I thought I would start off day one of Advent with a little list of Christmas, Hanukkah and Advent Traditions to give you some December food for thought. So before I fall into bed, too late again, with all these visions of what I have to do this week dancing in my head…
Here are a few things we like to do in December to make it memorable:
Gathering Up all the Glitter and Books (Christmas Countdown)
It takes a few days to get all the boxes out of the garage, scavenge the bookshelves, and gather our booty so we can “deck the halls”. Best not to try to tackle all of it in one day, or you might pull a muscle and smell like Bengay all of December… especially at my age. Tonight is the official first night of Advent, but we began putting our tinsel and glitter up and gathering our books and resources a while back, after Thanksgiving. With my mama gone, and my son living so far away, and our future headed towards such big changes with a home sale and move to the country, it has been a Christmas season given over to reflection. I have taken things slow… but since it is our last Christmas in this house, I wanted to go the distance and do it right.
Putting up a Tree with many Christ-centered and Texas-themed ornaments (of course)
We put our tree up the weekend after Thanksgiving while my son was here for the holiday from college. We actually put up a new tree this year, because last year our stand broke on the old, hand-me-down fake tree we’ve used for all the years my children have grown up. It was a puzzle each year we did together, after painting the ends of each branch with colors so we could put them each in a ring around the spine of the tree. This year when we pulled our old tree out of the box and littered the floor with so many green plastic needles, we discovered that the stand was missing, and then remembered last year it had broken beyond repair. I rushed out to get a pre-lit tree on Black Friday – the day I usually don’t buy anything. I am sure glad it was on sale! I had no idea Christmas trees were that expensive after using the same tree for over a decade.
Lowering our Expectations so we don’t RUIN THE SEASON with grumbling hearts
While my tree sure sparkles in our renovated dining room, I find myself feeling feel guilty that I am not able to be settled enough to truly enjoy it. I know Mary and Joseph probably didn’t feel very “settled” checking in to the stable for the night when Jesus decided to make His debut. Isn’t it silly that we twist our expectations around December like a pretzel each year and make it so hard to enjoy? We just need to embrace the crazy that life brings and try to squeeze every tiny drop of joy out of it, leaving the rind in the sink to make it smell good. That’s what you do with lemons: add sugar and make lemonade. Or this time of year, you could make wassail. No one would mind a little rind in their cup.
Reading Advent devotionals and books about Hanukkah and Christmas
Another thing we do each year is read an advent book each night until Christmas (and sometimes after, if we are traveling and have to skip a night or two). The kids don’t mind if we continue on a few days after the real calendar days are through. I add a book or two to my Christmas book pile each year.
Here’s a list of our current titles in the box… (if you buy some from Amazon, please click over from my site, because I’m an affiliate):
- The Christmas Tree by Julie Salamon
- The Christmas Mouse by Carolyn Quattrocki
- The Bright Star of Bethlehem Devotions for Advent
- The Sparkle Box by Jill Hardie
- The Pine Tree Parable by Liz Curtis Higgs
- Over the River and Through the Wood by L. Maria Child
- The Christmas Miracle of Jonathan Toomey by Susan Wojciechowski
- A Pussycat’s Christmas by Margaret Wise Brown
- Morris’s Disappearing Bag by Rosemary Wells
- God’s Appointed Times: A Practical Guide for Understanding and Celebrating the Biblical Holidays by Barney Kasdan
- Papa’s Gift: An Inspirational Story of Love and Loss by Kathleen Long Bostrom
- Walk with Yeshua Through the Jewish Year by Janie-sue Wertheim and Kathy Shapiro (mentioned below)
- No Room at the Inn: The Nativity Story by Jean M. Malone
- Casey’s Bright Red Christmas by Holly Dufek
- Now You Can Read Bible Stories: The Birth of Jesus by Elaine Ife
- Advent & Christmas In Family Worship by Douglas & Amy Hayes
- Cat in the Manger by Michael Foreman
- On the Night You were Born by Nancy Tillman
- Jesus is Born retold by Sophie Piper
- Babushka: A Christmas Tale by Dawn Casey
- My Big Christmas Book by Hayden McAllister
- One Wintry Night by Richard Jesse Watson
- The Littlest Angel by Charles Tazewell
- The Crippled Lamb by Max Lucado
- Jacob’s Gift by Max Lucado
- Fun-In-Learning About Chanukah by James Sanders
- Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer by Robert L. May
- The Night Before Christmas by Clement C. Moore
- Unwrapping the Greatest Gift: A Family Celebration of Christmas by Ann Voskamp
- The Wonder of the Greatest Gift: An Interactive Family Celebration of Advent (comes with pop up tree, advent calendar, ornaments, small book)
Celebrating Hanukkah as a family
You can’t forget Hanukkah. We do Hanukkah and Christmas. I’ve written about why we celebrate Hanukkah in the past. Jesus is the miracle of light that never goes out – it fits perfectly with the message of Hanukkah. I’ve added a few books this year that are about Jewish holidays. A book I’ve really enjoyed is “Walk with Yeshua Through the Jewish Year” by Janie-sue Wertheim and Kathy Shapiro that I got at the THSC Homeschool Convention this year. Hanukkah is a fun way to celebrate and allows me to have a bit of “Christmas” at home with just our family before we head off to the busy extended family group gatherings. It gives us a way to celebrate in the flavor of biblical focus with devotionals and readings and family feasts we share together… and we can swap a few gifts for just our family. You can also invite friends over – where you might not do that if you are traveling to see your in-laws or extended family far away from home.
