When it comes to hassle free preparations, the Christmas Season rarely comes to mind. We all want it to be such a special time that we tend to commit to more than we can actually do. Then we and end up feeling rushed, disappointed and frustrated. To make my life easier I narrowed down my pre-Christmas to-do list to five family rituals. Aside from my Christmas Eve Christmas tree and the Christmas gifts, which I get done really early (like, September, sometimes July early…more on the system I use in a later post), t
hat’s it. If I get these five things done in any way, even if the results of the craft or activity are questionable, I call it a good time. The 5 traditions we’ve chosen to keep up with are meant to get our hearts ready for Christmas, so results don’t matter. Doing them imperfectly is perfectly perfect.
A Word on Rituals
The things we choose to do at this time of year have become rituals at our house. They usher in a different season, one of preparation and celebration. The fact that we repeat them year after year means the children will remember them. Since we’ve done these things since my oldest was little, they are also a great way to connect to our past selves. The kids love pointing out how they’ve changed, how they can read aloud now and couldn’t last year.
A nice thing about inserting traditions into your family life is that you end up remembering and reliving the little moments from years past as you enjoy the present. It’s a nice collapsing of time and space and a brief bit of ‘space’ where our harried lives slow down significantly. I find it really energizing to remember how small the kids used to be, and even how we as parents have changed. Those moments make me want to continue to push forward and do better each day, even if only in little ways.
Here are the Five ways (plus a bonus) we choose to Prepare for Christmas without breaking the bank and losing our minds:
1) Easy Advent
We celebrate Advent at our house. It is important to me, but also to the kids. They look forward to getting the Christmas Season started with the quiet time Advent asks of us.
Our Daily Advent ritual takes 5 minutes a day and takes me 5 minutes to set up the day before.
Step 1, decide where to set up your Advent corner. I take 5 candle holders that we already own and place them in a circle with the three purple candles, one pink and one white in the center. Purple is the color of Advent. The pink one means Joy and is for week three. The White Candle is lit on Christmas day and for the 12 days of Christmas that follow. You can get really fancy with Advent wreaths and decorating them, but I just keep it simple. