How We Do (and Don’t Do) Christmas

I realize that every family has their own traditions and ways to celebrate this season. The signs of Christmas are everywhere as it is less than two days away.

Lately I’ve been pondering this and thinking about how we celebrate Christmas as a family. Please don’t take this post as a personal assault or think I’m getting all judgmental on you. Really, I’m not. Try not to judge me and I won’t judge you, okay?? However, I am really fed up with how commercialized Christmas has gotten and, to be completely transparent, fed up with parents who have bought into this and spoon-feed their children the commercialized version of Christmas.

So, before I go on a huge long rant about Santa, Elf on a Shelf, and people going in to debt to buy their kids a bunch of junk they don’t even need, I’ll just share what we personally do–and don’t do.

What We Do:

-Each child gets around 3 gifts, not a whole pile. Usually I give them each one main thing they really want, followed by two small items they need or something just for fun. (Just as an example, we are giving Andrew a Plasma Ball that he had been asking for, along with an origami book and one other small item.) They also each have a stocking with a couple of little items, usually something like stickers, a new toothbrush, or candy.

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-On Christmas Eve, we attend our church Christmas Eve service. It is typically about an hour long and not late at night. At the service there is usually Bible readings, special music, and we also have communion together. After coming home, the children get to choose one thing out of their stocking to open.

-Christmas morning we typically have a nice hot breakfast before opening any gifts. One or two kids will help Daddy cook for everyone. Our kids are always early risers, so they don’t really get up earlier than usual.

-Before opening gifts, I like to have someone read out loud about the birth of Jesus from the Bible.

-When opening presents, I sort them into piles. Each kid gets to open one gift, then the next one will open one, and we keep going around until all are eventually opened.

-The rest of Christmas day is spent visiting our families and enjoying meals with all of them.

-This next one is new, but something I know some other families do: My children requested just the other night that we make a Birthday cake for Jesus and sing to Him. Sure, I said, so I guess we’ll be baking a cake on Christmas Eve.

What We Don’t Do:

-Make a huge deal about presents. Sure, we exchange them, but the emphasis of our celebration is not about getting stuff. It’s just not.

-Spend a lot of money. I just shake my head at how some Americans indulge their children in material things, but especially on the holidays. I shop ahead during the year, hunt for sales, and even buy yard sale or thrift store items if I think it’s something they will really like. We have never gone into debt or seriously compromised our budget due to Christmas shopping. And yes, we have 5 children and one income. It can be done.

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-Santa. Or Elf on the Shelf. I grew up in a household where Santa was pretty much forbidden. No Santa anything. My parents are absolutely wonderful and I thank them for not putting an emphasis on Santa, but instead placing it on why we really do celebrate Christmas. I won’t go off on a huge tangent about Santa here, but I could. I won’t, and I’m not judging anyone who does do Santa with their kids. I’m not quite as strict as my Dad about Santa and we do have a few Santa decorations and stuff that has been given to us, but we make it clear that Santa is just a pretend character based on a generous man who lived long ago.

-Try to make things perfect. This one’s mostly for the Moms out there. It’s great to try and make things nice for your family. Things like magazine articles, blogs, and Pinterest make me want to have everything “just so” for the holidays. You know exactly what I mean–a perfectly decorated house and tree, perfectly wrapped gifts arranged just right, a perfect Christmas card to send out to friends and family, a perfect array of Christmas goodies and succulent holiday meal, and a sparkling new outfit to wear on Christmas day. Really, do you ever wonder if we just set ourselves up for disappointment when thinking this way? We are imperfect people and nothing is going to be picture perfect when we plan it that way. Sorry to burst your bubble, but it’s just not. I have gotten lots better about this over the years. Seriously, you may just laugh if you saw my kid-decorated artificial tree, not-too-decked-out halls, and non-planned Christmas outfits. But you know what? It suits me just fine and I have embraced my more relaxed approach.

That’s my “in-a-nutshell” version of how we celebrate Christmas. Basically, we try to not emphasize what this world can give us and focus on what God already gave us, over 2,000 years ago.

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The one perfect gift. Jesus.

God in human form, sent here to save us from our sins. All of us imperfect people, undeserving of His grace and love. Not even able to fathom His love for us.

Emmanuel, God with us.

May you have a blessed Christmas and, in the midst of the hustle and bustle of the season, remember why we celebrate Christmas in the first place.

