"It's the most wonderful time of the year....!" I absolutely LOVE this season. The lead up to Christmas, and the celebrations of the special day, are simply one of the most joyous times of the year to me! Between the smell of the pine tree, the decorations on houses lining the road, the general merriment that fills me as I sit in the evenings wrapping presents and listening to Christmas music, and of course - the Reason for the Season - celebrating the birth of baby Jesus! - I'd be hard-pressed to find a better month of the year.
Given the huge changes in our lives in this past year - and dare I say the last couple of years - Christmas and its traditions have been on my mind these last couple of weeks. It wasn't that long ago that I was only celebrating the holidays with my immediate family, and before that I didn't even have to worry about getting home for the holidays because I was only a few hours away (rather than an ocean). And now I'm married, we have a child, another is on the way, we've moved to the US, and we're buying our very first home together...and all of these amazingly wonderful things will of course have an impact on how we celebrate the holidays going forward. I don't know yet what that impact will look like but I do know that everything changes at some point, and that change can often be good, so I'm embracing the change and will enjoy creating our new family traditions.
Because I'm feeling particularly nostalgic and have been reliving past Christmases, I thought I'd share some of my favorite Christmas memories and traditions from my younger years. I would love to incorporate some of these into our little family celebrations going forward!
Listening to Bing Crosby's Christmas album: I mentioned last week that we used to turn this on after Thanksgiving dinner and how that would 'kick off' the Christmas season for me. Funnily enough my mom doesn't remember this at all, but I know we did it for at least a few years in a row. (My memory tends to be the better one.) The first song on the album is "Adeste Fidelis" - the Latin "O Come All Ye Faithful" - and ever since we started listening to that disc, the first few strains of the accompaniment bring on the feeling of the holidays now whenever I hear it.
Picking out our tree: We always went as a family, on a day a little after Thanksgiving, to Pete's Tree Farm to pick out our tree. Occasionally we would get *two* trees, if they were both smaller than usual. We'd walk through rows and rows of Douglas Firs, Blue Spruces, Norway Spruces, and Scotch Pines, trying to agree on which one was the perfect shape and height for our living room. I would always feel sad for the lopsided or sparse trees, the 'Charlie Browns' in the far back corner, marked way down in price. (Once in a while my parents would cave and pick up one of those as the 2nd tree, making me ecstatic that we were giving that saddo tree a good home!) After choosing The Tree, we'd warm up in the little shop and sip a cup of warmed cider. There was just something special about taking our trees home each year, strapped to the roof of the car...watching as my dad released the ties holding it tight for transport and all the branches sprang outward and flung needles everywhere, seeing the branches slowly settle and adjust into their placement.
Putting our special ornaments on the tree: At some point, my parents started giving us each an ornament every year, marked with that year and our name. Every year we get to put our special ornaments from all the previous years on the tree. (We are starting to have a LOT to put up...) I'd look and look at the tree, trying to find the perfect spot for each of those ornaments - the pink Nutcracker girl, the chubby snowman, the JOY cutout paper ornament I made for them in preschool. Every one has a memory attached to it, and I love to relive those when I'm decorating the tree. Now that everyone has moved out (ahem, mostly) and gets their own Christmas trees, my parents gave us each our box of annual ornaments to decorate the trees at our own houses. This is going to be my first year of putting them up somewhere other than at my parents' home...!
