Every family has traditions - they help us maintain that sense of love, familiarity, and continuity through the years. I've been asked about some of our family's Christmas traditions. Each year they still evolve a bit, I keep adding to them to make them a bit more meaningful. And this year they've had to be re-evaluated, since we moved further from some family members, and closer to others. (For more details, feel free to click on the links marked in red.)
- Black Friday usually involves minimal shopping - usually we hit up some clothing sales. This year most of my shopping was done online (with free shipping). We always get our Christmas tree on Black Friday. In the past this has sometimes meant we've had to search high and low to find a place open, but we've always succeeded. We generally don't get it decorated on Friday, but at least the house begins to smell like evergreen!
- My goal is to enjoy Christmas as long as possible. I usually (secretly) begin listening to Christmas music by September. And I try to get the entire house completely decorated the weekend after Thanksgiving. Aaron always has a long weekend, and it's nice to have him help with the lifting/pulling/reaching. Generally most of the house is decorated by the end of the weekend, but the "decoration mess" takes an additional day or two to clean up. (smile)
- Each year, the Sunday after Thanksgiving my mother's family has their Thanksgiving Reunion, and one of my aunts give us an advent calendar for the boys. I'm not sure if she buys one each year for them, or if she has them stockpiled somewhere (wink). It's a wonderful way to start the Christmas season.
- Once the house is decorated, it's time to begin Christmas Cards. Usually they are begun on the Sunday after Thanksgiving, and mailed out the following morning. However, this year (having just moved, and being in the hospital twice) they got out later than I wished - I think they were put in the mailbox on the 10th. We always include a family photo and letter. In years past I would handwrite all addresses (and our return address), as well as include a short note inside each. (I would start addressing envelopes the week before Thanksgiving, and it would take probably 3 whole evenings.) But the last two years I've given into my "Christmas exhaustion," and started using address labels. I know it's so impersonal, but I've only got so much energy these days. Christmas cards ALWAYS are done while listening to Christmas music, eating cookies, and drinking hot cocoa. My fabulous husband even signs his own name - but I haven't asked Alex to sign his name to the 150+ cards we send. I always buy my Christmas cards the end of January for the following Christmas. This way they've always been 75-90% off!
- My sister and I always buy each other a Christmas movie each year. We've been doing this for years! We both always aim to put it in the mail (she lives in Tahoe) the beginning of December. I have more than 20 Christmas movies, and usually begin watching them in July. (shhhh - don't tell!)
- Since Christmas is still "magical" to our young boys, I wrap everything after they're in bed at night. I make sure the mess is cleaned up before they wake up. I'm cherishing these years when they try to be good and are excited about Santa coming! I always wrap gifts after they boys are fast asleep, while watching one of my Christmas movies. I have learned, though, that the movie(s) need to be ones I can quote by heart, or I spend more time watching than wrapping. Last year all my gifts were "brown paper packages tied up with string."
- Each year I create a calendar for my mother and for Aaron's parents on snapfish.com (they seem to make the best quality ones I could find). Each calendar has photos of all the grandkids on that side of the family from the past year. I've been fortunate that my sister and sister-in-law always help me out with photos of their kids for the cause. It's fun to look through the calendar and see how much the boys (it's interesting that all five "grandkids" are boys) have grown and developed in a year's time. I love reliving the memories of those photos.
- We always go to a Christmas Eve Candle-light service. Since we recently moved closer to my mother, this year will be the first one that Aaron will get to experience the service at the church of my childhood. The service always ends with the congregation singing Silent Night and lighting our candles. When I was growing up, my mother always had a huge party afterwards for people who didn't have anyone to celebrate with - like the guy who lived down the street and spent all day every day sitting outside the liquor store. That party was one of my highlights each year!
- A tradition we started last year is making a "Happy Birthday, Jesus" cake. I want our boys to know that Christmas is more about Jesus' birth than Santa and Rudolph, and thought this would be a great way to help stress that we are celebrating Jesus' birthday. This year we're gonna do cupcakes instead of a cake.