Filling the Sparkle-Box
Another tradition we have done for a few years is the “Sparkle Box”. If you like the idea of “Random Acts of Kindness” and giving back at Christmas, you would love it. The Sparkle Box is a book with a little paper pop-up book at the back which you can expand and fill as a “present for Jesus” and put under your tree or on your mantle to open and read the slips of paper you place inside on Christmas Day. Add some Christmas cookies or a Jesus birthday cake and you have a fun birthday present for Jesus celebration. The slips of paper list off all the things you do for others as a family… donations, service, kindnesses shown, etc. It is a great way to share the love of Christ and get your kids involved in looking for ways to bless others at Christmas.
Decorating a Jesse Tree for Advent
This year we purchased Ann Voskamp’s Jesse Tree advent book. My boys are helping me open the flaps and her cute little book that comes with the pop-up tree is beautifully written (as you might expect from Ann). I like that I don’t have to print anything out… although in previous years my kids enjoyed coloring advent ornaments on paper and adding them to a poster we kept on the wall each night. There are a lot of different ways “to skin a cat” (as my father-in-law always says).
Holiday Beverages (more time for tea and contemplation – also, tea time melts the stress away)
We have always gotten a mug in December at Starbucks, too. It is a family tradition. This year I got a yellow Texas mug that I’m in love with. I don’t drink coffee any more, but I keep a mug in the car to have Starbucks fill with hot water so I can put my own tea in it if we ever mosey through their drive-thru for my other coffee drinking family members.
In our homeschool co-op we have a christmas party for and exchange an ornament and/or do a potluck. I have been tasked with helping set up this party this year and I’m falling down on the job. It is already December and I don’t even know where we are going to have our feast. Our small group at church already had a gathering and we played a fun game and had a potluck together. I always enjoy a good Christmas party.
Feasts, Silliness, Crafts and Gift-Giving
December is a time for feasting and presents, too. With me eating healthy, we try to avoid sugar and do our best not to cheat, but we love to cook Hanukkah foods and put our own healthy twist on them. I love to eat Thanksgiving type meals at Christmas, too – (foods like ones in the link in this sentence). Mexican food (tamales especially) is a favorite with my husband. His family like to do steak and all the things that go along with it, like mashed potatoes. There is hardly enough room in her dining area for all the desserts everyone brings; which definitely makes it hard for me to be nice and not naughty! We share potlucks with extended family when we go see them.
At our gatherings, we usually have gift exchanges where we draw names. Some years, we don’t do many gifts. Kevin’s mom’s side of the family have some fun traditions with gag-gifts, too. They have a number of different “Santas” that give each family member small gifts. One is “Santa Banana” (and lately that person actually has worn a banana costume to make it even more hilarious). Those gifts are based on a person’s past stories or personality (think: fart gifts, circus peanuts, or whatever silly thing that can be conjured up by a relative who has the “dirt” on you). “Santa claws” often leaves us with animal related gifts like calendars, figurines, or pet gifts for our family pets. This year we plan to try to do more hand-made things as a family, too.
I have a Pinterest board dedicated to Handmade Christmas gift ideas and we plan to try and make some things as part of our homeschool art projects for December.
