Christmas! That word just looks magical even in an ordinary font! What do you think of when you see that word? For me, it’s lights sparkling, the smell of a Christmas tree, red, felt stockings, nativity sets, church services, mince pies, shopping and Amy Grant’s Christmas album.
Childhood Christmases have to be even better than birthdays because the whole world is celebrating and wherever you go, the world is magical and twinkling. I’m sure much of our affection and fondness for this holiday in the year can be attributed to childhood memories.
Amid the bustle, shopping, wrapping paper, mince pies and gifts is the meaning behind this holiday which, as much as I love the festivities, I don’t want to lose. So as much as I want to make Christmas magical, I also don’t want my children to lose sight of the true reason Christmas exists.
Listed below are cherished activities and memories from my childhood Christmases as well as things I’ve added to our Christmas tradition list now that I’m a parent myself.
1. Advent Nativity Set
I am very aware how easy it is to lose the birth of Christ among the discarded wrapping paper. I wanted to make sure that our children grow up remembering the real story behind Christmas rather than tearing open a window to pop out a chocolate. I had made a mini-version of this set at school with the kiddies (just Mary, Joseph and Baby Jesus) but I got this crazy idea in my head that I would try and create a nativity set with 25 pieces…ambitious much?!? Well, I’m pleased to say that I managed without one duplicate and avoiding extra arbitrary characters to fill up the days! I wrote a small story for each day and referenced it in the Bible so that as our kids outgrow my narrative, they can read the proper story.
Guys, highlight of the Christmas season so far!! My one-year-old loves it!! Before she even knew what the box was she cried, “Open!” and then, now that she knows the drill, she’ll toddle off, squat to retrieve a box a third of her size and carry it over to us. She is so excited to add a new character to the scene each evening and…get this, she knows each character by name! And, as we were decorating the tree at my parents’ house, she pulled a character out of a never-before-seen nativity set and announced, “Mary.” She can see the scene from her high chair and every now and then, she’ll say “Peeper” for innkeeper or “Heehaw” for donkey followed by a, “Please” requesting us to take her there to have a look! It’s been a great reminder of the Christmas story for all of us and such a special family tradition unique to our family.
2. Advent Calendar
Look, I love chocolate! I am never opposed to having a chocolate advent calendar! We also grew up with a felt calendar that my mom made where we added a character to the nativity story each day. She would pop a chocolate in each pocket and we’d do a little reading. Either way, it was a lovely way to start the day and such fun to count down the days until Christmas.
3. Decorating the Tree as a Family
This was always such an exciting event in the Christmas holidays. Until the decorations came down from their dusty corner in the garage, I would try and do Christmassy things to get into the mood. But the real deal was when Dad took the boxes down and Mom took us to buy a real Christmas tree – something my dad hated because of dirt, white ants, etc. The whole house felt festive once those boxes were open.
It was a family affair. Dad, with much reluctance, would bring in the tree. Mom would string the tree with lights. And then my sister and I would plunge our hands into the boxes of decorations and pull out every ice-cream tub crammed full of Christmas delights until the lounge was one sparkling, festive wonderland. We’d always have a Christmas album playing in the background – generally Amy Grant – and then would always turn the volume up when “Sleigh Ride” came on.
The memories are irreplaceable! It’s worth turning into a family tradition!
4. Christmas Crafts
I wish I could find the book or remember the title but we owned a lovely Christmas craft book. It had a simple craft for each day leading up to Christmas and they were easy enough to do without the help of our parents by the time we were in primary school. We loved to do crafts any day of the year but it was especially exciting to have Christmas-related crafts to give us something to look forward to each day that lasted longer than the teeny square chocolate from our advent calendars in the long wait to Christmas Day (although, don’t get me wrong, I loved those chocolate advent calendars)!
Now there is Pinterest and millions of amazing crafts to keep your kiddies busy. Take the time to sit down and spend time with them. It’s great to have mom or dad or even both involved! Check out my Christmas Crafts board on Pinterest.
5. Christmas Baking
This was something we did every year, although it was limited to mince pies growing up. We were incensed if my mom dared to make even the dough without us. But honestly, the best bit was cutting out the circles (after trying glasses of every shape and size to find circles that would fit the muffin tray), then putting in the fruit mince, dabbing water around the “hats” as we called them and pressing the edges together with a fork. Now, my sister and I have added iced ginger biscuits to the traditions and she’ll make her famous gingerbread house. The first year, she made a Tardis (these Dr. Who fans)! I’m glad the more traditional house has been the preference the last few years.
6. Christmas Shopping
I think most adults can’t abide the shops at this time of year. But, as a child, I’d start planning if not making or buying gifts as early as July. Growing up, we had no shopping centre where I lived and so we would make a trip to Durban. Armed with each person’s list and carefully saved money, we would get a chance to choose something special for our specials. When we were younger, our parents would split up and my mom would shop on her own and my dad would take us to the shops we wanted to go to. As we got older, we would all split up and meet at central points every two hours or so and check in. It was so much fun carrying around our very own bags crammed with our very own purchases and having our turn at closing the door when we got home to unpack our treasures and tuck them away.
