Monday, December 07, 2009

Christmas Traditions

Today we begin a full month (hopefully - can I do this with Christmas looming?) of my choose your own adventure blogging. I am also going to return to the public.

Here is how it is going to work - in my last post I asked for the very limited number of readers to provide me with a list of 30 topics to blog on and I got a few responses. What I've decided to do, rather than build a list of those topics, I would like this to be a true Choose Your Own Adventure kind of month. So this is what we'll do - I am choosing the first topic suggestion from my last post. I will blog about that today. Your responsbility as loyal readers and lovers of Jana is to read today's blog and give me a suggestion for tomorrows topic either based on today's blog or some other random question in your head. I will then choose my own aventure from the comments - either randomly eeny meeny miney mo style or one that is particularly compelling to me.

So today we have this suggestion for loyal friend and reader, Marissa:
Christmas traditions. What are yours? Any new ones you're implementing this year? How do you keep the spirit of Christmas alive in your house and keep your kids from getting caught up in the gift aspect of it all?

This is an interesting question for me. I grew up without traditions. We had no traditions in any aspect of our lives that I can recall - we weren't just lacking Christmas traditions, but family traditions in general. I remember that my mom just simply hated all things Christmas - she put a tree up, but there was little to no other decorating in the house. My dad put lights on the house and I remember one year he left them up for the entire year. He was fastidious about them being straight, which is why I refuse to have lights on my own house (because I know that my husband will not be as particular and the crookedness of the lights on the eaves will drive me crazy and I will hate every second of pulling into my driveway).

Every year Christmas became less and less - first it started with just taking the already decorated tree and putting it in the storage room with a big piece of plastic on it so we wouldn't have to decorate it the following year, then the tree got bagged altogether and we literally put presents under a pelican statue that had a Christmas ornament hanging from its beak, and then in one of Dave's most shocking Christmases ever, my parents didn't wrap our gifts - my dad tossed them across the room in the plastic bag from the store (good thing mine was a bubble ski coat).

Now that you are sufficiently horrified an it sounds like I'm vilifying my parents, I need to mention that none of this bothered me or upset me. I'm not upset about it now. I don't feel gipped. I don't feel like I missed out. I don't carry resentments. I find it amusing in retrospect, but I also understand that this was our family. I love my parents and I love these things about them. I also love the fact that my mom has done a complete 180 with the whole Christmas tree/decoration thing. I wholeheartedly believe that everyone has a story, and part of my story includes the above... and part of my parents story includes whatever brought them to the point of those things. While I know that most people live differently over Christmas, I never knew it at the time - this is how WE celebrated Christmas.

Now, all that to say that over the last 12 years of being a member of Dave's family, I have grown to appreciate and look forward to family traditions. They have many. And actually my mom is working hard to create some new ones with our family - and I love it!

It has actually taken me quite a while to desire our own family traditions. Life with me is very different this year than it has been in the past. I truly, truly believe that this can be attributed to no longer feeling smothered with lots of little children and getting some alone time on a consistent basis. I feel like I can finally be intentional about this kind of stuff - I am no longer looking at what a hassle something is or how much work its going to be to prepare for it and packing the diaper bag and the training pants and the stroller etc. etc. Since Georgia turned 3 life seems to have gotten quite a lot easier than in previous years and that results in our family striving to create and maintain some new traditions - Christmas or otherwise.

So all of this to say, here are some of our traditions that are already established:

* decorating the tree as a family - in the past we have done this the weekend of Thanksgiving. We were not home this year, so we did it last weekend. We have a fake tree and I would have it no other way:)

* advent wreath / lighting of the candles on advent sundays - last year we decided to get a real Advent wreath and do our own readings/candle lightings because our church does not do them and Dave really missed it. This has been a great devotional time for our family where we are also able to teach the girls about hope, peace, joy and love and how Jesus fulfills each of them. I'm still waiting for the day that they aren't more interested in blowing the candle out than in the reading, but it will happen.

* adore-naments for the 12 days before Christmas - I mentioned these in my post last year. We really enjoyed doing these ornaments every night and again, it was a great teaching tool for the girls to learn different names and characteristics of Christ.

* Long Grove, IL - This is a little town that is about an hour north of us. Its just a small, quaint downtown area with some cute little shops. It is probably not any different than any other quaint little downtown area, but it is a place that we went to 3 years ago and have been back every year since. Last year we took a horse and carriage ride and Nora got to drive! We always stop for coffee and live music at Beans and Leaves, for popcorn at the popcorn store, for giant gingerbread cookies at the bakery and for some holiday wine at the general store. Nothing too exciting for most people, but they are things that at least Dave and I have fond memories of and look forward to every year.

* Santa - neither Dave nor I did Santa when we were little kids. We probably wouldn't have done Santa with our kids either, except Nora made reindeer food in preschool one year and we played it out - left some cookies for Santa and the food for the reindeer. When she woke up the next morning the cookies were half eaten (it was a lot of work trying to keep those away from the Woof) and the reindeer had spilled their food all over the front porch and lawn. Her face was priceless and we will do Santa forever. Santa only brings one gift - either one for each girl or one big gift for the family. Last year he brought a bunch of board games. One year he brought scooters, this year he's bringing exactly what the girls have asked for and I'm excited for them to wake up on Christmas morning.

