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!!

Thankfulness and gratefulness

We all want thankful children who notice the things others give to them or do for them and express this thankfulness freely and without being reminded to do so. We love it when others are grateful for the things we do for them and let us know. How intentional are we though when it comes to teaching our children the character quality of thankfulness?

Before Christmas, we talked a lot about receiving gifts, thankfulness and good manners in relation to receiving gifts. I have tried to take this one step further with the children by instilling in them the importance of giving thankyou cards. It’s almost a lost art these days. A quick email or phone call is easy to do and better than nothing, but it is so much more personal and special to receive a handwritten card of thanks.

A friend of mine always sends thank you cards, (well done Miss Jaq!) even after a visit for dinner. They are so pretty and such a bright spot in my day and I have endeavoured to make it a habit for myself and the children with varying degrees of success; in busy seasons it just sometimes gets away from me.

Yesterday we all sat down and had a card making session together (minus the baby and toddlers.) It was lots of fun and we all enjoyed creating a variety of designs. We used a bunch of pretty papers, some silver thank you stickers, flowers and butterflies and some coordinated card. My scrapbooking shape cutters came out, a stick of glue and some flowers and leaves we had previously pressed.

The result is a lovely collection of pre-made cards that will be ready and waiting the next time we need to thank someone. Now all I need to do is get better at actually posting the cards we do make…

Stay-at-home date nights

My 8 year old son set the table for our stay-at-home date night last night. He included everything he could to make it as special as possible, even placing a hidden note informing us that a CD had been selected and was in the player ready to go.

Once children arrive, going out for date nights is no longer as easy as it once was. If you have ready access to babysitting you may be able to go out regularly, but many of us find that it becomes more and more important to spend some time and effort planning special evenings at home, to be enjoyed after the children are in bed.

Good date nights take planning and effort. Decide ahead of time what you will do. If left to the night itself, most of us find that we simply lack the energy and inclination to peel ourselves off the couch to get to bed, never mind make a date night special. Pick a night each week or fortnight that will be your non-negotiable date night and don’t change it unless something extra special comes up instead. Perhaps arrange babysitters for one or two nights a month and plan to have date nights at home for the other nights.

If you are lucky enough to have two sets of Grandparents, you can alternate between them which means you only require them to babysit for you once a month – not too much of a load on those already often committed parents of ours. If you find it difficult to find babysitters, perhaps you could get together with another trusted family and swap babysitting with them – you go out one week while they watch your children and they go out the following week while you watch theirs.

Keep in mind your spouse’s love language. These date ideas will cover acts of service, quality time and easily lend themselves to physical touch, but don’t forget gift giving and words of affirmation. You could write a special invitation and leave it in the letterbox or email it to hubby at work, telling him how much you love him, how wonderful he is and building anticipation for the evening to come. A love note can be included on the dinner table or in the picnic hamper or written on the bathroom mirror in the morning before the date night and of course, you can spend the date itself speaking affirming words that you know will be meaningful to your husband.

Simple, inexpensive gifts can also be easily incorporated into the evenings. Why not wrap up the massage oil for the bathroom evening for example and hide it in his briefcase before he goes to work? You could tuck a wrapped new pair of socks into his undy drawer for a sock wrestle later and instruct him to wear them to the date or the brand new CD he has been wanting could be playing on the stereo as a surprise with the case wrapped up for him to open as the date begins. Simple items that will be a part of the date night anyway – even his favourite chocolate – can be given prior to the actual date to have him looking forward to it excitedly or as a part of the date experience itself. As you can see, all of these ideas are relatively inexpensive and easy to do but do require pre-planning. All communicate love!

Don’t forget that you are romancing your husband so take the time to look nice and present yourself in the way you know he likes. If he has a favourite outfit, why not wear it? No one else is around to see you so please his tastes, rather than your own, when you choose what you will wear. Take a shower and get dressed up – the same as you would when going out. Put on some makeup, the perfume your spouse loves and more importantly for him – the undergarments he loves! Anything he has chosen for you will usually be appropriate here. You don’t have to go out so you don’t have to wear them for too long and if you let him know you have it on at the start of the night, he’ll be fairly keen to take it off you by the end of the night!

Now for some ideas:

  • Do you have a trampoline? Take out the doonas, sleeping bags and pillows for some cuddling and star watching. Sock wrestling on the tramp is fun too – each of you wears socks and tries to pull the socks off the other first. Lots of giggling and close body contact here.
  • Set up a restaurant dinner at home with candles, tablecloth, wine – the lot. If you have one, hang a mozzie net around a small table and chairs on the back patio for an intimate setting. Alternatively, a table for two in your bedroom may work well. Perhaps the older children could even wait on the table for some extra pocket-money, just like a real 5 star restaurant.
  • Try a picnic on the grass in the backyard – don’t forget the portable stereo for some mood music. In wet weather, a picnic on the lounge room or bedroom floor can be nice.
  • What about a board game championship play-off with all the old board games you used to play and enjoy growing up. Maybe the winner gets to choose something the looser can do to (or for) them. Maybe this is your chance to try strip poker?
  • Set up a tent in the backyard with the kids during the day and have some fun playing in it with them first. In the evening before hubby gets home, turn it into an “adults only” area. Fill it with a mattress, doona, pillows and the like. Maybe set up the coffee table and lots of cushions around it for Middle Eastern style reclined dining. How about roasting marshmallows over the camp stove? You could even sleep out over night.
  • Cook a meal together. Something difficult and fiddly that you never usually have time for, or a favourite meal that you miss because the kids won’t eat it – super spicy curry, a highly expensive seafood platter…
  • Clean the bathroom from top to bottom during the day. (There’s nothing romantic about sitting in a mouldy, sandy, finger-marked bathtub – or is that only my bathroom?) Deck the bathroom out with ALL your candles, sprinkle rose petals, put on some mood music and fill up the bathtub. Set out the best towels for afterwards. Perhaps have some massage oil or a back massager on hand. Wash each other all over and go from there. If it’s the kid’s bathroom that has the tub, make sure you remove all those toys and other paraphernalia – you want the setting to be romantic.
  • Movie nights are great occasionally but don’t let this be the default option on a regular basis. Hire an old favourite or a DVD that you with both enjoy. Set up the lounge for the full cinema experience – low lighting, blankets, make popcorn and snacks and put them in paper cones or cups.
  • If babysitting allows, how about having the children looked after in the morning instead (or even better, overnight at the Grandparents for bonus date night AND morning). One of the things we miss most is a sleep in, leisurely breakfast, coffee and reading the newspaper in the mornings. We like to go out to breakfast and coffee at a café too if we get the chance, maybe stroll around the shops, markets or wherever we are, before collecting the children at lunchtime.
  • Hold a karaoke night for just the two of you. Not my thing, but some love to sing along and since there’s no one watching, why not give it a go.
  • Dust off that icecream maker, waffle maker, or simply set out a bunch of toppings and icecream flavours to create your own tasty treats – perhaps make a huge icecream Sunday to share.
  • Climb up on the roof with a blanket and do some stargazing and have a heartfelt conversation. All right, not all roofs are suitable and we don’t want any broken necks, but you’d be surprised how easy it is to find a comfy position on some. Don’t put your foot through the tiles though; climb up the ridge capping rather than across the centre of the tiles.
  • Check out many more stay-at-home date night ideas at http://www.healthymarriage.org/homedates.htm