I always enjoy learning about others’ holiday traditions. You can hear in their voices the love and warmth they have for their friends and family. As they share Christmases that have past, you can see the nostalgia in their eyes. Sometimes even more interestingly, ask newlyweds how they will celebrate the holidays, and you’ll learn how at least two different families have blended their traditions and made their own.
Like many others, I’m lucky enough to remember amazing Christmases filled with good food, huge gatherings of extended family, trips to see Santa, and the joy of finding that gift I specifically asked for under the tree. The whole month of December seemed magical, and Christmas itself extended to last the entire winter break from school as we bopped around visiting family celebrating several rounds of Christmas.
Of course, this is through my rose-colored glasses. My mother was the one wrapping, cooking, and baking everything. When my dad’s parents came to visit us, my parents gave up their bedroom for them. My father was the one driving us, usually through snow, 12+ hours after Christmas to visit his in-laws while the dog was between my sister and I and throwing up every couple of hours. It was a whirlwind trip to visit family, trying to get a good amount of quality time with both sides of the family. I’m sure the whole Christmas experience was sometimes stressful for my folks but they never let on. They made it look easy and seamless.
Well, I can’t promise that my sons will see things as rosy as I remember, but I’m hopeful that we too are creating magic. The Christmas season for us starts with the Christmas Season Printable, my action plan full of traditions I don’t want to forget. We fill in these activities on the nights and weekends leading up to Christmas.
Once we get to Christmas Eve, we usually have family visiting. We go to mass then out to dinner at our favorite local Italian restaurant. There will be no in-person extended family visits this year. Additionally, it will be virtual mass and takeout food, but we can make that work.
Afterward, the kids unwrap one gift. It is always Christmas pajamas, the boys always forget that’s what they are getting, and they are always really excited to receive them. (I wonder how much more time I get of this experience!) We then set out milk and cookies for Santa and nine carrots for the reindeer. My husband then jingles a bell so the kids think Santa is on the way, and they rush off to bed.
My husband and I attempt to stay awake until the kids are asleep, and then we set up all of the gifts. No presents for the immediate family go under the tree until now. The cookies magically disappear and our in-house, furry “reindeer” enjoys the carrots. Santa tracks are made on the hearth from a pair of boots and soot from the fireplace. Stockings are stuffed and hung by the chimney with care. Simultaneously, as much prep as is possible is done to get ready for coffee and breakfast for the next morning.
Since we tend to have extended family with us for the holiday, we often set a time on when Christmas morning will begin. That gives people the option to set an alarm and get ready for the day first if they want. We try to pick a time that won’t keep the boys waiting forever but isn’t before the sun. I’m not sure if or how we’ll change this tradition for this funky 2020 year.
Our little ones are NOT allowed to come downstairs until the adults are ready for them. I always want video evidence of them seeing that Santa visited, and I’m sure the other adults want to see their reactions too. Once the adults are settled, the kids can come down. The boys tend to impatiently wait for us, wake each other up, and generally bounce off the walls. This is where having the set time for Christmas to start is really helpful because you can tell the kids only X more minutes.
After the kids react to Santa’s arrival, the boys always want to “be Santa” first and pass out a gift from under the tree to each person in attendance. This is the cutest part of the day, because of course the boys will pick out gifts they are giving others to pass out first. They can’t wait to see how you’ll react to what they made or bought for you. I love that they already enjoy the act of giving to others.
We then take turns opening our gifts. It’s more like everyone opens their one gift passed to them at the same time, but I always wait. I want to see how everyone else reacts. I may snap a few photos along the way as well.
After all of the gifts are opened under the tree, we break for a breakfast of cinnamon rolls and usually biscuits and gravy. Healthier choices will come Jan 1. We then return to open stocking stuffers from Santa that include things like a new toothbrush, toothpaste, chapstick, and a small toy of some kind. (I picked out card games this year.)
At this point, the boys are fully occupied for the rest of the day. My husband and I then cook a roast beef dinner around a formally set table while socializing with family. We dine together and often enjoy dessert with friends before the day is out.
It is a whirlwind of a day and the climax of a lot of planning and preparing, but I love it. I think about the traditions my husband brought to our family and those from mine and realize that our parents’ and grandparents’ live on in these small, repeated acts. And when my husband and I are older and grandparents ourselves, I hope to see some of these traditions live on through our sons’ families. It’s the closest I’ll get to eternal life, and I’ll take it.