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!

Christmas Traditions: Memories for a lifetime

Christmas is a special time for most families and 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. Traditions help to knit families together; they are part of the glue that keeps families whole, fostering interdependence as a family rather than independence from the family.

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:

  • The children decorate the Christmas tree on December the 1st while the grown-ups take video and photos. Christmas carols play in the background and the kids have a wonderful time handling all those sparkling decorations and arranging them any way they please.
  • The youngest child (who is able) tops the tree with the Christmas star.
  • The Christmas books that only come out at this time of year are placed in a basket under the tree for reading in the evening after dinner. The tree lights are turned on and I read aloud from one of the  stories. I try to purchase a couple of new books each year in the after Christmas sales so that there is something new for me to read. There are some wonderful stories that are designed to be read piece by piece across advent and other beautiful Christmas tales that we read a chapter a night from.
  • A selection of carols and Christmas worship music is available, as are a stack of Christmas videos for those days when everyone is way too tired to get along. (Usually the day after “Carols in the Park” for example when we stay up way past the kids’ bedtimes.)
  • We read daily bible readings from our Jesse tree scrolls and each child takes turns to unwrap the related symbol for the tree.
  • Every morning one child takes their turn to open the little wooden doors of our advent calendar and add the next character to the nativity story display. On a few surprise days there are little treats hidden in with the characters.
  • The advent wreath and candles are set up and we light them during our daily Jesse tree devotion or at another time such as the evening meal.
  • The nativity scenes are set out and available for little ones to play with; a sturdy china set for the older children and a fabric set for the little ones.
  • We make Christmas crafts together. Nothing super tricky or spectacular and often the same ones each year such as paper chains, recycled greeting card sewing cards and a multitude of home-made Christmas cards using different craft techniques (the more glitter and sparkly glue the better according to the girls!)
  • The Mummy and Daddy shop opens for business. The children use their hard-earned pocket-money to purchase small gifts for their siblings from a selection I purchase for this purpose.
  • We visit a local carols service with activities for the children, wonderful colour changing candles that they can all safely hold (the days of burning patches in the grass with real candles are long gone, sigh..) and yummy snacks. We set the kids up in their little camping chairs wrapped in blankets and we all have a ball staying up late and soaking up the festive atmosphere. Sometimes we meet up with other families and usually at least one set of Grandparents is able to come along and enjoy the evening.

    Grandma has her own tradition of fancy Christmas headgear, flashy Christmas light earings and necklaces or similar. The church congregation look forward each year to seeing what she will be wearing to the Christmas service!

  • We are taking a break this year, but for the past several years my husband’s side of the family have made gifts for each other, instead of purchasing. Each name is drawn out of a hat and each adult hand-makes something for that person. Some of the resulting gifts have been quite spectacular and always involve much love and care. And yes, even the men do it and they have been just as creative as the women.

    Last year I hand painted a chicken hutch that we had been given for my brother-in-law who keeps chooks.

  • To cut down the number of gifts we all need to buy, we have long since instigated the plan that we only buy for the children in each family, rather than the adults as well. (Excepting families who had no children.) To keep it fair, now that we have so many children in our family we will be suggesting that perhaps a family gift will be better for next year. Other families we know do this and they have some wonderful ideas for inexpensive gifts that the whole family can enjoy together. One family we know is giving tickets to a water playground (entry is not expensive) along with a couple of toys to play with in the mini river while they are there and a few special snacks to share together. Sounds good to me!
  • We haven’t pulled this together this year, but our suggestion for next year on the Pascoe side is that all the children prepare an item (song, musical instrument piece, short play etc.) to perform for the whole family. We think this will be fun and add to the day.
  • I’m not going to get into the rights and wrongs of guns here (I know people feel very strongly about that!) but the water pistol fight is turning into a yearly tradition that is enjoyed by all. Christmas day is almost always hot and some cooling yet boisterous activity to burn off all that dessert and surplus child energy is needed.
  • The meal itself is always simple. We are usually outdoors, so the BBQ is fired up and a range of cold meats and seafoods or BBQ meat is prepared with delectable salads and accompaniments. Everyone pitches in to bring food and the host family rotates each year so the load doesn’t always fall on the same person. What food is served is never a big issue but it is seldom the traditional turkey and roast.
  • The Christmas table is usually set with bonbons and we all read out the obligatory bad jokes and wear the paper hats while we eat.
  • The Pascoes take a yearly family photo which provides a nice keepsake for everyone. Traditionally it is done at the last-minute when we are all looking our worst and wondering if we have food stuck in our teeth.
  • On Christmas morning we begin the day with the final advent reading. Our hope is that throughout this day and the entire Christmas season we can keep the focus as much as possible on Jesus’ birth and the real meaning of Christmas. (See Christian Families and Father Christmas.) We give our own children their gifts and they give their gifts to each other. We all take turns to open the presents, with only one child at a time unwrapping gifts so we can all see and appreciate what has been chosen for them. We then share a light breakfast together before getting dressed and heading out to church.
  • At the Pascoe celebration, the children’s gifts are given out before the meal. Grandpa or another family member hands out the gifts to one child at a time, starting with the youngest. They sit on his knee to open them and again we all have a chance to admire the gifts and to see what the child receives. We all spend a long time choosing special gifts and like to take the time to really enjoy each one as it is given. 
  • The McEwan side of the family has a very similar celebration with a large family get together, feast table and lots of gifts, however the gift giving is much more spontaneous and the deafening roar of crackling paper is heard as everyone rips into gifts at the same time and we race around afterwards trying to work out who gave which child what! Lots of fun but much more chaotic!

