Christmas Blessings

IMG_9054We have been searching out our Blessing Buddies each day to find out how we will be blessing someone else rather than ourselves this Christmas. Rather than a new blessing every day we have chosen a few bigger blessings to work towards this time.

The two eldest girls and myself participated in “The Road To Bethlehem” which is a live nativity show that takes 30 minutes to progress through as groups move from scene to scene. We enjoyed selling cloth and news scrolls to the crowd and working on our funny banter. While we enjoyed it, there certainly was an element of work as we repeated the same scene over and over again for around 4500 people over 3 nights. It was good for the girls to be reminded that it wasn’t about them and that the purpose was to bless those coming to view the show, rather than what we could get out of it.IMG_8969 We cooked up a storm for a ladies high tea at our home which was a blast as we served 22 hard working women from our church as a way to thank and bless them for all they do throughout the year.IMG_8931 The children made take home gifts for the ladies. These snow covered luminaries were very effective and so easy. Jars painted with PVA glue and sprinkled with epsom salts sparkled and the electric tea lights gave a lovely glow to the tables. We found an old Christmas tree on the side of the road during verge collection and cut off all the branches and berries to make the napkin rings and jar decorations, as well as mini Christmas trees is pots.IMG_9045IMG_9078We will be dropping off biscuits to the pastoral team and workers in the church office today as a thank you to them. The children have created hand-made thank you cards to go with them. The Blessing Buddies did get into the choc-chips first though!IMG_8929My eldest son used branches from the park to put together the stable we used for our new nativity this year and the separate parts have been arriving daily with the Blessing Buddies.IMG_8943 Occasionally the blessing of the day includes the children and they were lucky enough to be able to eat the Blessing Buddies’ bowling balls.IMG_8950 “What’s in the box?” hasn’t been that much of a hit this year. The purpose of this in the past has been to give the youngest child (usually 18 months to 2 1/2 or 3) something new and interesting to play with while the older children work on the craft or blessing of the day. This year though the youngest is too young for it and has her own table activities and the next youngest (3 1/2) would rather do the same activities as the other children. Next year it will be back in full force as our little one will be the perfect age but I have let it slide for now in favour of our craft of the day. The pretend play cooking activity above would have been loved last year but just hasn’t hit the mark with the in-between ages this time.

What are you doing in your family to help them focus on blessing others this year?

For a tonne of acts of kindness blessing ideas see blessing buddy ideas, Christmas “What’s in the Box?” ideas are great for toddlers and we used many Christian craft links for our Advent craft count down. Ideas for family traditions for a Christ-centred Christmas are here.

Christmas Traditions 2015

IMG_8682 fireplace

The Christmas season is in full swing for us as we begin our many special traditions again this year. As always, we have tried to keep the focus on Jesus and blessing others over this period, rather than on presents and “getting.”The Blessing Buddies have arrived with their acts of kindness  for others and the children are excitedly searching for them each morning to see what they are up to. (Full explanation, printable poem and many acts of kindness ideas here.)

We are opening one special Christmas book to read each evening. This year I have sewed 24 bags for the books that I can reuse year after year.

The child of the day rushes out each morning to open the advent calendar and place the nativity figure onto the stable. Rather than treats this year, our advent calendar has an envelope filled with a handful of Lego for each child to open on their appointed day.  I was able to buy a huge bag of secondhand Lego cheaply at an op shop and had my eldest make up little sets for each day.

The same child takes their turn to pull out the day’s Jesse tree reading. This year we are focussing on the symbols of Christmas, looking at their meanings and how they can help point us and others to God.

Decorating the tree was eagerly awaited as always and our youngest placed the star on top as is our tradition, despite the fact that Daddy had to hold her hand in place to do it.

Another morning search finds our “What’s in the box?” Christmas table activity tray for the day. These Montessori style trays are for the toddlers and young children to do while the older children work on more difficult crafts or activities.

After our morning devotion using the symbol of the day we look in the craft box to find a special Christmas activity for the morning. With carols in the background we create something special, often related to the blessing of the day and meant to be given away to bless others.

We will be cruising the canals admiring the Christmas lights soon and attending the living nativity in a couple of weeks, with one important difference this year – the girls are in it. Our high tea for the senior church ladies is all set for a couple of Saturday’s time and we have a full schedule leading up to Christmas.

Having asked the children some weeks ago what they remembered as special about Christmas in our family I was glad to see that they did recall most of the traditions we have started and were looking forward to doing them again. Hopefully they will look back on this family time with fond memories and a heart that is knitted to us and their siblings for life.

For a full list of all our Christmas tradition and family identity building ideas for the Christmas period, see this post.

Blessing Buddies; What have they been up to?

IMG_1521

Making flour footprints with an invitation to cook something tasty for the ladies who meet in our house once a month.

Since their arrival on the first of December, the children have been enjoying searching for the Blessing Buddies each morning and finding out what their act of kindness for the day is going to be. Our 2 1/2 year old is also loving searching for his special Christmas activity box each day.

IMG_1509

The Blessing Buddies were found on the front doorstep on Dec 1, along with the special sparkly box with the day’s toddler Christmas activity and supplies for the first act of kindness.

IMG_1562

Baking biscuits was messy but fun – 6 children in pairs baking 120 biscuits was a bit crazy but we did it!

IMG_1551

My favourite blessing so far. We went down to the local shops and surveyed the shopkeepers of the smaller stores, asking them to name their favourite chocolate bars. We then went into Coles and purchased their choices and delivered them back with a note from the Blessiing Buddies explaining the real reason for the Christmas season. Lots of fun seeing their faces when they received their chocolate. We deliberately waited until they were busy to stealthily (not so much!) place the bags on the counters and dash out again before any reward other than their smile could be forthcoming.

IMG_1525

The children were outraged that the boy Blessing Buddy was being mean! I thought it was funny but they could only focus on the injustice! They don’t seem so concerned when they are doing similar things to their own siblings!

IMG_1528

The end result of the previous blessing craft. These felt trees were very easy to do (hot glue gun the bits together for the young ones and sew them on for the older kids) and the end result was really stunning. They look a lot nicer in real life than the photograph shows. They will make lovely Grandparent gifts this year.

IMG_1523

The Blessing Buddy bead ball-pit! The kids thought it meant we were going to an indoor playground! Had to disappoint them there and make beaded animals and other creatures to give away instead.

IMG_1515

Our church is collecting food for Christmas hampers so we added to the collection.

IMG_1513

One of our Christmas traditions is to buy a new nativity scene each year. The Blessing Buddies bought this one and were found worshiping Jesus.

IMG_1511

We made Christmas tree cross ornaments to give to the ladies who attend our yearly Christmas high tea so the Buddies were found swinging from the Christmas tree. The odd decorations they are on are our Jesse tree symbols.

