Family Holiday Traditions: How We Do the Season

background-2937873_1920Kelli says:  I was thinking it might be nice to get and share some ideas for traditions that work well for younger kids and older kids and how they might change over the years.  So Ilse and I have put our heads together to share some our favorites, and at least in my case, sticking points with developing traditions with my younguns.

Daily-excitement-in-December traditions – aka Advent Calendars or Elf on the Shelf

Kelli says:  We have an advent calendar, which we are filling with activities written on tags, but the 4 year old has emptied the calendar (frustrating me, because a few of the activities are meant to go on certain days), and also has expressed his distaste at the apparent unexcitement of some of the already-revealed activities.  So I’m discouraged. We might not put it up next year but rather offer simple activities on nights where we all can handle them. I want there to be magic without pumping them full of sugar (candy’s the easy hit around here, but they are weirdly obsessive about it) and without filling the house (and planet) with more plastic crap.

We do not Elf due to our own overload but I think my kids would have liked it better than the Advent calendar anyway, which hasn’t been much easier to pull off.

Ilse says: Mari painted a wooden Advent calendar one year; it has a small drawer for each day and came with tiny paintable ornaments that fit in the drawers.  We’ve also printed easy activities for each day – such as, “decide which house on the block has your favorite lights,” or “make pancakes for breakfast.” More complicated activities can go on the weekend days.  

Activities in the community

Kelli says:  We’re strongly entrenched in the Santa years, so a visit is always a must.  We’ve let go of the professional photo Santa visit though as the price kept climbing and climbing.  I think this year we’ll see him at the Rec Center attached to school next week. My home town, where my parents still live, has a lighted parade and tree lighting just after Thanksgiving and that was really fun to kick off the season this year.  I think that’s a definite repeat. I’d like to add in simple things like sledding at school and ice skating, too. We live just two block from a rink with free rentals, but it’s not ready yet this year.

Ilse says: I’ve learned to aim low over the years when it comes to activities.  We’re a family of introverts and we all need some down time after the work/school week.  We’re usually pretty happy to spend time in our house reading, cooking, crafting, listening to music, and just being.  So while we live in an area where there are many fun activities of all kinds every weekend, I always ask myself what we would all enjoy the most at any given moment.  Just getting outside is a huge pleasure after a week in buildings; today we walked on a sunlit, frozen lake with our dog jumping around, delighted with the snow.

Travel

Ilse says:  Our biggest holiday tradition is the annual drive over the river and through the woods and then over the river again, across hundreds of miles of cornfields, past two windfarms, to grandmother’s house.  It’s always an adventure to travel in the Midwest at this time of year. One year, as we were driving home very slowly through freezing rain, I proposed that we visit Mari’s grandma in the summer instead, and both Thom and Mari expressed disbelief that I could even suggest such a thing. We don’t have any family in Minnesota, so this is Mari’s chance to be around some of her cousins, as well as to load up on attention from Grandma and a ridiculous quantity of sugar.  The extended family has a Christmas Day brunch, during which Mari and her younger cousins used to run around like a pack of coyotes, but now she reads a book while waiting for the adults to finish talking. Grandma lives in an old neighborhood, and our dog goes along, so we take lots of walks at all hours of the day in all directions and admire the holiday decorations. This year, Mari will be able to help out with the driving!

Kelli says:  We have all our immediate family within an hour of here, which is nice.  Some extended family lives several hours’ or days’ drive away, but we’ve never really gotten together at the holidays, and that’s ok.  We are both teachers, though, so we do tend to like a mini trip over the Xmas break. This year we are thinking about a hotel near the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum.  It’s close to us, but not super duper close, so the idea is go to the holiday lights, swim in the hotel pool, sleep over, get up the next day and swim some more, then join some family for brunch on that side of town.  Last year we were at a condo with my in-laws and my parents and happened to be able to get in a visit to Bentleyville.  So I guess a mini-break is kind of turning into a tradition.  Before kids, we loved going to Tettegouche Camp over the break, but we haven’t tackled the 1.5 mile walk in with the kids yet.  We are waiting until our youngest potty trains – so maybe next year we can go again?

