the tree so that we can have hot apple cider, a box of chocolates and Christmas oranges ready to snack on. We will listen to Christmas music - possibly even on vinyl, provided we are still set up for it, and pull out all of our decorations.
A friend of mine told me about her plans to purchase a Christmas tree ornament for each of her kids each year so that by the time they move out, they already have at least 18-20 ornaments to put on their own Christmas trees. I loved this idea, and have so far done the same thing. I bought them late this year, but it would be a fun tradition to have these ornaments wrapped for the kids to open the day we decorate the tree.
This is the one I bought Clara last year.
These two I bought this year. I usually don't care about birthstones (because I never liked mine), but I thought about the girls' when I chose these angels. Clara's is topaz (light blue) and Audrey's is Opal (kind of a pearly-pink). When I brought them home I let Clara look at them and choose which would be hers and which Audrey's, and she chose the blue one for herself, which is good because that's how I'll remember which is who's!
This one doesn't come across as pink in the picture, but it's a bit of a pearly-opaly-pink.
While the girls are small, we won't try to have our special Christmas tree/piano photo shoot necessarily on that day, but in the future this might be a fun thing to incorporate as well. I'm sure that as they get older it will only get harder to find days to do these things, so planning them all on one day might be the easiest thing to do.
I process information by writing. This year I have spent a lot of time thinking about and processing my thoughts on Christmas traditions including Determining Our Priorities, and thinking about the Christmas Traditions We Grew Up With.
Here are some of the things we've done so far - things I would love to see become traditions.
Setting Up The Christmas Tree
This year, we set up the Christmas tree during the first week in November. Just to note, in Canada Thanksgiving is celebrated in October, so after Halloween on October 31, Christmas is the next thing to decorate for. I'm a fan of enjoying Christmas decorations, because I'm kind of obsessed with white mini-lights for as long as possible and I find Christmas decorations a bit depressing in January which pretty much requires me to set up my tree as early as possible.
The day we set up the tree is typically the first day we put in Christmas CD's - we have a lot of these. We clean the house and reorganize the furniture to make room for the tree. Then we dig out all the decoration boxes from under the stairs and 'deck the hall' as it were. We have at times included 'Christmas-y' drinks, Christmas (Mandarin) oranges, cookies and chocolates in this day, and plan to make an even bigger deal out of the 'tree day' in the future when both girls become more interested and able to help with everything.
We are both pretty big Movie 'buffs', and have had a few movies that we almost always watched around the holidays. For years, we watched 'The Family Man' every Christmas, and then started watching 'Love Actually' around the holidays as well. These movies are both too old for kids, but we look forward to choosing a few holiday classics to watch every year with them, and expanding that list as they get older. This year we watched 'A Muppet's Christmas Carol' with Clara, and a few nights ago (after Clara was in bed) we watched Gremlins. Christmas classic! :)
Brian has spent a great deal of time playing with photography equipment, and takes a pretty good amateur photo. Last year, when Clara was dressed in her Birthday dress, he took a few shots of her at the piano and next to the Christmas tree. They turned out beautifully.
This year, I decided I wanted to make this a 'tradition', and we set both girls up for a few shots at the piano and next to the tree again.
Yes, they're wearing matching dresses...
Then it became silly, but that's ok :)
Seriously, this is what she does if you ask her to smile... so funny!
Christmas Eve Church Service
As I talked about in my 'Priorities' blog post, we decided a few years ago to make the Christmas Eve service at our church our first priority. Regardless of where we are on Christmas Eve, we will be heading to church for about 7pm to join our church family for the evening.
When my husband and I were married, I knew that filling stockings wasn't something he had a lot of experience with from his childhood. I gave him a list of instructions for filling a stocking. They began like this...
1. There must ALWAYS be an orange in the toe of a stocking. Or else the stocking could malfunction and eat all of the chocolate.
2. There MUST be chocolate...
The rest of my stocking list (it's mostly a list of ideas) can be found here. I've added to it over the years...
I almost forgot about baking, because I haven't done ANY baking this year. That makes me sad... In the past, I have done a TON of baking and 'Wowed' everyone at Christmas gatherings by my fun and intricate cookies and treats. I probably won't be doing any 'Wowing' this year... maybe next year...
That's our list so far - later in the week, I'm planning a post on all of the great Christmas ideas I've come across and hope to possibly include in our own traditions as the years go by.
What are your favourite Christmas traditions? What traditions would you like to 'make your own'?
Some of the Christmas and holiday traditions we remember from our childhood are:
Brian's family annually attended the Christmas concert put on by a nearby Bible School - the Bible School we attended, actually. Interestingly, we went for a few years before and while we attended this school, but haven't much since.
My family made a pretty big deal out of decorating the house - despite my Dad's grinchy grumblings. We typically found a time when we could all decorate together, listened to Christmas music, and set up and decorated the tree and any other lights or decorations. Neither Brian nor I grew up with 'real' Christmas trees, so they were often set up at least a few weeks ahead of time.