Right now I’m reading through a great advent devotional on YouVersion. It’s called: “Advent: Christ is Coming! a family devotional” by Thistlebend
I have quite a bit of links for advent in this post, also: advent links online
Christmas Church Services
Although our church doesn’t have a Christmas service, I have always enjoyed attending an evening or midnight service at my husband’s family’s Lutheran church in the past.
Non-stop Christmas Music
I couldn’t tell you about our Christmas traditions without mentioning my Christmas music fettish. This season I have added a lot of new music because I’ve been on Spotify Premium. My preference is Christmas Piano Music… soothing and soft. Part of me is a little broken this year. I’m sure I’ll get more festive as the days pass and my eldest returns home. It sure is nice to have stress-lifting Christmas melodies to help me get through the waiting and grieving, though.
One song that I added to my Spotify this year was by Craig Aven of The Piano Guys and it’s on their newest Christmas CD “Christmas Together”. The song is called The Sweetest Gift. I cried a river when I first heard it… so you’ve been warned.
It’s in my Spotify Christmas playlist if you want to hop on and listen (I add songs to this playlist all the time):
Prior to the holidays, we like to watch Christmas movies as a family, also. We curl up on the couch together and watch family films. I have purchased a bunch on DVD and we check out Netflix and Amazon Prime to see if there are free additions. A few that are on our list to watch this year:
- The Shop Around the Corner
- White Christmas
- The Homecoming (Waltons)
- Scrooge (Musical w/ Albert Finney)
- It’s a Wonderful Life
- A Christmas Carol (w/ Alistair Sims)
- A Christmas Carol (George C. Scott)
- A Christmas Carol (Mr. Magoo’s)
- Christmas Memory
- Crippled Lamb
- Holiday Inn
- Yours Mine Ours
- The Bishop’s Wife (Cary Grant)
- Borrowed Hearts
- Little Women (Elizabeth Taylor)
- Christmas in Connecticut
- A Holiday Affair
- I’ll Be Seeing You
- Christmas Card
- The Ultimate Gift
- Charlie Brown Christmas
- Berenstain Bears Christmas
I’d love some ideas of movies your family loves to add to our list. Some of these are probably not kid movies. Use your own judgement.
I love hanging all the cards we get in the mail on the blinds or on a gingerbread clothes-pin line down the stairs at our current home. I’m sure we will find a new place to do this where we are moving. There are so many ways to display cards (Pinterest can help with that). This year I’m taking the easy route and doing them on the blinds in the kitchen. We ordered photo cards and are sending those out as soon as they come in. Each year I like to add thank you notes, photos, and whatever else I collect all year for my friends…. unless we send out post-cards. We took a HUGE stack of Christmas cards that were sent to us over a few years and cut them in to postcards and sent them out as postcards as a recycling effort last year and the year before. My aunt even made ornaments using Christmas cards and cookie cutters and sent them to all the family last year.
Candles, Decorations and Lights
My mother-in-law does an advent candle at her house, and I love the idea. We do candles on Hanukkah, and tonight we lit a candle for the beginning of Advent, but I don’t have an advent wreath yet. You can read more about the tradition at Professor Carol’s Advent series on her blog if you like the idea. I like reading through her posts each year. I think I listed her on my post I linked in the first paragraph, also… if you click on “resources” up there, there’s an older post I did with lots of links towards the bottom of advent spots online with devotionals and ideas for your family.
As for the holiday decorations outside? Let’s just say that my neighbor wins. They spent three days putting lights up and it is spilling over in to my yard (thankfully). I offered them 20$ to do mine, but apparently, she’s not sure her marriage can survive decorating two houses, and I’m pretty sure that’s not enough money, anyway. Maybe I can talk my bahumbug guy into helping me set up some spot-lights in the trees and wrap the bases of the trunks this year? My trees are huge and my house is 2-story, so he usually just says it isn’t worth a trip to the ER falling off a ladder, and that’s that. I can’t say I blame him… but I do so love the lights. We love driving to go see them and usually make a day of it as a family each year.
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I love to find new ways to bring meaning and purpose to the holidays. Christmas, Thanksgiving and Easter are my favorite holidays. As a December baby, myself, I’m doubly partial to this month. I’m honored to share my birthday celebration with the One who is the reason for the season. He takes the stage in December, and I get to bask in the glow of Christmas lights while I eat my birthday cake.
What are your holiday traditions in December? I’d love to hear them! I hope your December is blessed.