By Tracy Lane
It’s our first Christmas in a new house, in a new city, in a new state, 20+ hours away from everyone we love. As December approaches, I’ve wondered if it will even feel like Christmas this year. I’m already missing my mom hosting us for Christmas cookie making, our annual visit to the downtown tree with a dear friend, and the office parties we are accustomed to.
My oldest asked me, “Mom, when are you making Mimi’s Christmas cookies for us to decorate?” I realized that it’s finally my time to make Christmas especially memorable for my family.
This year, more than ever, I’m realizing the value of the traditions that anchor our family. The traditions that make the lasting memories in whatever house we live in. The traditions that root mine and my children’s childhoods to the lasting warmth of home.
Even though we aren’t in the South anymore, we can still dance to the Garth Brooks Christmas album while trimming the tree. We might not be around my grandma’s kitchen table, but we can paste together graham cracker gingerbread houses with store bought icing around our Pennsylvania kitchen table. We are missing our old friends’ White Elephant party traditions, but we can exchange gag gifts with new friends.
It’s important (and fun!) to practice holiday traditions. Here are some that make our family feel like it’s Christmas. If you’re looking to start adding traditions to your December, try a few this season.
Tree Picking and Trimming
Don’t judge. Every year we get our Christmas tree from Home Depot. The redeeming part is that it is a live tree. My husband holds out various firs for the girls and me to scrutinize in the middle of the retail garden center. At 6 and 4, you know our girls have opinions on how high, how “fat,” and how fluffy our tree should be.
Before this was a 60-degree day activity for us. This year, in our new climate, we shopped in 23 degrees. So there wasn’t much arguing or unnetting. We chose solely by tree height and headed home to hot chocolate.
The unwrapping and hanging of the ornaments adds on hours of fun to this activity. While my husband and I get tree leaning straight in front of our big front window, the girls peel paper towel wraps off decades of memories.
-My Mama’s red bird and globe from her annual artificial tree. My girls only know her from my memories, and I get to recount them over again each Christmas season.
-Mine and my husband’s first Christmas together picture (How were we so young?!)
-Their baby handprints and scribbled candy cane from Mother’s Day Out
This is our favorite way to kick off the Christmas season: reminiscing about Christmases past while delighting in the present memories we are making.
Everyone loves a good countdown to Christmas. As a child, I cut out red and green paper strips to link together for a homemade countdown chain. Each morning my brother and I argued over whose turn it was to tear off that day’s link. My girls enjoy the paper chains too. It’s an easy craft they can do independently now. Here are 15 other ideas that are a little craftier for your budding artists.
We also enjoy focusing on the Christmas story during Advent. My girls have loved this interactive Advent guide with daily reading and card hanging. It’s so easy. I don’t even have to think about it and we just do it! Right now the site is offering a free download too. There’s still time to join the storytelling.
Baking Christmas Cookies
Of course the calories in cookies don’t count in December. So mix up a batch of cookies for your little ones to decorate. Here’s the homemade recipe for sugar cookie dough. The kids can roll it out and cut into shapes. This is a great snow day or Christmas break activity. It could easily provide an entire afternoon of fun from the mixing to the decorating.
Matching Christmas Pajamas
Every Christmas Eve, we unwrap one gift. Everyone knows that inside the box is a new pair of Christmas PJs to wear while we sleep tight waiting for Santa. From your suggestions on our Instagram I got the idea to present this gift of Christmas jammies on the same night we decorate our tree. I think I’ll try that next year so that we get a whole month’s worth of sleeping in those cute pajamas!
Coded Wrapping Paper
Have you ever forgotten whose present was whose after stuffing it under the tree? Or maybe I’m the only one. But since it has happened to me, I’ll share my solution. Early in December, each person in our family gets to choose their roll of wrapping paper. We’re at the point where our girls can’t decide between Elsa or Minnie. Whatever roll they pick is what they know each of their gifts will be wrapped in. We don’t waste money on buying gift tags, it’s an easy way to sort, and it keeps our gift buying in check. Essentially each family member only gets one roll worth of gifts, max.
How do you dive into gift opening? This can be hard to regulate. It’s the moment everyone has been waiting for, but it seems like it ends so fast! We’ve implemented a routine to prolong the sweetness and suspense. One person doles out the gifts into each person’s designated pile. Once the tree is empty, it’s time to open.
We start with the youngest in the room and proceed to the oldest, each person opening one gift at a time. So the youngest opens one gift only while everyone watches. The second opens one gift only while everyone watches. And continue around the room to the oldest. We go through the rounds this way until all gifts have been unwrapped.
It does make the experience last and each gift is savored a little more. How do you open gifts in your house? What traditions do you have?
Traditions are classic and endless. There could be
- parties for hosting
-marshmallows for roasting
-caroling out in the snow
-and what else?
In the end, which traditions you practice doesn’t really matter. What is absolutely important though is that you and your family put these regular markers in place to make special moments together year after year.