12 Simple Christmas Traditions: Unique Ideas to Bring Your Family Together this Season

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A short word before the list: It’s never too late to start a tradition! There are several beloved traditions among my adult siblings and I that weren’t begun until we were in high school or college, and that have since ceased to be. Perhaps we will revive them when our children are older. I guess some traditions are like that – only magical for a season. At the moment, I have two preschoolers and a newborn babe in my home, so some of the traditions that made my list are specific to my current season. However, most of these can be reenacted with a grandchild or with a friend or with whomever you spend the season. Please promise me that you won’t ever ever ever let these be a source of stress; we don’t ever do every single one of these in any one Christmas season. Sometimes I skip a few on purpose just so my law-abiding kids won’t indict me.

And now… the list:

12. During my growing-up years, my family would burn a numbered advent candle every night at dinner. You could, of course, also burn it at breakfast or lunch – whichever is your most consistent family meal. Ours usually looked a lot like this one.

11. For the month of December, I try to read the advent story (Luke 1-2 or Matthew 1-2 in the Bible) at least once every day. Sometimes I read it by myself in the morning, using different versions of the Bible to mix it up a little. Sometimes I read it out of my kids’ Bible to them over breakfast or at bedtime. Sometimes I listen to it read to me on an audible Bible app.

10. Take time to reflect on the past year and start to think about the new year ahead: savoring the highlights; identifying some good failures to learn from; making resolutions; making needed family schedule & lifestyle changes; prayers to pray; asking God and listening for His heart-prompts about what my resolutions should be; talking with my husband about family resolutions & goals. For example, a few Decembers ago, I was praying and asking God for breakthroughs in our marriage and God put the word “warmth” on my heart. In the year that followed, I found many practical ways to bring more warmth to the ways I initiated with and reacted to my husband.

9. Put one small gift in your kids’ stockings sporadically throughout the season and let them open it on the spot. I’m much more into progressive-gifting than avalanche-gifting, anyway. I haven’t done this one yet, but I think my preschool-aged kids would love it.

8. We hang mistletoe [fake or real] every year. And use it! ;)

7. Do something local. We don’t always do the same thing every year, but we love to try new ones and we sometimes repeat ones we loved from years before. A few things we’ve done in our city that you might look for in yours: A private residence with a 20 minute outdoor light show that synchronizes with the music on a private radio station. (You sit in your car and tune your radio to the proper channel.) A Christmas lights parade. A Christmas symphony concert. A Nutcracker ballet. A really nice dinner with really good wine at a local winery. A limo ride to see Christmas lights around the city. An outdoor Luminaria at an arboretum. A Christmas Eve (usually candlelight!) service at an old, beautiful church.

6. Almost every year, I try one new Christmas cookie/candy recipe. I choose the new recipe based on the preferred tastes of my husband and boys. Sometimes they become a new favorite; sometimes we never waste flour on them again!

5. My friend Amanda Fay and her husband open Christmas gifts while wearing a pair of Christmas socks on their hands. They own a funky pair, designated specifically for the task. She says that it significantly slows down the process, and helps them both to enjoy it more. Plus they have to open gifts one at a time as they take turns with the socks.

4. Take your significant other on a Year’s End Date – with a tiny, fun agenda. My husband and I have done this every year of our married lives. (We used to go every Christmas Eve morning, but have had to flex with our changing work commitments.) On the agenda: 1) Make a list together of the highlights from the past year (I’ve saved all of ours – somewhere…) 2) Make another list together of personal and communal hopefuls / resolutions for the new year to come.

3. I buy a set of blank Christmas cards and take 5 minutes each to write a short, simple “what I like, love, appreciate, or respect about you” card for each person in my family and put it in their stocking. (Keep it simple and don’t try to find a card that says what you want to say – you say it!) Other ideas to jog your brain: Write a short reflection on the past year of your friendship. Write a quote you saw that reminded you of them. It can be literally one sentence. I find that it’s a simple way to give the precious gift of kind words. Rarely do we take the time anymore to tell people what we really [positively] think about them! There is a chance that those kind, genuine words will last longer and resonate more deeply than perhaps any of the gifts under the tree.

2. We carry over one of our most beloved birthday traditions to Christmas. After all, it is a birthday party. A college friend shared it with me a few years ago. We call it the Birthday Cheerios Experiment, and it goes like this: On the night before a birthday, a jelly roll pan of scattered Cheerios is presented to the birthday child to decorate. The birthday child dusts the Cheerios with powdered sugar, cinnamon, and sprinkles as he or she sees fit. Then, the child places the pan in the (not-turned-on) oven to sit overnight. In the morning, the Cheerios (in the still not-turned-on oven) have turned into DOUGHNUTS for all to enjoy!! (Bonus: Doughnuts come in a wide variety of amount of time spent. Someday, when I am sleeping through the night again, I just might fry them myself! Until then, grocery store or – when the Doughnut Fairy only has a few minutes at an obscure hour of the morning – Hostess still taste mighty fine.) The Christmastime Birthday Cheerio Experiment keeps us talking about a real little boy named Jesus who celebrated His birthday every year for 33 years. It makes it real. It makes Him real. As a result, Jesus has made His way into our kids’ oft-recounted list of family birthdays in order: “And then it’s Wells’ birthday, and then Howie’s, and then Daddy’s and then Jesus’!”

