Monday, November 26, 2012

How we celebrate Christmas



I freakin’ LOVE Christmas.  You have no idea.  When I hear people disappointed that Christmas is spilling into October, I cannot relate.  I want it in July.  I’m usually done shopping by October.  If it could smear itself over the entire year, I’d be fine with that too.

This year, Vika is moving in with us right before the holidays.  So we’re celebrating with a new family member (for a year) -- and she’s from Estonia, so all our American holidays have a new shimmer to them.  It seemed like a good time to review our traditions, and maybe add new ones. 

Here’s how our family celebrates Christmas, in no particular order…

Ornaments:  Every child gets an ornament for their year.  When they grow up, I’ll hand them a box with all their ornaments. It’s pretty embarrassing how much time goes into picking the right ornament for them.  I care 1000x more than they probably ever will, but they do love putting their special ornaments up.  We also have other mementos – like ones that remind me of my mom, or the Robin ornament we bought this year to remember Aunt Robin’s death.  When we take out the ornaments every year, we talk about each of them -- and if there’s a box, I write the story down on it with a date.  I get ornaments on each vacation or to mark things through the year, so our tree ends up telling the story of our life.

Family Sleepover: The night we set up the tree, we have a campout under it.  Sleeping bags, popcorn, cider, Christmas movie, etc.  I love this tradition because it’s completely free, fun, and requires hardly any pre-planning.  I read a cute idea about making pizzas in the shape of trees, and each child decorates their own with pepperoni, chopped green peppers, olives, etc.  Trader Joe’s sells the pre-made pizza dough (currently $1.19) that we can divide into personal-size pizza amounts.

Christmas Lights:  I ask everyone I know (and even some whom I don’t) where to find the best light displays. A friend suggested popcorn and cider during the drive, and we’ll definitely start doing that.  Pajamas and Christmas music are required.  Some Christmas, I’d like to do the limo tour as a family Christmas gift to ourselves.  But I want to make sure they’re all old enough to care about the limo first.

Live Performances:  I’m brainwashing my children to love plays, and so far, it’s working.  This year’s line-up is Oliver!, Madeline's Christmas, and Children of Eden.  Also this year, I’m starting a tradition of the Nutcracker.  The Richmond Ballet has one with a tea party with the cast afterwards, which sounds painfully adorable.  I bought a ticket just for Simone and me, as she’s obsessed with ballet.  But then Andrew heard they had swords…and Jack heard it has Russian music…so next year, I’m going to update the tradition to be the entire family.

Service Projects:  This is what happens when you’re born to a Bleeding Heart Mother. The last few years, it’s been doing gifts for the children of Sudanese refugees, Operation Christmas Child (each of my children “adopts” a child their age and gender), and little things like the mitten tree, etc.  I’m a sucker for those boxes that ask for contributions to wounded warriors and toys for children, and I make sure my kids are part of all of those donation drives.  We’re in the Dollar Tree a few times a week during the holidays.

Service Project This Year, Though: Simone hit the “homelessness awareness” developmental age this year, which all of my children hit about the same time – with complete fascination with someone not having a home, and wondering what to do about it.  She wants to personally build them homes (see previous post), and someday, I’d love to do Habitat for Humanity with all of them.  But she also asked if we could give them warm things and food -- so I hunted down a checklist of things we could hand to homeless persons, in lieu of cash.  My idea was a Ziploc gallon-size bag with toiletries, granola bar, bottle of water, etc…so I’ve been googling for ideas about what to add.  This month, we’ll make about 50 bags of items and pass them out to either the guys on the street corner, or take them to a shelter.  The idea is still in progress, so send any suggestions my way. 

This section could be its own post (Bleeding-Heart-Mother Syndrome), so I’ll move on for now.

Books: This month, every bedtime reading is pretty much a Christmas-themed story.  I’m trying to move through more classics with my kids…which goes well if you don’t mind one child standing on his head by the second paragraph, and another child punctuating every sentence with a  question.   We tried “Gift of the Magi” the other night, which I loved as a child.  But the vocabulary for that version was ridiculously over the kids’ heads, so I’m getting a storybook version of it instead. My Kindle is loaded with free classic Christmas stories now, and I’ll get some at the library too.