IMG_1529

One of our children has a December birthday so the blessing for the day was all about them. The Buddies were found hanging out of her birthday gift.

 

Advent and Christmas Traditions 2014

IMG_9042

Christmas is a special time of year in our family. It is such a great time to deliberately focus on creating family traditions that will be remembered and treasured for a lifetime by our children, grandchildren and perhaps on through the generations. Each year we add a few more traditions and carry on with those we like that we have already started.

Here are some of the many things we do together as a family and extended family that help make Christmas special for us. Many of them I have posted about in the past (links included to those posts) and a few are new ideas that we will be starting this year for the first time. (I will add links to those as I post about them.) You may like to start a Christmas “to do” list so that some wonderful traditions will be started in your own family.

Bible reading scrolls to go with each name of Jesus.

Jesse trees. Each day we open a scroll containing a bible reading and the children take turns to unwrap the related symbol for the Christmas tree and hang it. We keep the scrolls in this pretty tree made from toilet rolls covered in contact paper (hot glued together) and the symbols gift-wrapped in a basket.

wrapped Jesse tree symbols

(The Jesse tree is a representation of Jesus’ family tree. Jesse was the Father of David and God promised David that his kingdom would last forever. It was through David’s line that Jesus comes and the symbols used on it traditionally represent those in Jesus’ family tree.) Traditional style symbols here, ideas for symbols here and links to more info on Jesse trees here.

Adam and Eve (The forbidden fruit)

We have also done a “Names of Jesus” Jesse tree. Each morning I read the bible reading from the scrolls while the children listened carefully to hear the name of Jesus contained within the reading. They then tried to guess what the symbol would be and took turns to open the wrapped symbols to add to the Jesse tree.

Shepherd

Our magnetic jewel Jesse tree with free printable symbols to colour was simple to do and the Children enjoyed having their own Jesse tree each.

jesse tree jewels finished IMG_8790

The Blessing Buddies will be making their first appearance this year. (Full post here.) A boy and girl bendable wooden doll will arrive in a package with instructions. Each day the children will find them hidden around the house in a different pose with details of the act of kindness for the day. They may be hiding in the oven with biscuit ingredients and a note saying that we will be baking biscuits for the neighbours or be caught riding a candy cane sled with instructions to hunt for hidden candy canes to give out at the supermarket.

Each morning the children take turns to open a door on our wooden advent calendar. Each little box holds a character from the nativity and occasionally there is a surprise treat to share. The characters are magnetic and are added to the scene above the boxes to eventually complete the nativity story. The child opening the box that day is allowed to arrange the characters however they wish, which leads to some interesting nativity set-ups!

advent candles and nativity

Every evening the advent wreath and candles are lit while we read our advent story. In past years we have read nightly installments from Jotham’s Journey, Bartholomew’s Passage, Tabitha’s Travels, The Best Christmas Pageant Ever and others.

We have several nativity scenes set out for little ones to play with; a china set for the older children and fabric and wooden sets for the little ones. We plan to add to these each year in the after Christmas sales. In the after dinner rush to get PJ’s on and teeth brushed and be ready for our Advent story, those who are done play quietly with the nativity sets or browse through the Christmas books until the whole family is together. This year we will be adding them to sensory tubs with rocks, dried beans, artificial trees, block buildings etc. for even more interactive play. The advent candles are lit and tree lights turned on while we cuddle up and read together.

Christmas worship music and carols are playing in the house often throughout December, especially during craft activities, which gives the house that special Christmas atmosphere.

We attend a Carols in the Park each year with candles, animal rides, picnic dinner, snacks, deck chairs & blankets. Singing songs about the birth of Jesus under the stars with family and friends is one of the highlights of the season for the children.

rd to bethlehem camels

The Road to Bethlehem is another evening event we now attend yearly. Put on by one of the local churches, it is a walking tour/play/production depicting the biblical Christmas story. It never ceases to amaze us that they have a brand new baby in it every year. The camel rides are a highlight too.

books advent wrapped

I am gradually building up our set of Christmas books and now have quite a stack wrapped and under the tree for our Christmas picture book advent. The children take turns choosing one story to unwrap and read together each day. We also have a couple of Christmas videos for those afternoons following late night activities when more downtime than usual is called for.

Each year we look for ways to give “gifts for Jesus” by blessing others. Church Christmas hampers, shoe boxes for Samaritan’s Purse Operation Christmas Child, choosing a Compassion gift of a water well etc. or giving gifts to local charities for underprivileged children are some of the ways we have done this.

Friends of ours like to get a group of friends, neighbours, Mothers and daughters etc. together to make gingerbread houses as an outreach. We do ours with a difference; rather than a house we make ours into a gingerbread nativity scene. The Ikea gingerbread house converts very easily into a stable by cutting the front panel in half and leaving the halves open like shutters. The chimney parts fit together to make a perfect manger. We are often given a lot of lollies around Christmas so we save them up and allow the kids to go to town building lolly nativity figures and decorating the stable. We then take the stable along on Christmas day to share with the extended family gathering with the rule that we do not bring it home again!

IMG_6774 christmas day concert

With more and more children in the family, we have started a Christmas day concert. Children from each family will play an instrument, do a dance, tell jokes, sing a song or perhaps whole families will join together to act out a nativity play or put on a skit. Jesus’ Christmas Party by Nicholas Allan lends itself well to a simple yet humorous retelling. Any other talent (serious or humorous) can be showcased for the family’s enjoyment. If this is too much for you, perhaps the children (of one family or extended family) could rehearse and put on a nativity play just for Daddy and the Grandparents on another day in December.

IMG_3814 christmas lights canals

Take a drive around the city to look at Christmas lights. Wear PJ’s, play carols on the stereo and take the Grandparents along. If 2 cars are needed, change combinations after each stop and talk to each other through walkie-talkies. Stop for a treat on the way or take hot chocolate in a thermos for the road. Buy disposable coffee cups with fitted lids for this purpose. Perhaps the kids can be in their PJ’s and packed off to bed early, only to find golden tickets hidden under their pillows entitling them to a Christmas lights extravaganza and instructing them to be in the car on the double. We are lucky enough to have Grandparents who take us out on their boat to see the Christmas lights in the Mandurah canals from the water.

Send out Christmas cards. Perhaps involve the children in making these.  Maybe a photographic record of the years’ highlights with descriptions could be included, along with a hand-written note to personalise each one. Art work or small crafts could be included.

Make something for the neighbours; perhaps Christmas puddings, crafts, jam, rocky road or whatever your specialty. We like to include a flyer of Christmas day service times from our church and a small tract explaining the Christmas message and walk up and down the length of our street delivering them. Our gift often has some kind of Christian symbolism such as the M and M Christmas story or the True meaning of the candy cane.