However you choose to celebrate this year, remember to focus on the birth of Jesus and the amazing salvation that we can all have as a result of this sacrifice from God.

titus2.com: Food for thought

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I came across the titus2.com website a few years ago after friends recommended several of the books available from the Maxwells who are the authors of the site. I have since read and then purchased almost all of their books and have found them to be Godly, inspiring and practical resources.

Teri and Steve Maxwell’s Mum’s and Dad’s corners are a regular email that comes out about once a month on a variety of parenting, family and faith based topics. I enjoy reading them and find them food for thought. Often my initial reaction is something along the lines of “too extreme,” however I have found that when I have had time to think the topics through from a biblical perspective, I agree with them and realise that they are not “extreme” at all, just biblically based. The sad reality is that often our lives (even as Christians) have become so worldly and our attitudes so affected by our culture that a biblical way of life seems extreme rather than the other way around.

The latest Mum’s and Dad’s Corner has some great ideas about Christmas traditions and celebrating Christmas as a Christian family. Check it out here.

Nativity cartoon: The Christmas story according to the bible

I was sent this link recently for a short cartoon depicting the nativity story. It presents the traditional nativity then corrects a few of the errors that are traditionally told to children but aren’t actually biblically based (for example, the shepherds and wise men arriving together to visit baby Jesus in the stable.) Short and sweet with a touch of humour, this is a great little snippet to show the children to help them understand the biblical story of Christmas. Plus it’s fun!

Our Jesse tree symbols and readings for Advent

Day 1: God's creation. (This decoration reminded us of the planets around the sun)

As we seek to focus our family on the true meaning of Christmas, we have been taking deliberate steps to create yearly Christmas traditions and memories. I have finally finished all the symbols and readings for our Jesse tree for Advent this year. The children have been involved in searching for and choosing the symbols for each day (some alternative ideas here.) Most were found in discount variety stores, some were gathered from around the house and we even made a couple. I spray-painted them all gold to keep a constant theme (and just to look nice!) and it was amazing how good even the cheap plastic animals look with a coat of gold. The readings we chose came from some of the many online choices available (links at the bottom of this post about Jesse trees.)

Bible reading scrolls

I have typed up the bible readings, printed them out onto thin card and hot glue gunned on thin craft sticks to make scrolls. Each one has a small circle of ribbon to hold it closed that can be slipped off to read the scroll. Each night the children will take it in turns to open the scroll and unwrap each symbol after the reading. (I thought wrapping the symbols would make it even more exciting and they could guess what symbol would represent the readings we had heard before seeing what it was.)

Day 2 Adam and Eve (The forbidden fruit)

Day 3 Noah's ark (birds sent out 3 times to find dry land) There are lots of bird decorations out this year so these were easy to find.

Day 4 Abram (descendants as many as the stars)

Day 5 Isaac (ram as sacrifice) This is just a plastic ram sprayed gold but it looks great!

Day 6 Jacob's ladder (This ladder came from a bird cage set.)

Day 7 Joseph (Sold for 30 pieces of silver into slavery)

Day 8 Moses (in basket) This miniature frame had what looked like reeds around the edge.

Day 9 The 10 commandments (Not quite a stone tablet but as close as we could get.)

Day 10 Joshua (The battle of Jericho) This was a cheap plastic tower with a plastic knight to build inside. We used the knight's shield and sword for Gideon so 2 for the price of one!

Day 11 Gideon (A sword for the Lord and for Gideon)

Day 12 Samuel (His Mother takes him a little coat each year) My least favourite decoration - fabric does not spray-paint well.

Day 13 David (5 stones for Goliath)

Day 14 Elijah (fed by the ravens)

Day 15 Hezekiah (empty enemy tent)

Day 16 Isaiah (Tongs and hot coal)

Day 17 Jeremiah (Known as the weeping prophet) Made of salt dough.

Day 18 Habakkuk (His watchtower) Already dropped and broken and we haven't even got it on the tree yet!! More salt dough.

Day 19 Nehemiah (Rebuilding the city wall) A previously useless gate from a plastic doll's house - perfect for this.

Day 20 John (baptizing in the river) Think laterally!

Day 21 Mary & Elizabeth (Messenger angel) It's impossible to find male angels!

Day 22 Zechariah (Tablet and stylus) The modern day version.

Day 23 Joseph (Loves and marries Mary) The rings are wedding favours that come in bags of 50.

Day 24 Magi (3 Wise Men's gifts to Jesus)

Day 25 Jesus' birth (Star of Bethlehem) There are 2 readings and 2 symbols today - the second symbol is tree lights which are turned on to represent the light of Jesus now shining in the world.