Monday, December 14, 2009

Christmas Traditions...

While I have not updated my blog until today, I have taken the time these past few weeks to enjoy reading other blogs...I love getting glimpses into other people's lives...

Friend and fellow blogger, Anita, had posted about her family Christmas traditions, so I decided that I would do the same. When I read her blog, I thought, we don't really have that many Christmas traditions; However, when I asked the children to tell me some of their favorite family traditions, they came up with all sorts of things! And so, I decided I did indeed have enough "traditions" to warrant a special post.

*We usually put up our Christmas tree the day after Thanksgiving. This year I was chomping at the bit, so we put it up Thanksgiving day. Some years we have had artificial trees, some years we have had live trees from Lowe's or Marvin's, some years we have gone to the back of my brother in law's property and cut down our very own Charlie brown Christmas tree, whose branches were barely strong enough to hold paper ornaments! Last year there was no tree because we spent Christmas in NY with my family, and this year it is a small but just right artificial tree bought at Dollar General! The kids get so excited, pulling out the ornaments, and talking about when and where each one came from.

My grandmother gave me a gold-plated ornament each year until I was 18-each one bearing my name and the year-and as simple as these ornaments were, they were so special to me.

We began the same tradition with our children-making or purchasing a new ornament each year, so that upon leaving home, each child will have their own collection of ornaments. Noah was so tickled this year to recieve a hammer ornament from his grandparents-it was the first ornament he placed on the tree. In addition to letting the children unwrap the ornaments and decorate the tree, we set up the same ceramic creche each year. The figurines are huge and were painted by Mike's mother as a gift for his grandmother, many years ago. When Mike first brought it home, after his grandmother passed away, I thought where am I going to put that big set?!? But it has become something the children look forward to each year...unwrapping each piece, and placing them on the shelf-as long as we have had the set it has been missing a wise man-so each year when visitors comment on the whereabouts of the third wisemen, in unison the kids will quickly say-"hH went to Wal-mart to get diapers!"

Typically, we are not "listmakers" when it comes to Christmas gifts, as we want to teach the children that Christmas is not about getting, but about the gift that God gave. We did start a listmaking tradition about 2 years ago. It began with a 6 inch wide, HUGE roll of paper that we had picked up at the local newspaper. Mae decided this was perfect "list" paper, and started making lists of everything-lists of her friends, lists of her family....she discovered that the longer the list the "cooler" it looked when you unrolled it and it dramatically puddled on the floor.

Mackenzie suggested a Christmas list of things we could give, and I suggested a list of things God had already blessed us with, and we were amazed as our lists grew and rolled halfway across the kitchen. We hang the list on the pantry door, and then, pack it away with the Christmas ornaments to be read the next year. We will most likely work on this years "lists" today, while cookies are in the oven-another tradition the kids love-Baking Cookies!

My step mom always baked (and still does) tons and tons of cookies to give away at Christmas-I always loved her green, Christmas tree spritz cookies the best, and had a habit of sneaking way too many of them when she wasn't looking. The children love to try out new cookie recipes, and especially love "sampling" before we pack up plates to give away. Magic cookie bars are always a must, as our chocolate chip cookies. This year we will try our hand at biscotti and probably make some no bake peanut butter/chocolate/oatmeal cookies as well. As was the tradition when I was younger, We will save a big plateful of cookies to enjoy Christmas morning with big glasses of milk while we open gifts.

Since we are on the "cooking" topic, I must admit that for myself and my children, many of our memories/traditions are tied to food! Every Christmas Eve for the past several years, we prepare the same egg/sausage and cheese casserole, and it bakes while we unwrap gifts in the morning. If we are not traveling to NY or Florida to visit my parents, then Christmas "dinner" (or, what we northerners call "lunch") is loads of roast beef, ham, turkey and cheese, piled high on croissants, with chips and soda. So simple, but something the kids look forward to every year, because Grandma says everyone can fix their own sandwiches and eat as much as they want-not the case normally at our house! This year dinner will be at our house, and the children all panicked when they heard... "What about the sandwiches!!!???!!" Mackenzie asked.

I assured them that Grandma was bringing all of the sandwich "fixins" to our house, and they were very relieved!

In the days leading up to Christmas, beginning after Thanksgiving, We read through Bible prophesies relating to Christ, as well as Bible passages that tell about the people throughout history who were in the lineage of Christ. We've made paper ornaments representing each person, and these get hung on a tiny tree in our kitchen called a "Jesse Tree"-named for the passage that says "a branch will spring forth from the stump of Jesse"Isaiah 11:1-9, referring to Christ. I had thought we would make new ornaments each year, but I think we will make new ornaments only every other year, as there are so many to make! Reading together through these passages, and hanging ornaments representing adam andcreation all the way through the birth of Christ-paints such an awesome picture for our family of God's mighty hand carrying out his plans through the course of history. Even though we do it every year, I never cease to be amazed.

Besides Bible reading together, we have an assortment of favorite Christmas books that we seem to read through each year, beginning the 1st of december. We usually read a story from James Dobson's Family Christmas Treasury each day one week, but it was already checked out at the library. (I have vowed to purchase my own copy for next year!) Right now we are reading through Ideals Treasury of Best Loved Christmas Stories. We Always read a little book called Renfroe's Christmas about the true spirit of giving, and we always, just for fun, read The Best Christmas Pageant Ever. This morning I read Max Lucado's The Christmas Candle to myself, and I will probably read that to the children today as well. Usually the week of Christmas, we read a chapter or two from Richard Exley's The Indescribable Gift-a beautifully illustrated re-telling of the nativity story.

