Thursday, 12 December 2013

our christmas family traditions // trimming the tree

First things first... setting up the nativity!

Ready to play all through December!

I just love this time of year! It really is the most wonderful, huh??

I relish the opportunity to build up family traditions each year now we have kids... though I also try to keep to my motto of 'the most effect for the least effort'! As I wrote about last year, I try to stick to the stuff that is enjoyable, doable and purposeful, and not get sucked into a bunch of burdensome traditions or activities. In a time that often seems to be predominantly busy and stressful for many, I really try to avoid that vibe in our home. Eg just lower the bar, haha! We do the things we love to do and I try not to feel compelled to do the things that are either too stressful or the kids don't care about anyway! Last year I did a lot less due to being heavily pregnant and still sick with hyperemesis. So I had a bit of extra energy/motivation this year to really get into Christmas celebrating now we had no pregnancy or house renos going on!! Yup, my Christmas hat was on and I was raring to go :)

Lily is a passionate tree-decorator, she just loves it. Here she is hanging up our new ornament for 2013. A gorgeous
one hand-painted by an Aboriginal artist., that Mark bought when in Adelaide recently. 

Carefully examining each ornament... each has a story of origin. I am hoping I don't forget them all!
(Well, the 4 gold ones hanging in this shot were all wedding gifts from my sweet old housemate, Anna for our December wedding. I sigh every time I pull out those pretty, precious ornaments. Such a lovely gift! Our first family ornaments! Ok, now this is one story I won't forget as I have recorded it here for the kids to remember!)
My focus through the Christmas season for our family is -

  • magical memories, 
  • remembering the greatest gift (Jesus, born for us), 
  • giving, serving and blessing others, 
  • creativity and craft, and 
  • good ol' fun!
The focus is not so much on presents, though yes, they do anticipate them and receive some! I try to keep those simple and very few - so what they receive is actually appreciated instead of overwhelming and needlessly excessive. We choose not to 'do' Santa (gasp!) as it just doesn't suit our family for a few reasons, but the kids still enjoy some of the associated fun (putting out oats for the reindeer!) whilst understanding it's just pretend. I should add that while I don't think Jesus was actually born on December 25th, (and we do remember Him all year long), this season is still a special one in our culture for remembering and thanking Him for His gift of life, and so we aim to keep Him at the centre of our celebrations too. I guess I have never really seen it as a 'religious holiday' growing up (more about family) but with kids myself now, I want put the focus back there a bit, at least to counteract all the mindless consumerism being pushed everywhere else!

So, I want to record our family traditions here - as much to remind me for next year as anything else! (last year's write up was very handy for me!). We may add some each year or tweak them as needed. My goal is to not ever make them a burden or stressful, but keep them enjoyable, meaningful and fun! I would rather do less with a relaxed mama and happy kids - than attempt a Christmas craft every day of December with a mother who has torn all her hair out by December 24!! (and that is what would happen if I tried to do that, let me just tell you now!!). So, they are a guide only! (note to future-self, haha)

Can't believe they all naturally lined up like this and I managed to snap it!
A Christmas miracle?! The kids decorated most of the tree while Mark and I smiled and
watched, but they insisted Daddy help out with some of it at the end :)

Oh yes, Miles was right in place too, desperately trying to get hold of an ornament to
munch on!

Our evolving family Christmas traditions...

  • TREE Decorating the tree (and other Xmas decor) all together with Christmas carols playing.
  • Christmas Book Advent - read in front of the tree each night, with lights on, and followed by singing carols together. I had an idea this year to write a note on the back of some of the book numbers with an extra little 'activity'. Just a handful of simple things on random nights - then thought I would perhaps add in more as I got the chance. Yeah, good thing I didn't get too overenthusiastic and do something for every day as we have not had time for any extras!!!
  • GIVING - Giving gifts to less fortunate children - the children choose their own gift at the shops for a child their age, and then we deliver to Marymead.
  • HAY FOR THE  MANGER - This year we added a new tradition I have been keen to introduce. We got a little 'manger' (wicker basket!) and I cut up yellow envelopes into strips of 'hay'. The idea is that as the kids do acts of kindness/blessing through December, they get to add a bit of 'hay' to the manger to make it soft, cosy and welcoming for Baby Jesus! Any blessing they do for someone also blesses/glorifies Jesus. So as we remember the ultimate Gift of God's Son sent for us to give us eternal life, we can show our thanks through kindness and good deeds. It's been a really fun way to prepare for Christmas Day and keep the focus on Jesus and caring for others. In the future I may try a Christmas 'angel' who moves around the house to the site of each good deed, but this is working for now! And that little manger is getting nice and full too :) Oh, and I write the Blessing on most of the bits of hay, so we can read through and remember them on Xmas day.
  • CHRISTMAS CAROLS - we love to go to the big event at Stage 88 each year with some dear friends. Each year the kids know a few more songs to sing along to!
  • STOCKINGS -with a few little treasures/practical items on Christmas morning.
  • XMAS LIGHTS - Going to see the lights on Christmas Eve with  kids in PJs. I am thinking we may actually tweak this into a couple of trips in the weeks leading up to Christmas, as otherwise we end up out till 10pm on Christmas Eve trying to see all the lights - and that's also a big night before a very big day!! We have already made one trip to see the lights, and I think we will do another 2-3 days before Christmas, then just see how we feel on Xmas Eve. What we did this year (and will make tradition too!) is just put the kids to bed as normal, then wake them up an hour after bed time with the exciting news we were going to see the lights - right now!! Made it even more exciting :)
  • XMAS EVE GIFTS -New pyjamas and a book given on Christmas Eve
  • XMAS MORNING NIBBLES - Home made cinnamon scrolls to nibble on Christmas morning while we unwrap presents
  • SIBLING GIFTS - Helping the siblings make gifts for each other
  • XMAS BRUNCH - On Christmas morning we usually host a Christmas brunch with whatever family is with us. After the gift opening is done - home made waffles, pastries, croissants, fruit platter, bacon and eggs, fresh juices and so on. If we have other Christmas functions to attend, for lunch we go there later, otherwise, its followed by a Christmas movie, naps and relaxing, and a mid-afternoon easy lunch. I am really not tied to traditional turkey or seafood feasts!
  • ACTS OF SERVICE - Look for ways we as a family can help others during this season
  • EXTRA MAKING & BAKING -This year we are also doing a few extras - making salt dough ornaments to use and give as gifts, making gingerbread cookies to eat and to give away, and making gingerbread houses (from kits!) too. We have also had time to make some other ornaments and decorations, and come up with various ways to bless/do a kindness/give to others through this season. Visiting, carolling over the phone, Christmas cards etc. Some other projects still in the works too. It's been fun :)

