Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Christmas Traditions

I've always loved the fall and winter holiday season. I love the cooler weather, the cozy darkness, the music, and the yummy smells of baking. Nothing is cozier to me than spending a snowy evening by a warm fire with a book and a cup of tea! But... somewhere along the way I lost all that holiday love. Maybe it was because of the stress of pulling off a "magical" holiday for the kids, or the Christmas stuff on sale before Halloween, or the buy, buy, buy mentality that seems so prevalent these days. Whatever the reason, the holidays have become more stressful than fun to me.

A week before Thanksgiving, I finally had a melt down! I'm a stoic kind of person so Z-man knows that uncontrolably sobbing is a very bad thing. I just let it all out. How all the stress of the holidays always falls on me. How it may be magical for the kids but I had lost the Christmas spirit. How I couldn't live up to the Martha Stewart stereotype of mothers that is so idolized by popular American culture. I just dumped out all of my unhappiness on my poor unsuspecting husband and he, wonderful man that he is, just let me. Let me be sad. Let me unload. Let me cry on his shoulder and ruin his shirt.

Then, he helped. He helped me decide on Thanksgiving recipes, and shopping. He entertained kids and cleaned the kitchen 7 times in 2 days. He helped figure out how to seat 15 people at our house when our table only holds 6. He made the turkey and peeled potatoes and apples and stayed up late waiting for pies to be done so I could get some sleep. I also did my part; I let go. I let go of perfection and stress and trying too hard. I can honestly say that this was the BEST Thanksgiving we've ever had!

We are taking the lessons we learned from Thanksgiving and are applying them to Christmas too. We sat down together and thought about what Christmas means to us and what we want our kids to get out of it. We decided that spending time together as a family was our number one priority and that we wanted to concentrate on celebrating our holiday traditions and create new ones with the kids. So, here is what we currently do for Christmas.

The girls and I bake sugar cookies for Santa and the neighbors a day or two before Christmas and package them in festive tins. On Christmas Eve the kids all get a new pair of Christmas PJs and we drive around the town wearing them, looking at the lights, and singing Christmas carols at the top of our lungs. (badly) Right before bed we read 'The Night before Christmas' and put out cookies and milk for the Big Man.

Zman and I wait for the kids to go to sleep (this can take quite a while!) and then run around like crazy people assembling toys and doing last minute wrapping. I usually throw together a refrigerator coffeecake or an egg dish of some kind for breakfast in the morning. Most years we don't get to bed until midnight, at the earliest.

In the morning we get up at the crack of dawn (kid’s choice, not MINE!) and I put the breakfast in the oven and make coffee and we leisurely open presents. We allow the kids to open any toy they want and play with it until they want to open another present. (We used to make them open all the presents before they could get them out of the packages and play with them but have found it to be more fun, and a LOT less stressful, to just go with the flow.) Zman and I hand out gifts, sip on coffee, take pictures, and try not to fall nod off. At some point in the morning we eat breakfast – either when the presents are done or we take a break in the middle if the kids are more into playing then opening.

Then while the kids play with their stashes, Zman and I trade off naps and getting things started for Christmas dinner. If we stay home for dinner then we always do homemade enchiladas, cause I’m not a ham person and we just did Turkey on T-day. Friends and family tend to stop by periodically throughout the day to visit and bring more gifts and we have lots of cookies and hot coco to share. If we have snow, and we usually do, then at some point we all get dressed and go out for some sledding and snowball fights!

If we can keep the focus on spending time together and not on the gifts, we have a much better Christmas I’ve noticed, though that is getting harder to do as the kids are getting older. I want to incorporate some kind of community service or giving into our traditions too. So, what do you do for the holidays?


Staci said...

I am one of your random blog readers but I thought I'd share some of our new traditions. We are religious so we before bed we read a story that is about Jesus and his birth, and then one about Santa because the magic is so fun. Each Saturday in December we do something "service" oriented. Last week we went to a nursing home with some friends and did a talent show, songs, skits, the little girls danced while we invited all the attendees to make song requests and all sing together. We handed out Christmas crafts the kids had made. The week before we visited some older neighborhors and my hubby shoveled snowy driveways while me and kids chatted with the elderly folks. Then, finally, we adopted a family in need at a local shelter for women escaping domestic abuse. We spend the money we would have spent on each other on them. Our kids still get Christmas, but our gift to each other this year was to give a family in need a Christmas. I finally feel I have escaped the commercialism of Christmas! I hope we can do it again next year. (Even though I really want Uggs and some new jeans. ;)

Debbie B said...

So glad he helped out so much with both holidays. I really like your Christmas Eve and Christmas day traditions.
This was our first with our little one who decided she was going to get up earlier then usual, most have felt the excitement.