Besides these things, the children reminded me of several other things we have done, that have become "traditions". The children don't recieve gifts from Santa, but each year we read about St Nicholas, and talk about how we can be like a Santa to other people-in other words, giving gifts anonymously-without having the chance to be thanked. This has been such an awesome thing for our family. One year while discussing the idea of Santa, we decided that we would "Santa" someone. We knew of a family who had had an especially tough year and then bought and baked a few gifts for them. The kids were so excited as they decided what would be the best things to include. We couldn't afford anything big, but I think we included a homemeade fleece blanket, several toys, and of course cookies. We typed up a note, unsigned of course, and headed to their house late at night. We left a bag on the door knob and left. We never knew if they got it, never knew if they liked it...and never recieved a thank you-I had no idea what an impact this would have on our children. I never meant for it to become a tradition, but the next year as Christmas drew nearer, the kids began to ask, "Mom, who are we going to "Santa" someone this year?" My answer was a quick, "I don't know, we'll have to pray about it." The real answer that year was, I don't know, because we don't have money to buy ourselves gifts, let alone someone else. That was our first year in Florida, and money was very tight. Most weeks we weren't sure if we would have enough money for groceries, and the thought of buying Christmas gifts for anyone that year was far from our minds. But the children persisted, and even suggested a family who we knew-
I didn't know how to tell them we couldn't, and even Mike said we needed to find a way to do it.

So we prepared a basket of mostly baked goods, and a few little things from the dollar store and headed to their neighborhood. Our children still talk about the night that daddy parked the car a few houses away, crept to the house in the dark, left the basket, rang the doorbell and RAN as fast as he could back to the car, where we sat in the dark and watched the family come to the door, look curiously around, and take the basket inside. As Mike sat panting, Mackenzie said, "Wow, I didn't know you could run that fast!!!' and Mae added, "Daddy, are you going to have a heart attack?" We drove home replaying the nights events and talking about the fun we had had doing something nice for someone else. I asked God that night to forgive me for not wanting to give that year. For thinking we just didn't have enough to share with someone else. The next day a package arrived. It was from some friends of our back in MS. Apparently God had put us on THEIR hearts that year, and the box was loaded with wrapped gifts for the children. They were not expensive or fancy. And I knew that the sender was not much better off financially then we were, yet God had put us on their hearts and they gave. I cried as I pulled the packages out of the box and laid them under the tree. I promised God right then I would try to do better. I would try to give more and think less about what I would do without if I gave. I promised I would try to listen harder for that still small voice, telling me of a need beyond my four walls, which for the most part were quite comfortable, and filled with more than my family needed.
That year was definately an eye opening experience for me, and the Santa tradition remains-regardless of our own financial state.
There are other fun things we do each year..which, again, have become traditions without my even`realizing it. Sometime in December-it seems like it is usually the coldest night of december, we drive to a well decorated neighborhood with my in laws following us in their truck. Once we arrive at said neighborhood, we all unload from our WARM car, and pile into the back of Grandma and Grandpa's pick-up, which has been loaded down with what appears to be every blanket, quilt and afghan my mother in law owns-and I am suddenly thankful she owns so many blankets!!!! We layer on the blankets and my father in law proceeds to drive Verrrrrrry slowly (sometimes too slowly) through the neighborhood that has turned into a beautifully lit, winter wonderland. We all ooh and ahh as our teeth chatter, and I am reminded how much fun it is to watch the expression on a child's face as they see this many lights for the first time. During this year's ride, Lexie bounced up and down in my lap, yelling, "Lights! Lights!!!" Mae, in a very dreamy voice said, "It's soooo beautiful. " Noah said, "Wow, they must have had to use some big extension ladder and a whole lotta staples to put all those lights up....Daddy, can I get on the roof and do that to our house????" And Mackenzie, ever the realist, remarked, "Boy, It sure is pretty, but I wouldn't want to have their electric bill!!!" We usually round out the night by singing Christmas carols as we ride, and watching our breath linger in front of us in the cold (FREEZING) night air.
When we circle back to where we started from, Grandma breaks out her trusty thermos and some styrofoam cups, and we all grab a cup of hot chocolate before we jump back into the warmth of our car, our cheeks and noses still recovering from the cold!
There are other things we do each year, watch certain movies, like "The Nativity," Allow each person to open one gift on Christmas eve, Bake a Happy Birthday Jesus cake and decorate it with the same tiny nativity figurines each year, try to attend at least one Christmas musical or live nativity, make lots of home-made gifts...Even as I write, I'm amazed how things have become special traditions without us even realizing it. As I think back on my own childhood, I'm reminded of the things I never realized were traditions-the cookies on Christmas morning, the fact that no matter how old you were, my step-mother always labeled our presents "from Santa"-and still does!!! Hunting for the perfect live Christmas tree (we never had an artificial one), Christmas caroling and making up our own quirky family version of the 12 days of Christmas, ice skating at Rockerfeller Center and going to FAO Swartz and to see the window displays at Saks 5th Avenue.. These things have become some of my fondest memories, and I hope the traditions Mike and I keep with our children, will someday be some of their favorite memories-things they will enjoy and share with their own children.. Most importantly, I hope their clearest, fondest memory will be one of Christ right smack in the middle of all our Christmas celebrating, reminding them that he most certainly is the reason for it all.

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