Traditions bring the holidays to life and bring us all those warm fuzzy feelings. Some of our family things are small and some are bigger. Some carry over from our childhoods and some are new. There are some I hope to keep going until Oliver has grown up, some I know will change over time.
At our house we usually decorate for Christmas on the long weekend after Thanksgiving. It’s convenient and it maximizes our time to enjoy the decorations without starting too early. The first week in December we go out and buy a real tree from our favorite tree lot (that help support the community with the proceeds). We decorate the tree as a family in the following days. Every year we make a new ornament for the tree (this year we did the melted beads). We take Oliver to go see Santa in our town square with his cousins. We go out to see all the pretty lights downtown. We attend local Christmas activities, donate to charity and send out our Christmas cards. We watch a ton of Christmas specials and movies, popping popcorn and drinking hot chocolate.
On a weekend closer to Christmas we bake cookies. Lots and lots of cookies! Typically we make so many it takes 2 days - 1 long day to bake them all and another day to ice them or dip them in chocolate. My favorite recipes include iced sugar cookies, chocolate dipped gingerbread, biscotti, peanut butter balls and reindeer patties. This year I am going to have a new favorite helper as my assistant. (And we need to be prepared for some very messily decorated cookies…!)
During the month of December, last year we started doing Elf on a Shelf. In our house, Buddy the elf keeps himself pretty low-key. I have enough trouble remembering to move him around each night… no elaborate scenes of him taking a marshmallow bath, battling dinosaurs or baking cookies in the kitchen. Instead, our elf mostly interacts with Oliver mostly through Oliver’s “North Pole mailbag” we keep on his bedroom door. I can plan ahead for most of it, which keeps things easy for me, but still gives Oliver a feeling of magic - a letter from Santa confirming he got Oliver’s letter in the mail, a thank you note from Santa when Oliver helps us donate toys to charity for children in need. A new pair of gloves when he misplaces his favorite blue pair, Christmas socks, or a mini candy cane on days when Oliver was especially good.
We also do an advent calendar, though this year we are trying a new one. I loved our old one (see it here) before we had an active toddler/preschooler because it looked so fun with little cubbies for treats, but there was no way to countdown the days without leaving the doors open. Having the doors open looks messy and Oliver always insisted on closing them. We also changed our minds about treats - there’s enough sugar and little gifts/toys going around this time of year, we don’t need to add to it. It also had the opposite effect of what we hoped last year - instead of filling him with joy and excitement over getting closer to Christmas, it made him unhappy, greedy and demanding. He wouldn’t like the toy or wanted a different candy or fought us for another piece… in the end we ended up stopping halfway through the season and put it away. So this year we are trying out the magnetic Melissa and Doug Advent Calendar - each day Oliver can put a new ornament up on the tree as we count down to Christmas. It’s so simple he can clearly see how many days to go, or at least right now he understands that there are A LOT of days left until Christmas.
Last year we also started the tradition of the kid tree. It’s a mini artificial Christmas tree that’s pre-lit and is the perfect size for little kids. Since it’s not real it can go up early and stay until we take the decorations down in early January (unlike the real tree which has a very set expiration date for safety reasons). Oliver adds his favorite (kid safe) ornaments to the tree, and over the season last year borrowed ornaments from the big tree and added them to the little one - it was sweet. He also liked to add his favorite little toys in the branches and it made it really fun for him. It also kept him from messing too much with the big Christmas tree - as a parent of an active boy, there’s always that fear that he will try to climb the tree and pull it over and get hurt.
The parties, festive activities, gatherings and celebrations throughout the month of December change every year depending on schedules and school and friends and family. Every year is a blur of activity. But on Christmas Eve and Christmas there are some things we want to keep consistent every year. On Christmas Eve we drive around to look at Christmas lights listening to Christmas music - even if it’s just a long detour on the way home. We leave cookies and milk for Santa and carrots for the reindeer. Overnight Santa fills Oliver’s stocking with little goodies and leaves it at the foot of his bed for when he wakes up (my favorite part about Christmas morning when I was a child!). We plan to always have Christmas morning at home - I want him to always have that feeling of home and excitement when he wakes up, in his own bed in his own house. It was a gift my parents gave me and it’s something I want to pass on to Oliver, because there is nothing better than waking up at home on Christmas morning and realizing that Santa came.