Knock & run nativity. The characters from the nativity set are delivered to a neighbour one at a time anonymously in the lead up to Christmas day with baby Jesus arriving on Christmas morning. We have written a cute poem explaining what to do and include bible verses with a rhyme to go with each character in the nativity.

J star on tree

The tree is decorated on the weekend on or before the 1st of December (so that Daddy can be involved) with the children arranging it as they please while Mum and Dad take video and photograph the event. We also take individual and group photos of the Children in front of the tree for their own photo album memories and also for gifts, cards and other crafts. Christmas carols play in the background and the topping of the tree is saved for the youngest child who is able. Dad lifts them up while Mum takes the pictures. The group effort turns out a surprisingly even tree. Only one or two branches have massive overloading and they are surreptitiously corrected by the eldest while the little ones are busy collecting the next handful of decorations.

Some families purchase 1 new decoration for each child every Christmas and eventually give them to the children when they leave home to start their own Christmas traditions. The decorations may also symbolise something of significance from the year such as an accomplishment, interest or character trait.

Christmas photos of the children can also be used for mini picture ornament frames or printed in black and white on clear vellum and placed inside hollow glass or plastic baubles.

IMG_9266 craft a day for advent

Daily advent count-down craft activities mean that I get around to doing all those cute Christmas crafts the kids love. Everything needed for each craft is prepared ahead of time and placed inside a brown paper bag with the instructions on the top. When craft time rolls around, all we need to do is pull down a bag and gather a couple of extra items like scissors and tape and we are ready to go. The activities could be linked to the Jesse tree readings.

We like to hold a high tea for older ladies from church just to bless them. We try to invite different people each year, particularly those without family. All the fancy finger-food is prepared ahead and frozen to make it manageable on the day. The older children act as greeters and wait staff and love every minute of it. Of course they get a lot of attention and fuss made of them so why wouldn’t they!

Christmas Eve traditions are many and varied. When we were younger, our Grandparents slept over on Christmas Eve so that they are there for the early morning festivities. Some families like to open one gift on Christmas eve or one gift only on Christmas morning before heading off to church. A new pair of PJ’s is a nice Christmas Eve gift and means that the children all look good for Christmas morning photos. Family traditions have been built around particular videos being watched on Christmas Eve or perhaps a games night with hot chocolate is something your family would enjoy. Our church now holds services on Christmas Eve so that families who have very busy Christmas days can attend the night before.

As Christmas cards arrive throughout December, place them in a little basket on the table and read them out before praying for the senders of the latest arrival that night after dinner.

If you know of people with nowhere to go, you could invite them to participate in your Christmas celebrations. If you don’t have much planned, why not volunteer at a soup kitchen or one of the charity run Christmas lunches held around the city.

IMG_6658 unwrapping gifts

In the past we have lucky dipped a name of a family member to make a Christmas gift for, rather than purchasing. Other years we have purchased only for the children, rather than the adults. Choosing one family gift for each family is another idea. (Tickets to a water playground with toys and snacks to share together, an icecream Sunday or hot chocolate pack, adults & kids DVD with snacks are a couple of ideas.) This year we gave some families a set of our craft advent bags before Christmas as their gift. You may like to think about giving tools not toys.

The Mummy & Daddy shop is open for business during December for sibling gifts. The children use their hard-earned pocket money to purchase small gifts for their siblings from a selection I pre-purchase for this purpose.

On Christmas day itself, we start the morning with our final advent reading and prayer. Later in the day we may have a birthday cake and sing happy birthday to Jesus.

We try to spend some time in the lead-up to Christmas day role-playing & discussing gift receiving etiquette. We discuss and act out scenarios covering what to do if you already have the same item, comments children can say to the gift giver once the present is opened, the importance of being truthful whilst respecting the thought, time, money and effort that the giver has gone to in order to give them their gifts, tactful ways to respond when the gift is not something they like, want or need & guarding their facial expressions when they see the gift for the first time.

IMG_6750 gift giving

One side of the family like to give out the gifts at the Christmas day celebrations to one person at a time while everyone else sits and enjoys seeing what has been chosen. One person, often Grandpa, hands out the gifts to the youngest children first and works up by age. This means that the littlest ones can quietly play with their gifts if watching for the duration is just too much. The children sit on Grandpa’s knee to open the gifts while we all watch.

You may like to set limits on the amount you buy and model your spending on the 3 wise men; gold (bigger/want) myrrh (something to wear), frankincense (spiritual) or perhaps this little poem; Something you need, something you want and something to read.

A friend of ours puts tags on the gifts under the tree in code so that the children can’t figure out who’s is who’s or what they are getting ahead of time. That, plus not putting the gifts under the tree until Christmas eve keeps everything a surprise. In the morning, part of the fun is working out who gets what gift.

We choose not to include Santa or Father Christmas in our celebrations. I have a full post on why here.

The yearly Christmas day family photo is a must with all the extended family.

IMG_8963 christmas head gear headband

Grandma’s fancy Christmas headgear, earrings and necklaces are becoming legendary and our children have begun to join in the fun at church with flashy headbands during Christmas services.

The after lunch water pistol fight is great for a cool down on hot Christmas days, following the simple and usually outdoor lunch. Everyone pitches in to bring food and the host family rotates each year to spread the load. Bonbons, paper hats and bad jokes are part of the atmosphere and there is often goodie bags for the kids and/or a fancy treat kiddy dessert (gingerbread houses, rocky road Christmas tree cones etc.)

Don’t forget to collect great recipes others serve you while out and about and get family recipes traditional for Christmas time (Nana’s fruit cake etc.) written down before it is too late. In their own handwriting, laminated or framed is extra special after they are gone.

Put aside a little time in the week after Christmas to have your own mini debrief. What did and didn’t work, things you want to do next year, what to change, ideas to remember etc.

Through the year perhaps ordering some gifts or decorations online or in the after Christmas sales will save time and money for the following year. Maybe hand-made gifts can be planned so they can be made over the course of the coming year.

Keep a list in your purse of items you have already purchased and a list of people you will be buying for and update it through the year as you see items on sale. Pick up your cards, wrapping and decorations on sale after Christmas.

Don’t forget to post thank you cards from you and the children. Homemade cards are more meaningful but do take longer. Young children can dictate for you to write.

Check out Pinterest and other online resources for ideas in the lead-up to next year.

What are your favourite family traditions for the Christmas season?

Knock and run 12 days of nativity

advent candles and nativity

If you are like me and have neglected to get started on your 12 days of nativity knock and run, here is my “deliver it all at once” version with introductory poem and readings for a 10 piece nativity set. (10 days until Christmas if I deliver it today!)