  • Edited to add:
    (Wanted to record a few extra things we did this month, so I can remember them for next year!)

    • Singing carols to residents at the nursing home (and taking gifts for the staff)
    • Random Acts of Christmas Kindness - giving out handmade (salt dough) ornaments at the shops a couple days before Christmas
    • Making gingerbread houses
    • We didn't get to go to Carols due to various reasons.... next year for sure!
    A trio of shining stars. I can't even say how happy it made me this year to order Miles' star from Paperboatpress.
    It joins the stunning ceramic stars his siblings have - each with birth year engraved on the back. My heart is full
    with these precious three.
    Dear Boy - somehow he got the idea we would be re-decorating the tree every day!!

    I love layering in meaningful new traditions and most of all, building special memories for our family. It is a constant mission to keep reminding myself to keep things simple and stress-free! But I try. I also try not to fret when things don't go to plan. 'Cos sometimes even in the midst of the funnest project/event, there will be tears (Because: KIDS). Just gotta roll with it?!

    One thing that really helps me enjoy the season is that I set myself the goal of having all gifts purchased and sorted out by December 1st. It really frees me up (mentally and time-wise) to focus on all social events, activities and traditions we want to do in December and it's nice to have all these things be an enjoyment rather than burden!

    And so - Merry Christmas to you and to you and to you. 
    My hope is for the richest blessings for you in 2014!

     (and now for some more Christmas shots...)

    Eli was so charmed by these little Santas for every family member - a gift from Mark's parents last year :)

    I was recalling nostalgically recalling how last year Eli piled all his ornaments on one branch, but this year he seemed to
    get the 'share them around' concept. Then I saw him doing this little pile up and could only smile. He is getting bigger
    but he is still my little guy.

    After the big finale (switching on the lights to a chorus of awed gasps!) the
    kids excitedly ripped into their first Christmas Advent Book :)

    The kids are tucked in bed at last and I am left to survey this sweet little scene. Magical childhood memories are
    conjured up in this little space.

    Our 'minimalist' little tree is looking a little small in our big house and loaded down
    with our growing ornament collection. Not quite ready to part with it yet but a bigger
    tree may be coming...

    The kids love playing with this huge cardboard nativity stage!

    Jesus' Manger and the 'Blessing Hay'. The kids get to put in a bit of hay each time they do a kindness/blessing for someone. Our way to welcome Jesus who is the greatest blessing of all!

    My sweet little Christmas Elf!

    I would LOVE LOVE LOVE to hear what Christmas traditions you grew up with, or are doing in your own family now... (always keen to add some new ones to the list!)


    1. Lovely post Kate. I do like your general "stress free" theme ;) It's great to hear that it can happen! We have a lot of the same traditions and like you I try to plan them out so they actually happen, but also so I'm not trying to jam-pack too much into December or do things in a hurry. While I want to make this a fun month for my kids I am conscious that if they have a stressed out mum, well that's no fun for anyone!
      We have stripped things back a lot this Christmas, trying not to commit to too many things and being sensible about the things/activities we do take on. It has also helped greatly that this year we are in Canberra, rather than travelling for most of Dec. I think the stress levels are high when I have to think about packing and entertaining kids on long road trips! I'm so happy to have that element removed this year!
      one thing that we do that I didn't notice on your list is that the kids pick out one new decoration each for the Christmas tree. They both think so carefully about which one they will choose and they hang it with such pride. x

      1. i always love and learn so much from your approach to christmas - and nabbed quite a few traditions from you ;) im so excited you are going to have a lovely xmas at home this year i know you will enjoy it!

    2. These were lovely! we too have a crazy holiday, but what I did yo relieve some of the pressure from wanting to do too much is the activity/xmas events chain, each day with the advent candy the kids are excited to see whats on our chain…from traditional things like nutcracker and gingerbread houses, to donating to oxfam and local homeless shelter to movies (we are usually a screen free home)…works for us really well

      1. an advent activity chain, what a great idea!!! will have to keep it in mind for future years :)

    3. "enjoyable, doable and purposeful", yes! We love going out to see the Christmas lights, too, and I have to make sure we make time for it again this year.

      1. seeing the lights is such a wonderful tradition huh! enjoy :)


    i love to hear your thoughts, thanks for leaving your comments! xx