Baking cookies with my mom: My mom is awesome. She bakes so many cookies each year - not just the giant batches, but also 8 or more different kinds of cookies too. We made up cookie platters each year for all of the neighbors and for friends from church. We'd pick out a few cookies from each of the various tins holding the different types, pile them up on the plates, then wrap them up with the 'festive holiday' colored Saran wrap and stick a bow and a little note on them, then hand deliver them. I loved that whole process - especially the decorating! I would unwrap all of the Hershey's kisses for the peanut butter blossoms, and then place one on top of each cookie when they came out of the oven. And the cutouts were always the best fun! I got to help mix the colors into the icing bowls, ice the shapes, and then decorate however I saw fit with sprinkles/100s & 1000s, red cinnamon candies, and whatever else my mom had that year. Sometimes we'd try to outdo each other with the craziest looking gingerbread man or snowman - and sometimes we'd just pile the icing ridiculously high or literally cover the cookie in decorations in the hopes that she'd let us eat that monstrosity of sugar ourselves. :)
Christmas pageants: Growing up a big part of our Christmas season was the pageant put on by our church. Mostly it told about Jesus' birth but there was always a little story weaved in as well, from the perspective of a shepherd or a wise man, etc. The one I remember the most was called "Angels Aware" and the huge population of children in my church were the choir of angels for the pageant, including my sister, brother and me. I remember sitting on the risers around the stage, wearing my angel costume and halo, and taking pictures leaping off the armchair in the living room for my parents. :) There was another year where I played a teeny tiny nonspeaking role of a shepherd child, who placed my doll in the manger for baby Jesus. I was terrified!
Christmas Eve: Sometimes more my favorite than Christmas Day itself, Christmas Eve was always a relaxing, quiet, reflective day. Christmas music would be playing, we'd finish baking any cookies that weren't done, finish wrapping any presents we hadn't yet. A fire would always be burning in the wood stove and I'd usually be found curled up in a chair reading. We'd sit together for dinner over shepherd's pie (my favorite dish, happily - but also very appropriate!), then we'd head over to the candlelit service at church. This service was always one of my favorites, as we'd light the last Advent candle, read through the Christmas story in the Bible singing Christmas hymns in between, and at the end, the pastor would light his white candle from the final Advent candle and he'd light the person's candle next to him, and the flame would be shared from one person to another, passing all way way from the front to the back of the church and up to the balcony. Then we'd sing "Silent Night" and "O Holy Night" a cappella to the backdrop of the flickering tiny lights...it was truly reverent and beautiful. When we went home, we'd eat a few cookies and we'd get to open 2 presents each - the one from my mom's parents, and the one from my mom's sister Cassie. :) Sometimes my dad would read the Christmas story again from the Bible, or my mom would play the piano and we'd sing any carols that we hadn't sung in the church service. Then we'd go to bed, excited about the next morning and unable to sleep!
Stockings: In the morning, we had to wait until 7am before we could wake up our parents. Even if we were up ridiculously early with excitement! Torture, I tell you - especially once we started getting older. My parents were brilliant - they came up with the plan of hiding our stockings and letting us go on a hunt to find them. Once we found them we could take them back to one of our bedrooms and open the gifts inside, while we were waiting to wake them up. (To be honest I wonder if they were really awake, just laying in bed listening to us attempt to be quiet while we looked under furniture and squealed with delight...) The stocking gifts were always functional and small (think toothbrushes, funny pencils, silly erasers, fuzzy socks), with 1 or 2 'real' gifts mixed in like Christmas earrings or a book I really wanted. Cleverly, each pencil, eraser, etc was wrapped individually, with *lots* of tape haha. Then when we got older and it didn't take us as long to find or unwrap things, my mom had a clever idea of turning it into a scavenger hunt. The stockings were hidden in better places, and we had to go on a clue hunt. Each clue would take us to another clue that we had to figure out, then find. AMAZING fun! I highly recommend to any parent.
Waffle Breakfast: YUM. One last tradition was our Christmas morning waffle breakfast! After we opened our stockings and woke up our parents, preparations would begin and shortly we'd all sit down to a delicious breakfast of homemade Belgian waffles with strawberries and fresh whipped cream, bacon and sausages. I always loved this - one, because waffles are amazing, and two, because we took a few minutes to relish the calm of the morning before the craziness of paper unwrapping, bows flying, sharing gifts began. This fabulous tradition remains, in some shape or form, with each of my siblings and my parents still. :)
What is a favorite Christmas memory of yours from childhood? Do you still have any of the same traditions from then?