* Home on Christmas morning/day - with all of our family out of town we used to travel on the actual day. After the whole Santa business, though, we have protected Christmas eve night and Christmas day as OUR time. We will always be home on Christmas morning as long as I have anything to say about it.

* Only 3 gifts (in addition to what Santa brings) - I started this last year based on a suggestion from a friend. It was awesome. It felt so freeing to stop at 3 gifts and to not be caught up in buying a bunch of things. It also forces me to be very selective in what I pick out for them. I know some people do something to wear, something to read, something to play with - we don't, but we may switch to that at some point... right now it is unnecessary.

* baking cookies - this is pretty self explanatory and actually is quite stressful for me:) I think it will be less stressful this year for many reasons and I'm looking foward to it.

* having a peaceful, unhurried Christmas season - last year i made an effort to get my shopping done early and was determined to actually enjoy the holiday season rather than be stressed and anxious. I loved it so much, that I determined to do it again. As of today I have one more gift to buy, and all of the presents to wrap, but our Christmas letters are finished and mailed, teacher gifts are planned, etc. It is now just my honor to bake, bake, bake and enjoy the month and the celebration and to be intentional about remembering our reason for celebrating.

Traditions that hopefully are beginning this year:
* Dutch babies and egg nog the night we decorate the tree - this was fun. The food was good, it was celebratory and special and festive.

* Movies over Christmas break - I've told the girls that we can watch one princess movie together every day of Christmas break. I HATE Disney princess movies, but I think we're going to have some good, girl time with this. I'm going to have to suffer through Ariel, Belle & Cinderella before I finally get to Giselle, but it'll be fun.

* feeding the homeless - we were downtown yesterday morning for brunch with our college friends. On our way home we passed a couple of homeless men asking for money. The girls had never seen homeless people and were full of questions. Dave and I both looked for money, but we didn't have any cash on us, so we went to the drive-through at McDonalds and bought each of these men a double cheeseburger and a chocolate milk. It didn't amount to much and I actually worry that the greasy food would upset their stomachs, but it was one meal for them yesterday. I hope that this is not just a Christmas tradition, but becomes part of our family MO.

The second part of the suggested topic was: How do you keep the spirit of Christmas alive in your house and keep your kids from getting caught up in the gift aspect of it all?

Hopefully I've been able to answer the first part of that question already - advent wreath, adorenaments, unhurried Christmas. This is really something that we're trying to be intentional about and I hope we're succeeding. In addition, I think one thing that helps to keep them from getting caught up in the gift aspect of it all is that we don't let them watch a lot of tv, which means they aren't seeing a bunch of commercials for toys that advertisers are trying to convince them that they NEED. We also do a fair amount of emphasis throughout the year on experiences rather than things, I hope that helps too.

These traditions have really helped me begin to enjoy the Christmas season rather than stress out about all of the obligations and busyness that used to come along with it. These are the things that I look forward to!


Skooks 7:11 PM  

Jana, I don't know your parents at all. The experience you described with Christmases past is both odd and kind of hilarious. Very different from mine growing up for sure! It sounds like you have a lot of fun traditions in your family already. I always wonder what people do . . . our family is so young, we are just starting out with these things. Nate and I talked awhile ago about doing the 3 gifts thing only (with little stocking gifts and jammies for everyone for Christmas Eve). It feels like both an appropriate amount and gives you a limit without being limiting. I like that so much more than the aimless and random shopping I used to do before. It also helps the holiday from becoming a gift orgy.

I loved this post! I'm so glad you're coming back into the blogosphere. :)

Amy 9:49 PM  

Always enjoy your blog. Does the Dykstra extended family tradition still include fireworks? I have some good memories of that. :)

Here's a blog post idea for you. Think back to when you had a baby, toddler, and preschooler in the house--What advice would you have for people like me who are in survival mode--how to juggle things or what NOT to do? And included with that...How is your life different now that you have two school aged children and a preschooler? What are some of the challenges now?

i am not 9:30 AM  

Marissa - we've done stockings in the past, too. This year, however, I'm considering eliminating those as they end up being much more expensive than I anticipate and plan for. Even if I only do dollar items, its still $1 x 3 for each item (we are at the stage of everyone has to get the same thing or variation of the same otherwise it is a catastrophe).

And, you did not provide a suggestion for today's post. Tsk Tsk.

i am not 9:31 AM  

Not sure if Dave's parents do fireworks on Christmas Eve anymore. WE do not do them - and I totally forgot about that!

April 11:34 AM  

What a fun post! I loved the last part about the kids not watching tv and therefore not seeing all the things they could "want". Since switching to internet only TV that has been our most positive outcome!

We don't have quite as many traditions, but we are working on them slowly, but surely :)!

JCarey 10:05 PM  

Hi Jana,
Great traditions! We still do the santa cookies - this has always been a bid deal for Liz and when they were younger - yep did the reindeer food too. We have a tradition that you might like, we read both the Christmas story from the bible as a family on Christmas Eve and Twas the Night before Christmas using great voice inflections and sometimes a few arm motions too! The kids invariably pick some action or phrasology to tease me with the rest of the year but we continue to do these two each and every year.

Glad you have found your writing voice again!

What virtues would you name as the top 5 to teach your kids and how do you plant the seeds of these? Realistically 3 is probably easier to focus on if you really want to accomplish them.

Hampers 10:36 PM  

Nice blog. There is no ideal Christmas; only the one Christmas you decide to make as a reflection of your values, desires, affections, traditions. Have a wonderful Christmas.

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