If you have no idea what I am talking about, this is a nice outreach idea for neighbours or friends at Christmas time. You can either deliver one piece of the nativity each day (with their corresponding readings) or all at once, to be opened one per day. If you live close to the recipient I think the every day approach is more fun, especially for the children as they take turns being the stealthy deliverer who cannot be seen delivering the daily piece. This year for us however, one delivery it will be as we have a lot on and I’m sure to miss a day or 2 otherwise. 

I have included the instructions for both versions in poem form and the readings we are using this year. Feel free to print them out and tweak it to fit the set you have. Have fun introducing someone to the good news of Jesus birth.

All at once version:

Jesus came to earth to show the world God’s love

Amazing grace and forgiveness, sent from heaven above

At your door this gift you’ve found, unwrap it one per day

It will tell the Christmas story, in a special way

To remind you of the gift of God, as a baby He was born

Jesus Christ, God on earth, in a stable all forlorn

The date will tell you which to unwrap and set upon display

Isn’t it amazing; we can receive God’s love today!

One per day version:

Jesus came to earth to show the world God’s love

Amazing grace and forgiveness, sent from heaven above

At your door a gift you’ll find, unwrap it every day

It will tell the Christmas story, in a special way

To remind you of the gift of God, as a baby He was born

Jesus Christ, God on earth, in a stable all forlorn

Leave the basket out each night for us to fill for you

Don’t try to peek or find us out, it will spoil it if you do!

Mary

And the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, (Luke 1:30-32, ESV)

Mary was a young girl who trusted God and was willing to obey Him. She was given the privilege of mothering Jesus, the Son of God.

Joseph

But as he considered these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” (Matthew 1:20-21, ESV)

Joseph was a man of character. God entrusted him to raise His Son.

Donkey

And Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the town of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, to be registered with Mary, his betrothed, who was with child. (Luke 2:4-5, ESV)

Mary may have ridden a donkey from Nazareth to Bethlehem. God was watching over her and fulfilling His divine plan.

Cow

And while they were there, the time came for her to give birth. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn. (Luke 2:6-7, ESV)

Fulfilling the prophecies, God’s son began His life in a stable because He loved us so much.

Baby Jesus

“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. (John 3:16-17, ESV)

Jesus left heaven to be born on earth as a baby. He grew into a man, died for our sin and rose as our Saviour.

Angel

And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!” (Luke 2:13-14, ESV)

An angel gave Mary the wonderful news that she was to bear God’s Son. Throughout the Christmas story angels share joyous news and praise God for His wondrous salvation gift.

Shepherd & sheep

And they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in a manger. And when they saw it, they made known the saying that had been told them concerning this child. (Luke 2:16-17, ESV)

God shared the miracle of His Son’s birth first with humble shepherds in the fields, rather than the important people of the time. The good news is for everyone.

King/wise man

Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the east came to Jerusalem, saying, “Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.” (Matthew 2:1-2, ESV)

The wise men came to worship the newborn king. They bough Him gifts because they recognized who He really was – King of Kings and Lord of Lords

King/wise man

Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30, ESV)

The wise men probably travelled on camels as they carried their loads of precious gifts and belongings. We come to Jesus loaded down with burdens but He promises to carry our burdens and give us the rest we need if we will trust in Him.

King/wise man

knowing that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot. (1 Peter 1:18-19, ESV)

The wise men bought precious gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh, but the gift of forgiveness for our sin is the most precious of all. Jesus came to purchase our freedom from sin. He sacrificed Himself in our place so we can know God and live in peace and joy with Him forever.

Christmas craft bags (advent count down)

25 days of Christmas crafts

In December we finish up our normal school routine and get right into the Christmas spirit. Along with our daily Jesse tree readings, traditions we are continuing from past years and special outings, I like to prepare a stack of craft activities ahead of time.

I find my ideas, (Pinterest is an awesome source for this) do all the prep needed for 6 children to make one each and place everything into large paper bags. When we want to do a craft I simply plop the bag on the table with nothing to do other than gather some glue, textas or other basic items that we are using every day and can’t be assigned to a single bag. In the past, the children didn’t know what was in each bag but this time I will be attaching a photo to the front so that I can decide which one I can cope with at the time. Some are much more involved than others.

I would love to post photos here, but as they are other people’s ideas you will need to follow the links to see them or have a look at my Pinterest Christmas board where there is a pinned picture for almost all of the crafts, plus quite a few more! I also prepared some simple colouring pages with stickers for the younger children to work on while the older ones are doing the more difficult crafts or pre-prepared crafts ahead with only the decorating left for the little ones so they feel like they made it themselves. Three older children wielding hot glue guns at once means I am not always able to supervise the little ones at the same time! Oh, and if you don’t own a glue gun now is the time to invest. I just got 2 more for $7 each and they are awesome. Don’t try to craft without one! Trust me; I was sure I didn’t need one for quite a while but once you have one there is no going back!