Gifting

Ilse says:  We make and buy gifts for friends and family, but our gifting has been drastically simplified over the years, with fewer people in our exchange circle. This year, our family gift is the one thing we always want most in January, which is to leave Minnesota for a few days for a warm, sunny place. Not frugal, not simple except that it doesn’t require shopping trips or wrapping paper, but something that we will all thoroughly enjoy.

Kelli says:  This has been the hardest for us.  I think we have finally settled on having a stocking of gifts from Santa, and 1-2 big gifts from mom & dad and from each sibling to the other under the tree.  Last year we waaaaay overbought and I suspect we have this year as well, though we’ve stuck to mostly stuff they need anyway (fun undies, new socks) and books rather than toys.  They will get plenty of those from rellies. Which reminds me – I kind of want to make an annual toy purge part of the December traditions. Kind of a pre-Christmas cleanout, so to speak.  

I fantasize about homemade Xmas gifts but the reality of the past few years has been a big fat NO WAY.  Luckily, all of the adults in our immediate families are off the gifting train now, so it’s not too many people to whom we need to gift.  I’m thinking of getting back on for teachers – but as a teacher, I know how nice it is to get a big fat gift card, too. So this year, that’s the route we went.

Making

Ilse says:  For a number of years, Mari and I worked on Christmas crafts together.  Sometimes they were gifts for others, and sometimes they were decorations for our house.  That was something that we both enjoyed doing, and now we have them to remind us each year of that time together (now our co-crafting time tends to be more focused on making gifts for our individual friends).  Some of them took multiple holiday seasons (i.e., years) to complete, but the idea was the time spent together, not the product.

Kelli says:  This year I had Norwood paint his own wrapping paper for the gifts he’s selected.  They do like making and so does their dad and so do I. Maybe something to integrate as they get older.

Togetherness and relaxation

Kelli says:  Rudolph and Charlie Brown Christmas are a must, and conveniently for having little kids, we have both of them on DVD – and VHS!  (Ok, tangent: Ha! That’s right! We are still VHS users). We also have a wood burning fireplace that we’ve used ONCE in living here for over 5 years now and I really want to make fires part of the holiday season.

Ilse says:  Mari and I decorate our tree and bake holiday-special cookies (her favorites are spritz, for which we use her great-grandmother’s cookie press), and she and Thom hang lights outside.  Sometimes two or three of us will play holiday songs on various instruments. We always watch particular Christmas movies and cartoons (and Kelli, we watch Charlie Brown on VHS also!).

Food!

Ilse says:  Some families have a lot of holiday food traditions.  Our holiday meals vary from year to year. When we’re at Grandma’s, I do all the cooking, and it’s a change-resistant audience, so I stick with reliable favorites.  But there are some food traditions that come yearly: the package from my parents, Mari’s out-West grandparents, filled with cookies I’ve been eating since childhood, my parents’ rendition of my great-grandmother’s stollen, and the fudge my mom’s made every Christmas since the 1970s.

Kelli says:  We just lost my husband’s mother in November.  Her cookies were a highlight of every holiday. Sadly I cannot find the copies of her recipes that we had.  I know they are somewhere . . . but we might have to have “close enough” recipes for this year. She always made sugar cut-out cookies, Mexican wedding cookies/Russian tea cakes, and some kind of amazing cookie rolled in nuts.  She also always made a potica nut roll, but I’m not sure we’ll tackle that one. The adults have always enjoyed chili and grasshoppers on Christmas Eve.

In the past I did peanut brittle in the microwave and it was amazing.  Maybe I should resurrect that with the kids – it’s fun to watch it foam, and easy to make.

Your turn

What simple traditions have been the most memorable over the years for your family?  How have traditions changed over the years that may have been cherished – or difficult – with young children?

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