- One tradition I've tweaked from my own childhood is that the kids each get to open one gift Christmas Eve. When my sister and I were young, we were only allowed to open it if we sat still (and were quiet) during the service. The gift my kids open is a new pair of Christmas jammies.
- My boys always leave milk and cookies for Santa. Yummmm! Did you know if Santa ate one Chocolate Chip Cookie and drank one Glass of Milk per household in Pennsylvania only, on Christmas Eve Santa would consume 787,500,000 calories. It’s a tough job being Santa eating all those calories….as there are approximately 4.7 million homes in Pennsylvania. (I learned that very useful fact on Facebook!)
- Having grown up in Wheeling, WV - home of Oglebay's Festival of Lights, it'd be impossible for me to really feel like it's Christmas without a light display. Thanks to a new friend's tip, Aaron took me to a local one here in Pittsburgh's North Hills (Heartwood's Celebration of Lights) that could almost rival Oglebay. It was beautiful!
- On Christmas Day, the Feitners snack most of the day. I put out a "brunch" table, that's usually up and running around 9 am, and we graze all day till it's time to clear the table and set it for Christmas Dinner. This year, Paula Deen's Ham, Spinach & Gruyere Bread Pudding is going to find its way to the table in the morning.
- Presents are opened one at a time, with plenty of time in between each for the kiddos to play with the new toy / read the new book / try on the new piece of clothing. Last year we began opening stockings around 8:30 am, and didn't open the last present until around 5 pm. It's not that there were THAT many gifts - they were just all thoroughly enjoyed!
- Each year, sometime between Christmas and New Year Aaron and I sit down and have "THE TALK." A lot of couples would dread "the talk." But we both find it exhilarating. The conversation usually opens with me discussing how Christmas (aka "December") went, and what suggestions we each have for next year - what to add, what to improve, what to scrap. Conversation quickly moves on to where we are as a family - our goals, our finances, our intended projects, our areas in need of personal improvement, etc. We look back over the past 12 months and compare where we were then to where we are now. We look ahead to the next 12 months, and discuss our goals in all those areas. And then we discuss those goals for 5 and 10 years from now. I know that this type of conversation might end some marriages, but it's made ours MUCH stronger. We only have a couple "rules" during "the talk" - 1) if you can't find a way to say it nicely, don't say it, and 2) if you suggest an area in need of improvement you also need to suggest how YOU can help improve it (even if it's a character trait in the other person that needs improvement). The point is to help us reach our goals, not to attack the other person. We talk about serious, tangible ways we can reach the goals we've laid out, and how well we have / haven't done reaching the previous year's goals. This has done WONDERS for us as individuals, as a couple, and as a family. Maybe sometime I'll do a post about "the talk."
- In January I always take advantage of After-Christmas Sales - to get more Christmas decorations. I've found that after the season is always the cheapest time to buy decorations. This is also when I get my Christmas cards. This past January I bought 10 boxes of Christmas cards. Full price was $11.95 EACH (for a total of $119.50+ tax). But, they were 90% off! So, I paid $11.95 for ALL 160 CARDS! (The words inside might have been "basic," but they were big enough for our family photo, and at that price, that was good enough for me!)
- My in-laws always have a New Year's Day Open House, and we make an appearance. Usually I'm too tired from Christmas (and the cold weather) to socialize much, but I still smile and chit chat. Everyone brings something yummy, and lots of people bring an instrument or two. People are always torn between sitting near the food table, and listening to the music!
- I try to get the decorations put away the first week of January. The house always seems so empty that I'm depressed for at least three days afterwards. But, I'm thinking that this year will be different. Once the decorations are put away, we can begin to PAINT our new house! YIPPEE!
Wow, I really DIDN'T mean for this email to go on for hours and hours. If you're still reading right now, I'm highly impressed! (wink) These are our tried and true family Christmas traditions. There are a couple new ones we've added this year, and a couple more we want to add for next year. But that post will have to wait till my hands have stopped cramping from all this typing. ... I hope you have a special Christmas with your family, celebrating the birth of our Savior.