jesse tree jewels finished IMG_8790

  1. Paper strip Christmas tree for Jesse tree
  2. Christmas activity books for quiet times. Most of the pages for these came from here (scroll down) here (scroll down to Christmas) and here (type nativity and Christmas into the search bar for heaps of results.)
  3. Electric tea-light covers – cone shaped Christmas trees. Inspired by a picture that turned out to be papier-mache with holes drilled in and sanded off. Far too much work I say! I am tracing a cone template onto glittered card stock and using a hole punch plus a scrapbooking tool to punch a variety of hole sizes to let the light through.
  4. Paper chains. No explanation needed here! The children plan to make enough to go around the entire house. Needless to say, I cut my own strips rather than purchasing prepared ones.
  5. Clove decorated oranges. Some beautiful examples here and here. Use a zester that makes strips of peel for the patterns before adding cloves.
  6. Wooden dolly peg Mary Joseph and Jesus
  7. Giant popstick snowflake decorations. We hung these outside our front door last year. Must have a hot glue gun to make drying fast or lots of patience with white glue.
  8. Ribbon Christmas tree card
  9.  Jewel decorated line drawing Christmas trees. I have bought sticky jewels so this will be very simple. A quick drawing following the style of the example and some jewels on the branches for baubles.
  10. Felt Christmas tree with decorations All the children will cut out decorations for the large felt tree backing which will then be left out for them to play with and redecorate as they wish.
  11. Delicate string Christmas trees I have pre-made the cardboard cones and covered them with plastic kitchen wrap. Paint the plastic covered cones with white glue and wrap with string. Ensure that the strings cross over each other for a strong result. Once well-covered, paint over the top of the string with white glue and allow to dry thoroughly overnight before removing the cone and plastic carefully from underneath.
  12. Natural branch Christmas trees We will have to go on a nature walk to collect sticks for this.
  13. Sequin decorated foam baubles I have a variety of plain, flower and star sequins for this activity. I purchased a packet of shirt pins with tiny coloured round ball ends but any pin with an end that won’t pull through the sequins will do.
  14. Pasta noodle angel choir These are so cute. We will experiment with different facial features. I can see a whole village developing!
  15. Split pin and string Christmas tree cards This wall sized version gave me the idea but I shrunk it and used split pins to make the outline of a Christmas tree on the front of a card. The children will wind glitter string back and forth. The split pins need to be placed into the card loosely so there is enough room underneath then to fit several turns of string.
  16. Popstick stable and silhouettes I copied the silhouettes into Word and chose format picture – adjust picture, black and white 75% to get a strong black and white silhouette to cut out. Hot glue gun popsticks or coffee stirrers {same thing but cheaper because they are not a craft supply!} together to make the stables and add some card backing with sticker stars.  I am going to show the older children the example and let them go nuts creating their own stables. May turn into mansions…. we’ll see!
  17. Variety of nativity scene colouring pages. (Search google images for nativity colouring pages, they are everywhere.)
  18. Bauble Christmas cards An easy card requiring nothing but a little patterned paper and ribbon.
  19. Strings of fingerprinted Christmas lights Controlled finger-painting experience! Could use ink stamp pads rather than paint or even bingo dotter markers.
  20. Wooden peg stars These look very effective. We added glitter last year and made some beautiful ornaments. Even the natural wood alone is pretty.
  21. Popstick tree Last year I bought some foam popsticks which we will use instead of wood because they can be easily cut with scissors to make the various sizes required for this tree.
  22. 3 wise men popsicle ornament Oversized popsticks (or paint stirrers) are used for these with a couple of scraps to decorate. We will use felt off-cuts for beards and dot stickers for the faces rather than painting the popsicle sticks.)
  23. Paper strip flower decoration A good use for left over paper chain strips – if there are any!
  24. toilet roll flower wreath Collecting lots of toilet rolls in a household of 8 is never a problem 😉 These do look very pretty and are so easy to make – IF you have a hot glue gun. Get one!!
  25. Jesus in a toilet roll manger We will wrapping felt pieces around a wooden dolly peg for Jesus and laying him in the toilet roll mangers filled with shredded gold tinsel. (Upmarket hay for our baby Jesus!)

 What crafts are you doing this Christmas?

Other posts you may find helpful:

Mummy’s Christmas shop – how to organise gift giving with lots of siblings

Receiving gifts, thankfulness and good manners

Christmas “to do” list; making sure those traditions happen

Our Jesse tree symbols for advent 2013

jesse tree jewels finished IMG_8790

Christmas is fast approaching and with it, the advent season. In our family, we try to make this a special time to focus on Jesus in the lead-up to Christmas day. This year we are making a magnetic Jesse tree to count down the 25 days of December. The clear jewels that are stuck over the top of the tiny pictures have a magnifying effect that make the simple picture symbols look quite spectacular. We will read the bible reading to go with each symbol and the older children will design their own pictures, while the younger kids will colour in the ones I have already pre-drawn for them.

Jesse tree symbols 2013 jewels

If you would like to use our pictures, I have uploaded a printable version here.  (You are welcome to print the pictures out for your own use, however please do not re-post these on any other blog; feel free to link back here.) Don’t forget to check the size of your jewels and adjust the print size of the pictures accordingly. Jewels can be found at discount variety stores and are usually with the candles or artificial flowers.

The tree backing is simply strips of coloured paper glued down and laminated. If you can find a couple of complimentary scrapbooking or wrapping paper patterns that would be ideal. To glue the jewels down, we used white PVA wood glue. Just make sure that whatever you use, it dries clear or obviously your pictures will not show through well. I found round magnets and used the same glue to attach them to the back after the pictures were dry.

There are lots of suggested readings available online, but the ones I used you can print here. (I fit my readings into the 25 days of December, rather than actually following advent and there are a couple of extra readings and symbols on this list than I needed. Ignore the days of the week and just choose the ones that match the printable symbols from above or make up your own.)

If you would like to see another version of a fairly traditional Jesse tree from previous years, see here or for a different take on Jesse trees, see our names of Jesus Jesse tree symbols.

Other posts you may find helpful:

Jesus trees, lent and Easter traditions for a Christian Easter; minus the bunny.

Making those traditions happen; a “to do” list of wonderful memory making ideas

Christmas debrief and next year’s plans

Christmas “to do” list: Making sure those traditions happen

5 decorating Christmas tree 2012 IMG_7268In light of my Christmas resolutions from last year, I have decided to get a jump start on Christmas planning and organisation by making a master list of everything I need to do before the start of December and Christmas day itself. Christmas traditions are wonderful but they do take planning and effort to make them happen. My resolutions were something along the lines of:

  1. Next year I will have everything done well in advance.
  2. I will be able to sit back and relax and enjoy the season WITH my children, rather than running around like a headless chook organising things FOR my children.
  3. I will get around to doing some of those amazing ideas I pin to my Pinterest Christmas board.
  4. I will keep the traditions we have started in the past going.

Grand sentiments I know but ones that I am determined to make happen this year. Most of the ideas on this list are explained more fully in this post, so have a read there if these sound a little cryptic. I actually plan to use today’s list for me, but hopefully it inspires you to make this year something special as we focus on Jesus as the reason for the season.

  • Make my gift list. Who I have to buy for, what I have already purchased and what I plan to purchase. I will keep it in my purse and carry it with me. No more being in the shops and seeing an awesome special and not buying it because I have forgotten that I need to buy for my cousin’s new baby. It will also stop me seeing the awesome special and buying it for my cousin’s new baby, only to remember later that I already have a gift tucked away that I have forgotten about. (See “Tools not Toys” for some gift inspiration.)
  • Place online orders. We are purchasing more online gifts each year. With the limited budget we allocate for children of extended family, we’d rather purchase quality reading material than the junky toys our budget would include.
  • Purchase or make Christmas cards, take and print family Christmas photo and address envelopes. It’s been several years since we have sent out Christmas cards due to lack of organisation rather than an unwillingness to do so. This year will be different!
  • Order new Christmas books and wrap our collection. Each year we add a couple of new titles to our collection of precious Christmas stories. These are wrapped individually and the children take turns to open one each day for story time. Since they are packed away each year, the stories stay fresh and interesting and bring back happy memories from the years before. Opening them like a gift adds to the excitement.
Bible reading scrolls to go with each name of Jesus.

This contact covered toilet roll Christmas tree holds the bible reading scrolls to go with our Jesse tree symbols for advent. With 25 holes, it is just the right size. (And with 6 children in the house, we had no trouble at all saving up 25 toilet rolls to make it!)

