Growing up, I was infatuated with Christmas. The lights & music & gatherings. The tree & giving special presents to people. The candlelight & hot chocolate. I loved it all. My mom made lasagna from scratch on Christmas Eve, & we got to open one present that night. Even though I never believed in Santa, I wanted to, so I left cookies & a handwritten letter to him every year. He always wrote back. I still write him letters. And as long as I leave it at my parents’ house on Christmas Eve, he still writes back.
Christmas with little kids is magical & tricky. This feels like the first year the girls know it’s coming & are giddy about it. They’re belting the songs & excited to decorate. They like watching The Grinch— both the animated version & the one with Jim Carrey. Jude follows them around like a little puppy & gets swept up in the magic of it all, too.
It’s tricky because the kids are still little, & expectations need to stay low, which is not my specialty. Last year, I wrote out an activity for every day of December. We accomplished negative three of them. This year, we’re stripping the fluff. We’re sticking with traditions proven successful in the past because they either happen at home, which means everyone is contained, or Blake & I are both present, which means I might upgrade & change a diaper in a restroom instead of a hidden flower bed at the arboretum because I don’t have the energy or will to tote three kids & a double stroller into the public restroom for the third time in two hours. Hypothetically. With that being said…
No matter the season, the arboretum is the perfect family spot. The kids can run. You can breathe in fresh air. There’s places to picnic (& you can bring your own food if you want), & the scenery transports you to The Secret Garden. Every year, we’ve gone to walk around the 12 Days of Christmas, & it’s a relaxing way to find some Christmas spirit. There’s music playing, hot chocolate for sale, & you might even spot Santa if you play your cards right.
Something that involves candy & a mess in the kitchen
I love baking. For our family pictures this year, I set up a cookie decorating station on our kitchen island, & the kids didn’t even know pictures were happening because they were too busy spreading icing & dumping over bowls of red & green gumdrops. I’d like to graduate us to a gingerbread house decorating contest, but we may wait another year or two. I tried signing Collins & myself up for a gingerbread house decorating party at the country club where Blake plays golf, but I waited until they were sold out like a dum dum.
I should also add that the night before our family pictures, I had all of the ingredients out to make homemade gingerbread cookies. Blake mentioned putting it all up & buying break & bake cookies at Walmart the next day. At first, I scoffed like that would make me a phony & the pictures less legit. And then I realized my kids would be happy decorating a piece of cardboard & put all the ingredients back up & went to bed. Expectations.
Hot chocolate & a movie
I love a good Christmas movie. Miracle on 34th Street (the 1994 version). White Christmas. The Family Stone. The Holiday. It’s a Wonderful Life. Those are just the tip of the iceberg of the movies I look forward to every Christmas. After we got married, Blake introduced me to National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation, & now I can’t wait to watch Clark get his fingers stuck to the pages of the magazine because he’s covered in tree sap.
I’m a fan of homemade hot chocolate. Or we’ll make a night of it & order pizza. We pick a movie the kids will enjoy– either The Grinch or Frosty the Snowman. Blake & I watch some favorites after everyone else is tucked in bed. There’s one or two we know by heart that can play during the day while we decorate the Christmas tree. And yes, sometimes we watch non-holiday television such as football. But this is minimal.
Two years ago, we talked about how busy Christmas time can be but how important it is to us to slow down. It’s my goal every year– slow down, be present, savor the moment. So we decided to take off, just us & the kids, & go somewhere where we could unplug from our phones, & be together. That year, we went to Beavers Bend. Last year, we decided not to go anywhere because Jude was so little, & we felt pretty capped at life with three. This year, we’re taking the kids “glamping” in South Texas for two nights just before Christmas. Even if there are years where we don’t travel, I hope we always make it a habit to unplug for a few days & remember why we’re celebrating & who we have the privilege to celebrate with.
The kids love it– I love documenting it– & we like to tag on a fun meal afterward. Fingers crossed nobody cries this year.
The first year Blake & I were married, I bought a green, felt advent calendar from Kohl’s. It’s not the cutest. It feels special to me now, though, so we keep nailing it up every year. It has a little pocket for each day to place the attached lollipop for the countdown. We like to take turns asking a question & then we both write our answers on separate pieces of paper. We read each other’s answers & then save them in that day’s pocket. I leave them in there until I unpack it the next Christmas so I can look back on the questions we asked & the answers we gave. So far, it’s just been a fun thing for Blake & me, but the kids may get a little involved this year. Some of the questions are simple & fun– What was your favorite Christmas movie when you were little? Some are more thoughtful– What’s your favorite thing you learned this year? Kind of like date nights, these questions are a creative way to keep being curious & getting to know each other.
I’d love to hear your favorite holiday traditions! Even if you don’t do them yet, what’s one you hope to incorporate into the season one day?