Each family has to find the ideas and the memories that work best for their needs. Sometimes, your Christmas will look really different than the ones you grew up with, but that’s okay too. Here are some ideas, but they are just ideas, for making memorable Christmas moments. Because traditions are so unique, use these as a springboard to create your own special traditions. These are some things that our family does:
- Make cookies. Every year we make Christmas cookies. We stopped going through the process of making our own dough, rolling it out and cutting once the girls got older, though. It is just too time consuming and doesn’t suit our purposes. Instead, we purchase pre-made dough and bake it and ice if appropriate. It takes much less time, which helps us with our next part of this tradition. We make up plates of cookies and goodies and try to find people we think need cheering up to take them to. It almost always brings a smile to the recipient’s face. This is truly one of the highlights of our year, making someone else happy.
- Adopt an angel. Every year, since our girls were tiny, we have taken angels off the angel trees and purchased gifts for others. We do not know these people typically. They may have a real need or they may not, but we hope at least some do. When the girls were very small, they would each pick a child close to their age. Now that they are older, we choose a child as a family. We usually try to pick a teen as they don’t always get bought for. Sometimes we choose a boy and sometimes a girl. If we can afford it, we choose two. We then try to make the season memorable for that child. For example, last year we had a teen boy from the angel tree at our church. He asked for gloves, a scarf and a music CD. We quickly realized that this was a kid that didn’t want much. What he NEEDED and a single music CD. We went crazy. We went out and bought him a coat, tons of music, a small MP3 player, a couple of hand held games and some clothing. This is a tradition that our family really gets into. It feels so good to give to others and is truly in the spirit of Christmas. And what better thing to teach your children? I think this is my favorite tradition.
- Put up a Christmas tree. So what, you may be thinking. Who doesn’t put up a Christmas tree? But think about how you put it up. Do you gripe and grumble about having to lug it out or go and get a live one? Do you complain as the needles drop on the floor? Do you tell your kids they aren’t doing this or that right? Do you freak out if the garland is out of place? I’m not accusing, just asking. I can be guilty of this as well. However, when I think back on my own childhood memories, I realize that one of my favorite memories is decorating the Christmas tree every year. My mother never said a word when the garland was lopsided or all the ornaments were near the bottom. She let me scatter all the tinsel in one spot and didn’t move it around later. So what if people think your tree looks crazy. Are you putting it up for them or for your children?
- Go Caroling. Every year we go out with our church and sing Christmas songs in various neighborhoods. We never hit the same places twice. This is so much fun. The way that people light up when a group shows up and asks to sing Christmas carols is something that warms my heart. Try to find a group or get a group together and go sing songs to folks. Some tried and true favorites that are easy to sing? Away in a Manger, Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer, Jingle Bells, Joy to the World and Frosty the Snowman.
- Open Your Gifts Early. Every year, my mother would give in and let me open at least one or two presents before Christmas Day. Of course, I pestered her to pieces to get her to let me, but it was still a good memory. I always chose the largest box of course. I think those memories of the excitement of an early present stayed with me, because our family has always opened a present on Christmas Eve. My kids never had to ask. I always offered. Now that they are older and they no longer have to wait for Santa to come visit, we typically open all our gifts on Christmas Eve.
- Dinner/Schminner. Are you killing yourself cooking a 20 course meal for dinner on Christmas Day? Why? How can you possibly enjoy your family if you spend all your time cooking? If you have dinner at your home, offer to make the main dish (turkey or ham – try not to do both unless it is a huge group) and recruit the guests to bring the sides. It will be very little work for any one person and you’ll actually get to enjoy your company. Why use the fine china? You’ll simply have to clean it later. What’s wrong with plastic plates and plastic ware? In fact, I wouldn’t do any dishes that weren’t absolutely necessary. Our family has started a new tradition as of last year. For anyone who has seen A Christmas Story, you’ll understand where I came up with the idea. We go out for Chinese food for our Christmas dinner. We already have a huge family dinner the day before. This is our day for our small little family of four (six if my parents are home with us) without anyone having to cook or clean up afterwards. After our meal, we go see a movie. Our teen and tween daughters absolutely adore this new tradition. I asked them this year if they wanted Mom to cook or they wanted to do what we did last year and got a resounding, “Chinese!”
Although these are a few fun ideas, don’t feel limited by them. The only good tradition is the one that works for your family and that your family all enjoy. Ask your kids and your spouse what they want to do this year. Be flexible, stop stressing and look for ways to create good memories that will last into the twilight years of your your life, your children’s lives and may even be passed on to future generations. Imagine your great-grandaughter telling her child, “Grandma Rose (insert your name) always let us do cartwheels in the house on Christmas Day.” or “Grandpa Frank (insert your name) always made his peanut butter fudge for us and this is his recipe.”