Christmas recitals and concerts are a pretty important part of Christmas for me - whether through piano, or our church. We have always attended anything we could that involved our friends or family. Especially if they were free!
When it comes to gifts...
This was probably the biggest deal in my family, and my parents went all out to spoil us at Christmas time. We always got up on Christmas morning and opened stockings first. Our stockings were always filled to the brim and sometimes each stocking even had a bag hanging next to it for 'overflow'. I grew up believing there were certain 'rules' involved in stuffing stockings - you can check out my stocking rules and idea list here. Brian's family either didn't do stockings, or didn't make a big deal of them - they would include maybe a few pieces of candy, or a gift card but nothing else. This is definitely one tradition I plan to take from my family!
It was common for me to unwrap a small gift on Christmas morning and find a note with a clue that led me on a treasure hunt to find a gift hidden in another part of the house. This was always used for items that would be too big or too awkward to wrap and put under the tree.
In addition to wrapping small notes in place of large objects, it became tradition to disguise gifts in other ways as well. My Mom did this by putting a small film canister (remember those) filled with rice inside a gift to hide any other 'shaking noise', or to create a 'shaking noise' in a gift that didn't make a sound just to confuse us. My brother and I took this to the extreme sometimes, finding elaborate ways to wrap gifts to make them completely unrecognizable for what they were. I still think this is fun - I've always been a 'shaker' of gifts - but this year we will begin the 'tradition' of hiding the Christmas gifts until the night before Christmas. With a toddler, we don't feel as though we have any other option. I have an Aunt and Uncle who still keep their gifts hidden until all of their teenaged boys are asleep, and then they pile them all under the tree. I think this is cool too, so I don't know which one we'll end up doing later on.
My husband has one set of Grandparents who live on an acreage with a long driveway. It is their tradition to take a walk to the end of the driveway after every holiday meal, before they open gifts. This is a neat way to get at least a little bit of exercise while socializing with family - all of our other gatherings are in the city, which makes going for a walk more difficult... maybe we can try to incorporate a walk such as this into our tradition - even after we are no longer meeting on the acreage.
There are some things that neither Brian nor I experienced growing up - any kind of alcohol, considering our Mennonite heritage. We would like to always have wine at our Christmas meals, however... and every other event we can possibly sneak it in to! :)
Also, the Mennonite spice is salt, and Mennonites around here stereotypically don't like change - as much as I love my Grandparents, and with all due respect, our holiday meals have been exactly the same since the dawn of time I was a child. I wouldn't mind hosting some meals with a little bit more spice, and a little bit of experimentation. My husband and I both love to cook, and we both love trying out new recipes!
I have put a lot of thought into 'Christmas Traditions' in the past couple of years. Starting my own family has made me evaluate which 'traditions' I would like to carry on for my children.
Brian and I both come to the table with our own set of traditions and expectations. Both of us are the oldest in our families (and extended families), our families almost all live nearby, and most of our extended families were still in the habit of celebrating Christmas on 'the day', or as close to Christmas Day (the 25th) as possible. Now that we have 5 or 6 family gatherings, plus friends and church activities to schedule into that week, we have really had to evaluate our priorities.
Our first priority, we have decided, is to teach our children about the 'real meaning' of Christmas (the Christian one, not the pagan sun holiday). This is difficult, because we realize many of our traditions are decidedly 'un-Christian' - setting up a Christmas tree, giving each other a ridiculous number of gifts, excessive gluttony... however, we do hope to make every effort to teach our kids about that first coming of 'Baby' Jesus, and so our number one priority is our Christmas Eve church service. A few years back we announced to every family that no matter where we were on Christmas Eve, we would be leaving in the early evening to go to church.
Our second priority (when it comes to scheduling), is to make sure we have a chance to make our own traditions as a small family, and for me right now this means we need to dedicate a full day to our family (Brian, Me, and the girls) at Christmas time. A day when we can sit in our PJ's and open stockings and presents together, play games, watch movies, or do whatever we wish as a family. Since our plan is to attend a Christmas Eve service every year, it makes sense to me to try to plan 'this day' for the 24th. Of course I won't be too strict about which day this happens, because Christmas is also all about spending time with family - and we have a LOT of family - so it will be important to try to be flexible as well.
Our third (and fourth) priorities are our parents. They are both newly Grandparents (since Clara was born), and they are both working on figuring out their own traditions as far as 'being Grandparents' goes, so we want to give them as much as we can here. Because the 25th is usually the 'sought after' day, we will probably spend it with one set of parents, and maybe the 26th with the other... whatever days they choose, we have informed our parents that we will spend a full day (if they wish) with each set.
In the future, Brian and I would like to pick up our old tradition of hosting a New Years Eve party at our house. We still usually have a friend or two over to eat and play games (we're not big 'party' people anyway), but in the future we'll invite more families and make more of an event out of it like we used to.
As much as we love our Grandparents, they get our leftovers as it were. We will do everything we can to see all of our families around the holidays - which also means prioritizing families that come in from out of town. So far we haven't done any traveling over the holidays - if we did, we would probably have to re-think some of these things.
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