Handmade Christmas 2013:Printed Bookmarks

As you may already know, we are a family of avid readers. My husband and I have been that way since childhood and our oldest three have definitely “caught” the reading bug too. Our 6 year olds are not far behind, one of my twins being just a little more ahead of the game than his brother…but he’s catching up. Yes, I was a little surprised the other week when I heard Joseph reading aloud from a 4th grade chapter book and nailing almost every word. You have no idea how much it pleases me that I have family of bookworms! The only problem with that is they have a tendency to dog-ear the pages instead of using a bookmark. Oh yeah, and let their books randomly lay all over the place–we still need to work on that one.

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Therefore, I made up some bookmarks for them to hopefully use, and will place these in their stockings. Pink ones with vintage ladies and quotes/verses about smiling for my girl and a manly green with character quotes for my boys.

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I found printables on  The Prudent Homemaker’s website. If you’ve never visited her website or blog, it is well worth checking out. She is amazing, and her photographs knock my socks off. There are a few other bookmark options on her site as well.

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These are ever so simple to make and I’m sure you can figure it out without my explanation. Basically I printed out the bookmarks I wanted on colored cardstock and used a paper trimmer to make them an appropriate size. I used laminating sheets to cover each one as well, then punched a hole in the top. To finish these off I just used some ribbon with Fray Check on the ends so they don’t get all frayed.

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The result is a simple little gift for the readers in your life that will hopefully withstand lots of good books.

A Sweet Snow Day Activity

Early this morning at around 5 am, I got “the call.” No, it wasn’t Publisher’s Clearinghouse telling me I won a million dollars, or anything life-changing.

Two hours later I got “the second call.” Again, not life-changing, but definitely news that changed my whole plans for the day.

Yep–school was called on a two hour delay, then the powers that be declared it a Snow Day.

My kids were ecstatic. Immediately they had grand plans for our day. It’ll be Pajama Day! We can watch movies! We can go sledding and build snowmen! Play games! And the list goes on and on…..

Since I know many others of you are in the same boat right now, here’s a cool activity we did over the Thanksgiving holiday, but I thought would be even more appropriate on a Snow Day. You know, when the kids tire of all their grand plans and you’re looking for something to keep them busy.

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Got some mini-marshmallows hanging around? Got some toothpicks? Well, then that’s all you need to do this activity.

I told my kids we were going to have a challenge–Who can build the coolest creative structure using ONLY marshmallows and toothpicks?

Each was given a paper plate and approximately the same number of mini-marshmallows (I threw a couple of large ones in as well) and toothpicks.

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They immediately set to work.

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My oldest boy isn’t quite as into building as the other boys, but he was game.

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Notice that my girl roped Daddy into helping her almost right away.

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Busted! Someone thought they’d have a little sample while they’re at it.

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The results were varying and there really were no winners. However, my crew really enjoyed doing this and have asked when we’ll do it again. If and when I do this again, maybe I would assign a certain type of structure to make. For you homeschooling moms, maybe you could learn about snowflakes and have the kids make a geometric snowflake? The teacher in me thinks that would be a great lesson and hands-on activity.

I served hot chocolate when they were wrapping things up–a perfect treat to go with!

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Here’s a cute little way to make hot chocolate, from my blog archives.

Also, if you ever want to make your own marshmallows, here’s a link from one of my very first posts as a blogger.

Happy Snow Days to all!

Handmade Christmas 2013: Sheet Music Glass Ornaments

Well, Thanksgiving is over and Christmas is suddenly only a little over 3 weeks away. {Yikes!}

I have to confess that while I have a lot of my gifts bought/made, but certainly not wrapped, I have yet to do a single bit of decorating.

Today’s idea can be a great little gift or used to deck your own halls.

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The best part is that since they are SO simple to make, you can easily whip up a bunch of these in one sitting.

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All you need is a clear glass ornament (one where the top pops off), some old sheet music or book pages, a bamboo skewer, a clothespin or clip, and some curling ribbon.

Regretfully I didn’t take any photos while making these, so hopefully I can just explain how I made them with words.

First you take off the metal top portion of the ornament. Second, cut your music or book pages into thin strips, maybe 1/4-1/2″ wide and a few inches long. Using a bamboo skewer, wrap a few of these strips at a time tightly around the skewer. Hold these in place for a few minutes using a clothespin or clip. After waiting a few minutes, remove the clip and slide the end of the skewer into the top of the ornament. Slip the curled strips of paper off into the ball.

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Fill it as full as you want, put the top back on, and finish it off with a nice little hanger of metallic curling ribbon.

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Easy, elegant, and perfect for the holidays.