Movies:  Family movie nights are Christmas-themed.  Elf is my favorite Christmas movie (Andrew reminds me of Will Ferrell’s character), but all of them are fun – Grinch, National Lampoon’s, Home Alone, Christmas Story, Miracle on 34th, and those classics like the Rudolph animation.  They watched Yes, Virginia the other night and liked it.  This has been a plus of having Netflix Streaming this year, as I don’t have to buy or rent many of them.

Cookies: Gingerbread cookies, decorate your own sugar cookies (even if they have a 12-to-1 frosting to cookie ratio), etc.  This year, I bought natural-dye sugar crystals in their favorite colors instead of Christmas colors.  Christmas in our house is more festive than traditional at times.  Gingerbread house (or train) is also a big hit, even if light-posts and windows do start disappearing right away.

Pajamas: I usually get the kids matching Christmas PJs the previous year on post-holiday clearance, and they wear them Christmas Eve.  This is just because I have a pajama-buying fetish, and not that it adds value to the holiday. 

Complete Disregard for The Calendar: We always travel back to the Midwest at Christmas, so we open our gifts early – to save space in the Sienna on the road trip.  This pairs well with doing a European-version of St. Nicholas Day on December 6th -- because they can put out their shoes (with a cucumber or carrot), and then we open up the gifts.  By the end of the season, my kids have had 5 or 6 tiny celebrations along the way, instead of one huge one.  We stumbled onto that by accident, but I love it now.

Dishes for Santa’s Cookies: My kids use the special Santa plate and mug that I used as a child, and we have the letters to Santa tucked in the same box.  It has the ones from when I was a kid, and then we’ve added them from my children.  This has been surprisingly sentimental for me.

Reindeer Food:  A small Ziploc with oatmeal and glitter, that they can put out on the lawn on Christmas Eve. Cheap, easy, and a surprisingly big hit with the kids.

Archiving History: I take pictures or write down what the kids get, from all the persons in their lives.  Someday, this will be a sweet trip down memory lane.  They mark a time and place for the children.  I also frame a picture of Christmas morning from each year, and we use that as part of the decorations.

Christmas Picture Outtakes: We do a Christmas card and letter every year, and I keep a copy of both in a red leather album.  It tracks our family history, as we have letters from before Jack was born.  In getting a picture for the card, we end up with 596 TERRIBLE pictures of the kids.  I make a Shutterfly album of all these outtakes…because quite frankly, they’re hilariously awful. 

Umm….anything else? I know I’m forgetting about a bazillion Christmas ideas that trickle into our lives. But these are the most meaningful ones to me.  We put Christmas-colored sprinkles in oatmeal and eat Christmas cookies for breakfast.  I’m going to try eggnog this year (for adults!), instead of our standard circulation of Bailey’s-spiked cocoa.  

If you have any Christmas brainstorms, please share.  







Thank you, Bob the Builder.



At a stoplight, Simone (4) saw a man holding a sign. “What does his sign say, Mommy?”

Me: “Homeless Vietnam Vet.”

Simone: “What does that mean?”

Me: “It means he doesn’t have a home, and that he used to be a soldier in a war.”

Simone: “Does he not have a home because they were all tooken by other people?”

Me: “There are a lot of reasons that people don’t have homes. It’s really complicated, sweetie.  It takes money to buy a home, and not everyone has money.”

Simone: “Because they don’t want money?”

Me: “Well. That’s the complicated part.  There might be some people who just don’t want to work, but a lot of the time, there’s something wrong with the person and they can’t work.  Maybe their brain is missing chemicals it needs to work right. Or they can’t think the way other people think, because they have a handicap in their brain.”

Simone: “And their mommies and daddies don’t give them a home?”

Me: “Simone, you and I are VERY lucky that we have people like that in our lives.  But some people, they don’t have that.  The government tries to help people who don’t have mommies and daddies, but it can’t help everyone, all the time.”

Simone: “So, if Uncle Craig didn’t have the government or your daddy, he’d be homeless?”

My heart skipped a beat.  “Yes, Simone.  That’s actually very true. And your Uncle David, too.  I guess I never thought of it that way, but maybe that’s why I like to help homeless people.”

Simone: “I know what to do!  I’LL build them a house!  I learned how on Bob the Builder!  It’s a really educational show.”

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is how my life goes from profound and beautiful to ridiculous and beautiful… in the span of seconds.