  • Purchase materials to make our jewel magnet Jesse tree symbols for this year. Make a list of matching readings from the Jesus Storybook Bible. In the past couple of years we have used a fairly traditional Jesse tree and a names of Jesus Jesse tree. This year we will be designing our own miniature pictures to accompany the daily reading and gluing them under jewels with magnetic backs. These will be added to a Jesse tree backing on our magnetic whiteboard and used as a daily count down as we listen to the bible readings. Pictures and a free printable black and white version to colour in will be posted soon.
  • Dig out the next book in our advent reading (for fun) series. Grandpa’s Box was brilliant (one of my favourite stories and broken into short sections that are perfect for advent) and we thoroughly enjoyed Jotham’s Journey. This Year we will be following on with the second book in the series; Bartholomew’s Passage. The stories are broken into daily readings for the advent season and leave the children hanging on the edge of their seats and begging for more.

25 days of Christmas crafts

  • Set up Christmas craft bags. Last year we had a craft for every day of December and the children loved making them. We didn’t get all the bags finished though and some have been tucked away to do this year. We will probably go for around 15 different activities this year as we simply had too much on to get through one every day. I have all the preparation for 6 lots of the craft plus an example or picture done beforehand so that I can plop the bag on the table and know that there is nothing to do other than perhaps get the glue and scissors out.

rd to bethlehem camels

  • Check dates for Road to Bethlehem. A church in our area puts on a fabulous walk-through Nativity play. You follow a guide from station to station as the story is presented in parts with amazing sets and costuming. They really go all out, with camel rides and  activities beforehand and lots of great food. The children love it and it is the perfect event to invite friends and family who are not Christian along to. Check out the church programmes in your area, you may be surprised at the free events you can attend.
  • Stock our Operation Christmas Child shoeboxes to send overseas to needy children. The kids had a ball choosing all the little gifts to put inside.
  • Plan our neighbourhood outreach gifts. We like to deliver small gifts with the Christian Christmas message of God’s salvation through Jesus in a variety of formats to everyone in our street. We also include our church’s Christmas service times and contact info. You never know who will decide to come along at Christmas time.
  • Buy our Ikea gingerbread house in readiness to turn it into a stable. If you cut the front wall into 2 pieces and have them open out like window shutters on each side it makes a great stable. Use the chimney pieces to make an awesome manger without even having to cut them!
  • Decide on a Carols in the Park event and mark it on the calendar.
  • Mark Lights in the Heights on the calendar; Perth Christmas lights display;  8th to 20th Dec at C3Church Hepburn Heights.
  • Print golden tickets and plan for our Christmas lights express trip. The children are put to bed early and with squeals of delight, find their golden ticket. We will all then jump in the car and head out for a tour of the best Perth Christmas lights displays. My inspiration for this came from here. She has some great ideas like taking hot chocolate and snacks,  playing carols in the car and there are even printable tickets to hole-punch as the children climb aboard.
  • Book a date with Nan and Grandad for Christmas lights on the water. Last year we were very blessed to have my parents take us out on their boat for a trip around the canals to admire the lights from the water. It was a wonderful way to spend some time with them and something different for the kids. Not to mention the amazing light display.
  • Stock our Mummy and Daddy shop with small items for the children to purchase for each other. This is how we manage sibling gifts in a large family.

B shepherd costume livingstone concert aug 2011 016

  • Rehearse our family nativity play. We have not managed to put one together yet and it is way down the list, but maybe this year. The children would like to act out “Jesus’ Christmas Party” if we can pull it off with our limited cast.
  • Organise our ladies high tea. Send out invites, menu plan, cook, games, decorations and place settings; the whole works. This is something we started a couple of years ago as a lovely way to bless others. We invite a bunch of elderly ladies from church along (who we usually barely know) and hold a fancy high tea just because. They love it and our older children love being waiters and waitresses for the event, taking their roles very seriously.
  • Set up a Christmas card prayer box. This was a nice idea I came across a couple of years ago. Instead of figuring out how to display the Christmas cards that come in, place them in a basket on the table and pray for the senders of the latest one before the evening meal.
  • Fill advent calendar. Ours is a wooden box calendar with magnetic nativity pieces to add to a stable scene daily throughout advent. I add a couple of treat surprises on random days.
  • Buy nativity set. We like our decorations to point to Jesus and have started a nativity collection. While we are doing teeth and getting ready for our evening time together in the loungeroom after dinner, those who are ready can play with the nativity scenes with the lights off and Christmas tree lights and advent candles lit. Add some Christmas music and it is a wonderful atmosphere.
  • Purchase spare nativity. We would like to do a knock and run 12 days of nativity with the neighbours one year. Unfortunately nobody around us has children, but the adults may still enjoy it.
  • Set up the advent wreath and candles. We light the candles each year and watch them burn while we read our advent book for the night. We discuss the symbolism of the different coloured candles leading up to the birth of Jesus.
  • Print Christmas activity books. I trawl the internet for Christmas themed dot-to-dots, mazes, puzzles, colouring pages and the like to make printed activity books for those times when a little quiet table time is in order.
  • Repair any broken decorations. Yes, I know it would have been easier to do it last year before we packed them away but that didn’t happen ok!
  • Plan thank you cards ahead. Address and stamp them so there is no excuse to send them in March (like last year!)
  • Find the Christmas music. We have several CDs of Christmas worship music and carols to play throughout December.
  • Trial any new Christmas recipes and plan some favourites to take as our contribution on Christmas day.
  • Watch the Nativity cartoon: The Christmas story according to the bible . A cute little 5 minute cartoon for kids with a Christian message that shows children with humour what the bible actually says happened at Christmas.
  • Set out the Christmas videos. We try to use these sparingly but on the days after some of our special late-night outings, a little chilling in front of a vid is needed.
  • Hold the tree decorating ceremony. Usually on the first of December but depends on when Daddy can be home to participate. Video proceedings and have the youngest child place the start on top of the tree as per our tradition..

Seeing it all down on paper makes me realise why I am always so busy at Christmas, but with a little forward planning all these special things will come together. We can always drop some out if it gets too much, but at least the most important ones will happen. These traditions will be what our children remember in the years to come and make this period very special for us as a family. Plus, I love it too!!

Advent and Christmas Traditions 2012

3 decorating tree

This year, like every year, Christmas time has been hectic but filled with fun. We have endeavoured to keep up the many traditions started in past years and even added a couple of new ones I have gathered from other Mums to add to our family repertoire. Here is a mega list of all of the ideas, including those we do ourselves and some we like but simply cannot fit it in just now.

Jesse tree readings

This pretty tree is made from toilet rolls covered in contact paper and hot glued together. We use it to keep the scrolls with our daily bible readings to go along with the Jesse tree symbols.

