How I Did – and Didn’t – Live My Values This Christmas

How I did and didn't live my values this Christmas - a post at SnowshineCottage.com

So, Xmas.  Another December 25th has come and gone.  I thought it would be worthwhile to review how I did and did not embody some of my personal values this season.  I’d love to hear the same from you in the comments!

Less waste & reducing consumerism

Wins:

  • Bought some secondhand plastic toys rather than buying new.
  • Several gifts given and received were things we needed anyway, just maybe with the fun factor ratcheted up a bit – superhero undies, for example.
  • Conscious effort to restrain what we bought our kids knowing our lovely family would shower them with goodies.
  • Laying the groundwork long ago that secondhand gifts would be welcome and enjoyed – extended family gifted some secondhand items as well.
  • Several consumables given and received – candy, candles, bath bombs.
  • About 1/2 the gifts wrapped in reusable wrapping – gift bags, drawstring bags, tins, etc.

Not-so-greats:

Family togetherness & connection aka FUN

Wins:

  • Attended and enjoyed Xmas Eve at my BILs.  Brought the Santa suit along for my 4 yo to wear and his 9 mo cousin sat on his lap.  Hilarity.
  • Had my side over to our house for Xmas Day.  Made a fire and made s’mores in the fireplace.  Had a bunch of favorite desserts and foods.  People felt they could arrive well ahead of lunch – surprising me a bit, but happy they feel at home in our home.

Not-so-greats:

  • None here yet!

Egalitarian workload – emotional labor and otherwise

I’m trying not to own every detail of our married life.  It’s hard, because it’s easier for my husband to let me do that, and often easier for me just to do it.  Add the invisible societal expectations around it and it just seems like a no brainer to be “in charge” of Xmas.  But I don’t want it to be all me.  So I’m working on that.  (P.S. I always feel I have to give the caveat that my husband is very active in home life.  But the fact that I feel this way says that it’s still a force at work if I even have to point that out:  “Hey!  But my husband is an amazing anomaly!”)

Wins:

  • Refused to be the gatekeeper of the number or types of gifts for the children.
  • Created a shared gift idea list in the app we use for sharing our grocery shopping list.
  • Sent suggestions for what I wanted in my stocking.  I guess that was kind of providing emotional labor though.  But I was happy with what I got.  LOL
  • Co-planned Xmas hosting, using co-developed lists to communicate tasks and check them off.
  • Not extending more emotional labor than necessary when my brother waited until the last minute to obtain a contribution for Xmas Day and didn’t feel he could find what I suggested and wanted further discussion and suggestions.  So I told him whatever he wanted or nothing at all.

Not-so-greats:

  • Constantly having to pay attention to this.
  • Having to set up the things like shared lists like the gift ideas in the first place – and then to find out the other day he didn’t even know I’d shared it.
  • Coordinating/reminding/hounding my immediate family to declare what they would contribute on Christmas Day.
  • Husband declared that he would not ever be texting anyone on our babysitter list (developed by me, of course) because he doesn’t want to be creepy.
  • Total abandonment of sending Xmas cards or even electronic greetings.  Just too hard this year.

Honoring the spirit of the season

I feel I have few wins in this area outside of the family time stuff.  To me, this value is about giving to the broader community (didn’t, despite my best intentions) and engaging in worship or acknowledgement of the birth of Christ (ahem, a big fat zero in this area).  The best I did was to get a few of my families from school included into the schools Giving Tree, ones who hadn’t been included in the program previously.  So, big room to grow in this area.

How about you, dearies?  If you are a celebrant, are you happy with how you honored your selves and your beloveds this holiday?

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?

Simple Annual Greetings

My 4328/10
German Christmas Card c.1911 from University of Nottingham, shared through CC BY-NC-SA 2.0.

The first year that I sent my own holiday greetings, I hand-wrote individual letters to everyone.   It was before our marriage, before our parenthood, and before my career burnout.  And even then, it was too much.

I love a good handwritten letter, and I still send them – Continue reading “Simple Annual Greetings”

Keeping spirits bright

snowwmWinter in the northern latitudes is a challenge, a marathon, an endurance test. A few months ago, we were basking in so much sunlight that it almost seemed pointless to go to sleep, and now we’re at the opposite end of the spectrum: on a chilly, cloudy, rainy day like today, with abbreviated sunlight hours, hibernating in my pajamas seems attractive… a marked contrast to the summer months of hours outdoors every day, absorbing light and being active.

In recent years, research on circadian rhythms has provided ample evidence that getting bright sunlight early in the day is important not only for mood and sleep, but for overall health. Continue reading “Keeping spirits bright”

Thanksgiving Simplified: Lessons from my Mother 


This year, since the loss of my mother, who was the queen of holidays, I  working on changing up our holiday celebrations. I have so many wonderful, glowing memories of her over-the-top celebrations. I truly enjoyed every one of them, but I am not my mother. She greatly enjoyed every bit of time and energy she put into our holiday celebrations, so the work was not a burden to her, but a joy. When I became a mom, for many years I tried to keep my childhood holiday traditions, the things my mother enjoyed doing, and add to them the parts that I enjoyed doing. I ended up pretty overwhelmed. This year, I’m working on simplifying Thanksgiving by paring it back to the things that are enjoyable to the people actually celebrating this year. 

Farming it out

My mom did not love to cook. She loved to decorate, do crafts, and shop for holiday supplies. She loved to set a tablescape fit for royalty, and have every little detail in place. She was willing to make the basics, but she did a lot of what she called “assembling” when it came to food. She knew the places to buy the best baked goods, appetizers, cheeses and desserts. She didn’t feel any pressure to make everything from scratch herself. I do love to cook, but I’m in a phase of life where trying to make everything myself is anything but a recipe for a happy holiday. This year, I am planning on buying some of the pies from a church fundraiser. I’m buying Pillsbury crescent rolls instead of making my own. 

Sharing the Load 

In part because my mom didn’t love cooking the way I do, she had no problem asking other people to do their part. My dad  did as much of the cooking as my mom did, and I was contributing to the feast by the time I was 10. I loved it. This year I assigned each kid a dish. Cheyenne made the green bean casserole the Saturday before, and Bella made the mashed potatoes. James made the sweet potato casserole, and I made the stuffing. Bella volunteered to do a baking activity, and help the little girls make pumpkin and sweet cream pies. Zach is in charge of the turkey, Travis will make the crescent rolls and my dad will bring the cranberries. The kids are excited to show off their contributions, and I am less stressed. Bella loves to decorate, so she wants to take care of the table. 

Expectation Management

If it doesn’t look like a magazine shoot, that’s fine with me. The point is for our family to get together and enjoy each other’s company. Anything that takes away from that is not something we need in our celebration. Having teenagers now, I’m always surprised when they talk about things they did when they were little that seemed like no big deal to me, but made a big impact on them. It’s amazing how little we really need to be happy. 

Brightening the Dark Days of Winter

wmdog in sunbeam
Everyone loves a good sunbeam.

I am tired. It’s only Monday, but I woke feeling unusually unrested this morning. I’m going to chalk it up to the return to standard time and a cloudy weekend. My activity level has plummeted in the past 8 weeks, from walking and/or biking several miles and spending hours gardening each and every day, to working in an office. I run the stairs and go outside whenever I can during the workday, but I am feeling the change in many ways… and none of them pleasant.

Winter in the northern latitudes is a challenge, a marathon, an endurance test. A few months ago, we were basking in so much sunlight that it almost seemed pointless to go to sleep Continue reading “Brightening the Dark Days of Winter”