Christmas has always been my favorite time of year. The notes of Frank Sinatra floating through the air, hot chocolate steaming on the stove, shiny presents, twinkling lights, the scent of pine, the treasured memories we unwrap with each ornament. It’s magical and beautiful. The magic fades a bit as you become older and it transforms as you have children. Now, Christmas isn’t about what I will receive, but rather, about the excitement on little faces when they unwrap gifts carefully chosen just for them. I love giving gifts. It’s part of my love language. There is nothing that gives me more joy than choosing a gift that will be specifically loved and cherished. The older I get the more joy I experience from giving. Now, let’s not get crazy- I still love unwrapping a specially marked package just for me. Though the most meaningful gifts are not ones that cost a lot but that are heartfelt (every morning I’m reminded of a special friend when I get sugar for my coffee out of a special jar, every night, I’m reminded of my husband’s love by a deck of cards that he transformed into 52 reasons he loves me).

The following things are traditions and items I have collected that make my Christmas extra meaningful for me and my family. I’m sharing them with you in the hopes that maybe you, too, can enjoy them as much as we do!

1. Personalized Christmas ornaments. Every year, I love recreating our other favorite holiday, Halloween, in the form of a Christmas ornament. This year I had to find a new clay maker and settled on this Etsy shop. She went above and beyond to give us cherished memories for many Christmases to come.

2. The Elf on the Shelf. I know this is a contentious subject this time of year but we love our Merlin. He doesn’t do any of the mischievous things you see some elves doing. But, he does hide (sometimes in the same place for a week if we’re being completely honest) and the children enjoy running downstairs to see where he is. And, sometimes when he’s in the same place, they wonder if it was perhaps because they were fighting with their siblings or talking back to mama. While I don’t emphasize that, it doesn’t hurt. My favorite part of Merlin the elf is the scavenger hunt “he” brings on Christmas Eve to initiate a search for Christmas jammies. We send the children on an adventure around the house that ends in the first gifts of Christmas. If you’d like to see how that usually looks for us, visit my instagram post featuring 2016’s first few clues.

3. The Giving Tree. I like to emphasize that Christmas is not only about what you receive but about a spirit of giving. This year, we chose a fair number of tags from our Church’s tree and the children did various chores around the house to earn stickers for their “giving tree money.” Then, they took their money to the store and lovingly picked out gifts for local recipients in need. I also took it as an opportunity to explain to the children that Christmas is about generosity and it includes not only material gifts but giving of ourselves. I encourage you to look in your local community and find an organization who could use donations of toys, food, and clothes.

4. Drinking coffee with my sweetie by the light of the tree. Listening to Christmas music, watching Love Actually, while putting together Christmas gifts (this year a life sized train track, a bike, and a trampoline- what have we gotten ourselves into?). 

5. The Advent Wreath. Every night, during the season of Advent, we gather around our beautiful nativity candle holder (well it’s round like a wreath anyway), and read passages from the bible, a story about the anticipation of Christmas, and sing Christmas carols. My favorite part is when we share something that someone did that was nice for us that day. It helps keep us focused on the true meaning while instilling a sense of sacrifice for others. I especially like when someone says “mommy made me a yummy dinner.”

6. Christmas Cards (I bought mine from Staples this year with a Groupon). Every year, I excitedly pen a Christmas letter that reviews the past year. I then lovingly address and lick envelopes (I say lovingly because have you tasted letter glue? Gross). I was recently speaking to someone about possibly exchanging Christmas Cards. She said something along the lines of “what do you mean? Like those old fashioned cards and letters people used to write before social media?” Face Palm. I guess it’s official, I’m old. I don’t think I’ll ever get tired of picking out a beautiful family picture (though taking them isn’t always nearly as much fun- this year J did have to move the wild thing’s face from one picture to another to get one good one- oy vey).

7. Writing letters to Santa. Where we live, they have a Santa mailbox. You write your letter, place it in the box and magically a letter from Santa arrives about a week later. If you don’t have one of these you can also check out this page from USPS about how to receive a Santa letter.

8. St. Nicholas Day. This should perhaps have topped my list but one of my favorite Christmas traditions is celebrating the REAL Santa Claus. I love watching the children excitedly picking out the largest shoe they own and placing it by the door for St. Nicholas to fill. I love watching their little faces light up the next morning as they rush down to discover their shoes no longer empty but filled with Christmas themed PJs and a chocolate coin or two. Recently, my eight year old came to me and said that a friend had told her that Santa wasn’t real. I admit, my heart dropped into my feet (I’m not ready!). I asked her what she said. “Of course, I told her Santa is real- he’s Saint Nicholas!” Phew. Crisis averted. 

9. Advent Calendar. We have several, but this Kurt Adler one is my favorite. The little doors are filled with magnets that set the scene for the birth of Jesus. It’s beautiful and I bought it for A’s second Christmas so it will always be full of fond memories for me. 

10. Santa Video. I don’t even remember when we found this site but one Christmas we downloaded a free Santa video for A from the Portable North Pole and we’ve been hooked ever since. The kids love snuggling up on the couch and eagerly anticipating the end where they discover if they’ve been nice enough this year. Though, to be clear, this year I considered making several of them naughty (or at least the Wild Thing), I have yet to actually do it. I do now purchase the one that gives you access to the longer videos. It was magical watching my wild thing mesmerized by Santa and his own picture on the screen. Even baby HeyJ was entranced. 

There are so many more things we do during the holiday season (baking, Christmas movies, and stories), but these are a few of my favorites. I hope you enjoyed reading and maybe found a few traditions you’d like to try out next year to make your Christmas just a little more magical.