  • This year our Jesse tree is focussing on the many names of Jesus, rather than the more traditional Jesse tree readings we did last year. Each morning I read the bible reading from the scrolls while the children listen carefully to hear the name of Jesus contained within the reading. They then try to guess what the symbol will be and take turns to open the wrapped symbols to add to the Jesse tree. (Last year’s symbols.)
  • Each morning the children take turns to open a door on our wooden advent calendar. Each little box holds a character from the nativity and occasionally there is a surprise treat to share. The characters are magnetic and are added to the scene above the boxes to eventually complete the nativity story. The child opening the box that day is allowed to arrange the characters however they wish, which leads to some interesting nativity set-ups!

Jotham's Journey: A Storybook for Advent

  • Every evening the advent wreath and candles are lit while we read our advent story. This year it is Jotham’s Journey. It is written in small instalments with the story of Jesus’ birth as a background to fictional events and includes a short life lesson following each day’s reading. Each evening finishes on a cliff-hanger that leaves the children begging for more.
advent candles and nativity

Our advent wreath and one of the nativity sets.

  • We have several nativity scenes set out for little ones to play with; a china set for the older children and fabric and wooden sets for the little ones. We plan to add to these each year in the after Christmas sales. In the after dinner rush to get PJ’s on and teeth brushed and be ready for our Advent story, those who are done play quietly with the nativity sets or browse through the Christmas books until the whole family is together. The advent candles are lit and tree lights turned on while we cuddle up and read together.
  • Christmas worship music and carols are playing in the house often throughout December, especially during craft activities.
  • We attend a Carols in the Park each year with candles, animal rides, picnic dinner, snacks, deck chairs & blankets. Singing songs about the birth of Jesus under the stars with family and friends is one of the highlights of the season for the children.

rd to bethlehem camels

  • The Road to Bethlehem is another evening event we now attend yearly. Put on by one of the local churches, it is a walking tour/play/production depicting the biblical Christmas story. It is extremely well done and it never ceases to amaze us that they have a brand new baby in it every year. The camel rides are a highlight too.
  • I am gradually building up our set of Christmas books and now have quite a stack wrapped and under the tree for our Christmas picture book advent. The children take turns choosing one story to unwrap and read each day. We also have a couple of Christmas videos for those afternoons following late night activities when more down-time than usual is called for.
  • Each year we look for ways to give “gifts for Jesus” by blessing others. Church Christmas hampers, shoe boxes for Samaritan’s Purse Operation Christmas Child, choosing a Compassion gift of a water well etc. or giving gifts to local charities for underprivileged children are some of the ways we have done this.
  • Friends of ours like to get a group together (friends/neighbours, Mothers and daughters etc) to make gingerbread houses. They buy kits from large department stores/Ikea etc plus bulk lolly decorations. This year we are experimenting with making our gingerbread house kit into a nativity scene instead. It remains to be seen whether it will be a success or not!
gingerbread house

Last year’s gingerbread house. We are given a lot of lollies around Christmas and in an effort to avoid the sugar, we saved them up and used them to decorate the gingerbread house we were given as a gift. We took it with us to contribute to Christmas day lunch and share with extended family. It didn’t come home again!

  • Perhaps the children (of one family or extended family) could rehearse and put on a nativity play for Daddy and extended family. Jesus’ Christmas Party by Nicholas Allan lends itself well to a simple yet humorous retelling. Those who play instruments could perform or any other talent (serious or humorous) could be showcased for the family’s enjoyment.
  • Take a drive around your city to look at Christmas lights. Wear PJ’s, play carols on the stereo and take the Grandparents along. If 2 cars are needed, change combinations after each stop and talk to each other through walkie-talkies. Stop for a treat on the way or take hot chocolate in a thermos for the road. Buy disposable coffee cups with fitted lids for this purpose.
  • Send out Christmas cards. Perhaps involve the children in making these.  Maybe a photographic record of the years’ highlights with descriptions could be included, along with a hand-written note to personalise each one.
  • Make something for the neighbours; perhaps Christmas puddings, crafts, jam, rocky road or whatever your speciality. We like to include a flyer of Christmas day service times from our church and a small tract explaining the Christmas message and walk up and down the length of our street delivering them. This year we are making bead angel decorations.
  • Knock & run nativity. The characters from the nativity set are delivered to a neighbour one at a time anonymously in the lead up to Christmas day with baby Jesus arriving on Christmas morning.
decorating the tree 2012

The group effort turned out a surprisingly even tree. Only one or two branches had massive overloading and they were surreptitiously corrected by the eldest while little ones were busy collecting the next handful of decorations.

  • The tree is decorated on the 1st of December, with the children arranging it as they please while Mum and Dad take video and photograph the event. We also take individual and group photos of the Children in front of the tree for their own photo album memories and also for gifts, cards and other crafts. Christmas carols play in the background and the topping of the tree is saved for the youngest child who is able. Dad lifts them up while Mum takes the pics.
J star on tree

Being a twin had us wondering if the “older” brother would miss out. His sister was technically the youngest last year and topped the tree. Luckily for him, the baby is not quite up to decorating just yet so he had his turn after all.

  • Some families purchase 1 new decoration for each child every Christmas and eventually give them to the children when they leave home to start their own Christmas traditions. The decorations may also symbolise something of significance from the year such as an accomplishment, interest or character trait.
  • Christmas photos of the children can also be used for mini picture ornament frames or printed in black and white on clear vellum and placed inside hollow glass or plastic baubles.
25 days of Christmas crafts

25 crafts of Christmas

  • Craft advent activities mean that I get around to doing all those cute Christmas crafts the kids love.This year I prepared everything needed for each craft and placed it inside a brown paper bag with the instructions on the top. When craft time rolls around, all we need to do is pull down a bag and gather a couple of extra items like scissors and tape and we are ready to go. 25 activities was perhaps a little ambitious as we are a couple behind, but the kids are loving it. Next year I plan to link the crafts to the Jesse tree readings.
blowing candles

One of our helpful “staff” members.