7. Wrapping Presents
This may not be for everyone but it’s something I still do even as an adult. I love wrapping presents and I still make myself a comforting cup of tea and put on some Christmas music. Then I lay out all my gifts on the floor, smile at the joy of knowing to whom they will be gifted to and then the wrapping begins.
8. Advent Candles and Readings
This is the first year we are trying this and we are somewhat amateurs. We read quite quickly as our daughter gets distracted but hopefully, in the years to come, we’ll find advent readings that fit our family and it will be a time of joy and hope as we anticipate the coming of Jesus. Needless to say, my daughter does love the candles and asks for them at all mealtimes.
9. Christmas Books
This was an idea I saw online last year and absolutely loved. As a countdown to Christmas, you wrap up 24 books and put them under the tree. Each night, the kids get to unwrap a book and that’s what you read for a bedtime story. What I love about this is how versatile it is! You don’t need new books. It can just be the ones in your kiddies’ bookshelf and you can wrap them up with newspaper. Or, if you’re feeling like you have cash lying around at this time of the year (!!!) then you can buy new ones. What I’ve done is chosen to wrap Christmas books but, at the moment, it’s a mixture of ones I had as a child and new ones. And I pack them away after Christmas. I have bought one each year for my daughter, and, until we collect 24, we’ll just make do with what we’ve got. Each year, I’m going to try and give each of our children a Christmas book and add it to our collection. Even secondhand ones. And I wrapped them with reused wrapping paper. I promise you, the thrill of being able to open a gift each day will override the fact that it’s donned in newspaper or that it’s a book they’ve seen before.
10. Making Gifts
I absolutely loved doing this as a child. And, again, Pinterest makes this easy and versatile. You can literally use recyclable materials, give them a lick of paint and decorate them. It’s a win-win situation. It’s keeps the kids occupied for ages and also allows them to give something personal and something they’ve spent time on to someone special. I can tell you that I still love the thrill of watching them open something I’ve made and I get more joy out of watching the open that than a bought gift. Check out my Arts and Crafts board and my Christmas Gift Ideas board on Pinterest for some ideas I’ve pinned and used in the past.
11. Christmas Play
My sister and I loved to put on plays for my parents. As we got older, we’d write scripts and add some side-cracking kid humour! As there was only two of us, we’d use our soft toys as the characters and we’d move them, dress them up in dish towels and speak for them accordingly. It was great! This could keep your kiddies entertained for a good morning and they will love putting it on for you.
12. Stockings for Parents
My sister and I took it upon ourselves one year to handsew stockings for our parents. We were old enough to know the truth about Father Christmas when we did it, but there is nothing stopping you from either doing it for your spouse when your kids are little or, when they’re older, giving them a small budget to spend and see what they buy!! We used our pocket money and we definitely weren’t egged on by my parents but we loved doing it! We took great delight in handing them their stockings on Christmas Eve after we had been handed ours and then waking up early and sneaking down the passage on Christmas morning to fill them. Truth be told, we’d been awake for hours already.
14. Singing Carols
This is something we still do as a family and it’s something that makes Christmas Eve for me. After dinner, we would make our way through to the lounge, turn off the lights and sing carols by the twinkling lights of the Christmas tree. My dad would play the piano or the guitar for some songs. My sister and I generally had one or two that we’d practised on the piano and the family sang staccato because we played so badly when people sang along! And sometimes, if we had no music, we’d sing acapella. It didn’t matter if we sang in tune or not. It was just our family. No one did amazing harmonies. And our instrument playing is far from polished! But it was good, before the festivities started, to remind ourselves exactly why we were celebrating Christmas and to think back to the birth of our Saviour in a stable so long ago. Now that we’re older, we also read passages from the Bible about the prophecies and the birth of Jesus.
15. Go to a Carol Service
There is nothing quite like going into a building lit by glowing candlelight and singing age-old carols. It’s a fun, family event where the kids are often catered for, they are songs everyone knows and there is a real festive atmosphere. It’s a lovely community event where everyone lifts their voices to praise the Lord and remember the coming of our Saviour. I always look forward to our carol service and love how full the church is, love the sound of everyone singing together and love remembering the birth of Jesus.
Some extra ideas that I haven’t explored yet but I would consider implementing in the future are the following…
Christmas Eve Boxes – Put new pajamas, maybe a new cup and some hot chocolate, a snack and a book in a box for your kiddies to unwrap. There are stacks of ideas online so go ahead and Google them.
Decorate Bedrooms – Make their bedroom fun with lights and homemade decorations. This is a great place to stick all their Christmas art 🙂
A Jesse Tree/Storybook Bible Decorations – I know very little about these but what I do know is that you make the decorations with the kids and there are readings that go with each day and decoration. They start in the Old Testament and work their way to Jesus’ birth. Again, Google it because I feel like my knowledge isn’t informed. But I’m definitely keen to try!
Now that I’ve let you in on all my secrets, let me in on yours! Drop me a line and tell me about your family traditions.