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Christmas Planning Part III: Emphasizing Traditions and Memories

We have all been brainwashed.  We have been taught by society at large that the most important things in our lives are, well, THINGS.  And that those THINGS make us happy.  This idea is promulgated more around Christmas time than any other time of the year.  So, in order to make a simpler, less expensive Christmas possible, we have to shift our focus from THINGS to something else.  What do we focus on instead? Traditions and Memories. This goes hand in hand with my life philosophy that experiences are more important than stuff.  Here are a few ideas for simple, inexpensive traditions, and a few ways to make Christmas memories with your families.  

Our family acts out the Nativity each year at my mother's home, sometime the week before Christmas. My mother has a nice manger that we use, and we all dress in costume (think bathrobes, sheets, and towels) , read Luke II, and act it out. Since our family is smaller, we all get to take turns playing different roles. The boys often get to be innkeepers and shepherds, and might even get to be the angel AND Mary with a quick costume change. 

Another tradition that is fun is to go Caroling.  This is much better (and slightly less nerve-wracking) with a larger group, so see if you can talk other families you know into going with you. Caroling around your neighborhood is a great way to get to know and share some light with your neighbors. Or, if you know anyone with access to a tractor and hay wagon, go for a wagon ride to pre-selected locations nearby and carol there (perhaps to people who, for whatever reason, can't leave their homes much).  Or carol indoors by setting up an appointment to sing in the gathering room of a local nursing home or retirement community-but be prepared for requests and singing along!

My boys love to help me bake. So a part of our Christmas traditions is baking yummy treats. My boys especially like making and frosting sugar cookies in their favorite shapes.

Christmas eve is the perfect time to practice traditions. One thing that we do on Christmas Eve is eating pizza and watching a movie. Some years we watch Christmas classic, others we go to red box and pick up a new release we have been wanting to see. If it is in the budget, we might use a coupon to pick up a couple pizzas from Papa Murphy's. If that isn't an option, I will make pizza from scratch using what I already have on hand for toppings.

I know many families who open a gift of new pajamas on Christmas Eve, and this can count for you or something to wear if you need it. Our family doesn't do this, but I think this could be fun!

On Christmas morning, we have a few traditions that help to make the morning stretch out longer.  First, we take turns opening our stockings, one at a time, and showing each other what was in them.  Then, Dad hands out one gift at a time, and we all watch while that person opens their gift and shows it off.  Then Dad will had out the next gift and we repeat until all the presents have been opened.

Making Memories
If you want to make memories, the first thing to do around Christmas time is to find out what kinds of cultural events are going on in your area. We have a large Ballet Company, a Philharmonic, and many Master Chorales in our valley, and they always put on Christmas performances. But the price is usually much more that we want to spend on activities. Instead, we look to smaller ballet schools for their performances of the Nutcracker (or selections from it). We check to see if the High Schools are having Christmas Orchestra and Choir performances, or if their theater departments are staging A Christmas Carol or any other productions. These events create memories and expose your children to culture and the arts for the price of a few dollars per person. And these events often have the added bonus of being a little more kid friendly, since siblings of the performers are often in attendance.

Is there a Festival of Trees in your area? These sometimes cost more, but you can easily spend half a day or more there (especially if they allow outside food). Our Festival of Trees not only has over a hundred decorated trees to look at and ogle over, but they have a scavenger hunt for kids with prizes upon completion.  They also have a room where electronic model trains are set up, and kids (and adults) can take turns operating several different trains. Next door is "Santa's Village" with free Christmas card and ornament crafts, and, of course, free photos with Santa!  And don't forget the many performances going on all the time.

Take advantage of church activities. Our church puts on either a dinner or a breakfast with games and activities every year. Last year it was a Polar Express theme, which turned out very, very cute! Other years we have had "A Night in Bethlehem," or even just a traditional Christmas dinner with a performance by the children.  If you have friends or family who attend a different church than you do, find out if they would mind if you tagged along to their Church's activities, and invite them to come to yours.

We always take one night before Christmas to go and see the Christmas lights. Most towns have a neighborhood with exceptional lights, or even dancing lights, and some places put on Christmas Light Parades or set up parks or church yards with hundreds of thousands of beautiful twinkling lights that you can walk through and admire. If you are going to be outdoors, bundle up and bring along a thermos full of hot cocoa or cider to help keep warm!

Check to see what is going on at your local library, or any library close by. The libraries around here often have Christmas themed crafts for kids, host free Christmas puppet shows or movie nights, or even bring in dance troupes and other performers around Christmas time.  One local library has an Irish dance group that comes in every year, and another has members of the local Opera company come in and perform. Yet another hosts a Holidays Around the World where people come and talk about different holidays from the globe and share food. See what your library has on their calendar at holiday time!

Lastly, keep an eye out for activities that offer free or discounted admission for canned food donations. Keep in mind that food banks cannot take items past their expiration date, so be sure to bring canned or boxed goods well within their "best by" or "sell by" date.

What traditions do your families observe? Can you think of any other suggestions for fun ways to make Christmas memories? I want to hear them!

Up Next: Part IV: Paying for Christmas

Have you missed the rest of the series? Get caught up: Part I: A Christmas MiraclePart II: Gift Giving Philosophy


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