  • For the second year, we held a high tea for older ladies from church just to bless them and thank them. All the fancy finger-food is prepared ahead and frozen to make it manageable on the day. The older children act as greeters and wait staff on the day and love every minute of it. Of course they get a lot of attention and fuss made of them so why wouldn’t they!
  • When we were younger, our Grandparents slept over on Christmas eve so that they are there for the early morning festivities. Some families like to open one gift on Christmas eve or one gift only on Christmas morning before heading off to church. A new pair of PJ’s is a nice Christmas eve gift and means that the children all look good for Christmas morning photos. Family traditions have been built around particular videos being watched on Christmas eve or perhaps a games night with hot chocolate is something your family would enjoy. Our church now holds services on Christmas eve so that families who have very busy Christmas days can attend the night before.
  • As Christmas cards arrive throughout December, place them in a little basket on the table and read them out before praying for the senders of the latest arrival that night after dinner.
  • If you know of people with nowhere to go, you could invite them to participate on your Christmas celebrations. If you don’t have much planned, why not volunteer at a soup kitchen or one of the charity run Christmas lunches held around the city.
  • In the past we have lucky dipped a name of a family member to make a Christmas gift for, rather than purchasing. Other years we have purchased only for the children, rather than the adults. Choosing one family gift for each family is another idea. (Tickets to a water playground with toys and snacks to share together, icecream Sunday or hot chocolate packs, adults & kids DVD with snacks etc.) This year we gave some families a set of our craft advent bags before Christmas as their gift.
  • The Mummy & Daddy shop is open for business during December for sibling gifts. (Full explanation here.)
  • On Christmas day itself, we start the morning with our final advent reading and prayer. Later in the day we may have a birthday cake and sing happy birthday to Jesus.
  • We try to spend some time in the lead-up to Christmas day role-playing & discussing gift receiving etiquette. (See “Receiving Gifts, Thankfulness and Good Manners”.) We discuss and act out scenarios covering what to do if you already have the same item, comments children can say to the gift giver once the present is opened, the importance of being truthful whilst respecting the thought, time, money and effort that the giver has gone to in order to give them their gifts, tactful ways to respond when the gift is not something they like, want or need & guarding their facial expressions when they see the gift for the first time.
  • One side of the family like to give out the gifts at the Christmas day celebrations to one person at a time while everyone else sits and enjoys seeing what has been chosen. One person, often Grandpa,  hands out the gifts to the youngest children first and works up by age. This means that the littlest ones can quietly play with their gifts if watching for the duration is just too much. The children sit on Grandpa’s knee to open the gifts while we all watch.
  • A new idea we have heard this year to help set limits on the amount we buy for our own children is to model our spending on the 3 wise men; gold (bigger/want) myrrh (something to wear), frankincense (spiritual) or perhaps this little poem; Something you need, something you want and something to read.
  • A friend of ours puts tags on the gifts under the tree in code so that the children can’t figure out who’s is who’s or what they are getting ahead of time. That, plus not putting the gifts under the tree until Christmas eve keeps everything a surprise. In the morning, part of the fun is working out who gets what gift.
  • We choose not to include Santa or Father Christmas in our celebrations. Here’s why.
  • The yearly Christmas day family photo is a must with all the extended family.
  • Grandma’s fancy Christmas headgear, earrings and necklaces are becoming legendary and our children have begun to join in the fun at church with flashy headbands during Christmas services.
reindeer dessert

Grandma’s reindeer pudding.

  • The after lunch water pistol fight is great for a cool down on hot Christmas days, following the simple and usually outdoor lunch. Everyone pitches in to bring food and the host family rotates each year to spread the load. Bonbons, paper hats and bad jokes are part of the atmosphere and there is often goodie bags for the kids and/or a fancy treat kiddy dessert (gingerbread houses, rocky road Christmas tree cones etc.)
  • Don’t forget to collect great recipes others serve you while out and about and get family recipes traditional for Christmas time (Nanna’s fruit cake etc.) written down before it is too late. In their own handwriting, laminated or framed is extra special after they are gone.
  • Put aside a little time in the week after Christmas to have your own mini debrief. What did and didn’t work, things you want to do next year, what to change, ideas to remember etc.
  • Through the year perhaps ordering some gifts online or in the after Christmas sales will save time and money for the following year. Maybe hand-made gifts can be planned so they can be made over the course of the coming year.
  • Keep a list in your purse of items you have and a list of those you will be buying for and update it through the year as you see items on sale. Pick up your cards, wrapping and decorations on sale after Christmas.
  • Don’t forget to post thank you cards from you and the children. Home-made cards are more meaningful but do take longer. Young children can dictate for you to write.
  • Check out Pinterest and other online resources for ideas in the lead-up to next year. (My Pinterest Christmas ideas page is here.)

Christmas debrief and next year’s plans

Christmas morning - great anticipation!

The dust has almost settled and the Christmas festivities are over for another year. The house has not yet recovered and neither have the children (a big tidy-up and a few early nights are required!) but everyone is enjoying relaxing and exploring their new gifts.

As we sit back and think through how Christmas went this year, I encourage you all to make yourself a few notes for next year. A bit of a Christmas debrief if you like. Perhaps keep them with the decorations or somewhere you know you will remember to check them. As the Christmas decorations first hit the department stores ridiculously early, use this as your reminder to get out that list and plan ahead for all the things that you want to do with your family and won’t get to without some up-front preparation.

Pick any headings that are helpful to you, but some of the things we will be thinking through are:

  • Our traditions (What we love and want to keep doing, new traditions to add to our celebrations next year, traditions we like the idea of but haven’t managed to make happen yet!)

"I know I'm not supposed to touch but...."

  • Gift buying (Planning to buy at Christmas sales for next year, purchasing throughout the year to spread out the cost, starting early and making gifts, planning for on-line purchases in Sept/Oct, buying wrapping paper, gift tags and cards on sale)
  • Christmas cards (Actually getting around to sending some next year!)

Our finished Jesse tree

  • Advent planning and preparations for next December (Making a whole new set of Jesse tree symbols and scrolls in November.)
  • Specific ways you will help your family to put God first throughout this season and focus on the birth of Jesus rather than getting caught up in the commercialism of it all. (Advent readings, Jesse trees, nativity scenes, community service, blessing the neighbours, reading the Christmas story on Christmas morning, singing Happy Birthday to Jesus etc.)
  • Special Christmas books (Each year we add to our Christmas book collection by purchasing online or at sales after Christmas for up to 90% off the original price. We then have beautiful Christmas stories, advent books, Christmas devotionals and picture books to read throughout December for a fraction of the regular retail price. We also purchase some for Christmas gifts the following year.)

  • Food (How did the planning, preparation, serving on the day and any other food related matters go? Great new recipes to collect from friends or family members we have tasted during the festivities.)

  • Travel arrangements (How did the Christmas period run and would we do it the same next year? This year we had two family celebrations as we always do, but they were spread out – one on Christmas day, one on boxing day, plus a smaller breakfast on Christmas morning and church. We felt much more relaxed than in the past when we have had church plus a lunch at one side of the family and then a dinner for the other side.
  • Any other ideas or notes that will help you to be more organised and stress-free next year. Christmas need not be a hurried and harried season, it really can be relaxing, joy filled and focussed on the birth of Jesus.

  • Even “the bump” received gifts. Wow! Presents in the womb!