Thursday, December 1, 2011

{Our Favorite Christmas Traditions}

I love driving through town and catching glimpses of warmly lit living rooms, especially during the holiday season. Tall trees blink and sparkle in the front windows, children running 'round its base, merry as can be. No doubt there is Christmas music coming from within, mingled with the aroma of cider warming on the stove top. Perhaps I'm an idealist? Yes, perhaps.

Now, if I was to actually step into one of those homes, I'm sure there would be plenty of real life going on. Piles of laundry, LEGOs underfoot (ouch!) and dinner running late. Yep. Just like our home.

There's definitely plenty of real life going on over here. But I've found that it's the real life mixed with the ideal that makes it so magical. It's the dream blending with the reality in perfect peace. They actually can co-exist, especially when one is grateful for the present. Grateful for now.

The now I'm finding myself in this month has been preceded by thousands of other "nows." Gradually, over time, these "nows" have become traditions. And so I share with you a glimpse into our real, topsy-turvy December. The traditions that have been born over time, the moments that our kids look forward to for weeks and months, the silly "nows" that, although nowhere near perfect, have given us a glimpse of heavenly peace.

1. Decorating the tree. I asked the kids what their favorite tradition is. I think they all said it was decorating the tree. That may sound like a very unoriginal choice. But there's more. Because every year since we were married, the decorating of the tree has been accompanied by doughnuts and hot chocolate (a tradition that started during Jamie's childhood) with Arthur Fiedler's Boston Pops orchestra playing in the background (a nod to my childhood). The kids take turns putting the angel on top each year, too. Jamie hoists them up and we quickly snap a picture. Those kids are starting to get really heavy.

2. Reading A Christmas Carol. This morning, in lieu of our traditional school work, I pulled out our illustrated Dickens. I've divided the book evenly into sections so that we can read through the story over the course of the next few weeks. It's great fun to whip out my British accent, and the kids are starting to light up when we come across familiar passages. "There is no doubt that Marley was dead. This must be distinctly understood, or nothing wonderful can come of the story I am going to relate . . . ." (I can't help but picture Gonzo saying this.)

3. The Christmas Books come out! I had planned on wrapping up 24 picture books as a sort of Christmas countdown, but the kids were so eager for me to bring down the box of Christmas books that I decided to just put them out and let them feast. I do have a handful of picture books they have yet to see, though, thanks to my jaunts to Goodwill. So I think I'll just make a new tradition. Every Friday morning in December, a wrapped book will await them at the school table. I'm excited.

4. Jesse Tree Journey. We've been so blessed by Ann Voskamp's advent devotions. Every night we light candles in the living room and gather round to read, pray and sing. Even if it's late, we pull our hearts together for this moment. It's glorious.

5. Stockings in Bed. This is another tradition that I carried over from my childhood. On Christmas morning, my brother, sister and I brought our stockings into our parents' room, piled onto their bed and took turns pulling out treasure after treasure until we finally reached the little orange at the very end. So it's continued with my own children, right down to the mandarin orange.

6. Christmas Breakfast. After stockings, we have our first Christmas meal. The menu has changed little over time. I always serve an egg casserole dish, sour cream coffee cake, sausage (would you be horrified if I told you it was reindeer sausage? I kid you not . . . ) and a saucer of fruit. Sparkling cider bubbles in the crystal goblets, and the children feel quite grown up when sipping at the sweet drink.

7. Gifts of Three. Long ago I heard someone share a wonderful idea. Just as our Savior received three gifts as a child, this is the number of gifts that we give to our own children. It keeps the focus simple and pure and helps us give wisely and purposefully. When the children were especially young, I made a rhyme out of the gifts they would receive:

Something to play with,
Something you need,

Something special for you to read.

The "things" have evolved over time, but the principle has remained the same. I'll share more about gift giving in a later post.

There are other traditions, some small, some big, some conventional, some not. Each has become a part of our December tapestry, part of this real family living real life. Living now.

What Christmas traditions have been born in your own home? May we take a peek?
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