1. At least one night close to Christmas, we drag our king-size mattress out of the master bedroom and sleep together next to the fire, under the Christmas tree. It is simply splendid. And we’ll do it every year until our 3boys think it’s too childish. Hopefully never.

 

Leave a comment with any of your favorite unique traditions I should add to my list!

 

Copycat Health Nut Breakfast Cookies

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I first had a cookie like this one at a little bakery at Pike Place in Seattle. (Sad, I can’t for the life of me find the name of the bakery.) I loved it so much — what’s not to like about a cookie for breakfast?! — that when I got home, I concocted the best copycat I could muster. Now I always keep some of these cookies in the freezer for those mornings when we must be out the door quickly; they’re well-loved by both me and J. They have some good-for-you components, but they’re still definitely a cookie!

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Flatten balls of dough at least 1″ apart on cookie sheet. Bake at 375 F for 10-12 minutes. After 5 minutes, transfer to wire rack. Let cool completely. Freeze in an airtight container for up to 3 months. Enjoy!

{A funny little side note: My friend Kari has been asking me for weeks for this breakfast cookie recipe, so I told her I’d just post it here. She is an amazingly talented professional photographer who studied Corporate Industrial & Portraiture at the Art Institute of Seattle. Let’s just say that she is especially gifted at food photography…I had to laugh at that as I took these b-e-a-utiful photos! Hahaha.}

My Home Inspiration

We moved five months ago; I’m still nesting. This quote is such an inspiration to me — of what is most important about my home: making it a place where people feel comfortable and inspired to do all of these things!

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Forever Christmas

Welcome, dear December.

I know it’s tacky to leave your Christmas lights up all year-round (thank you to Gretchen Wilson for memorializing that for anyone who was so unenlightened – or should I say so terribly lightened all year). But – what about just the lights on my tree? I love my Christmas tree so much. I seriously want to keep it in our living room all year. Or at least all winter, while it’s so dark and so cold. I think it’s mostly the ambient light and sense of wonder it holds. Maybe it’s that it’s 9ft tall and barely fits in the vaulted ceiling part of our great room – it seems to fill the whole room. I’m not sure there’s anything that I love to see more when first get up, get home, or retire for the evening.

Anyone else feel the same? Want to help me try to start a trend?

Then it could be awhile winter, but forever Christmas.

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No-Sew Re-Upholstering Vinyl

My dear friend and neighbor, Christy, found a lovely little spearmint-colored vinyl footstool for me at a yard sale long ago. She bought it because “It fits perfectly in your basement!” And it does. She is so sweet – and proves to have more of an eye for design than she accredits to herself.

Well, a few months ago, I was so sad to find a crack in the vinyl! I’m almost positive that it was my own 18-month-old and his pretend chopsticks (which Christy also gave us, I might add) that were the culprit. Well, the crack grew. And then multiplied. I kept thinking I should just throw it out, but was racking my brain for a less terminal solution. And then…it came to me. Mod Podge! Mod Podge is one of my favorite solution to anything and everything. Fortunately, the cracks were only on the top of the footstool, so I:

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Our New Piano!

I’m busy rearranging our basement today… much due to the arrival of our new friend:

Isn’t she a beaut!? She fits perfectly in our basement decor, too (a fact that it much more important to me than to the rest of our family). An old high school friend of mine gave her to us for free! And my dad hauled it 180 miles to our home for free! And our 3 strongest, manliest friends came over to help carry her in to her new place for free! I’m so blessed.

With such a talented, musical husband, a piano in our home was a [first world] need. I’ve wanted one for as long as I’ve been married to J. When instruments are left out in our home, they get played a lot – and not too shabbily, I might add. J taught himself to play piano after sitting next to his mom and watching her. I pray that the same thing will happen to at least a couple of my kids and that they’ll come to love music as much as their dad & I do. Already we’ve enjoyed sitting around it listening, singing, tinkering.

Just for kicks, here’s her current view of the rest of the basement:

As you can see, I still have lots of work to do. Also, please note Howard’s “fort” on the righthand side – made up of the perfect combination of blankets and our old-school TV trays – and the dead-looking Mr. Potato Head under it. I think I’m going to get going so I can resuscitate him…along with the rest of our disarrayed living room.

Happy Monday! What are you up to this week?

Jocie