Advent and Christmas Traditions 2014

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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?

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.)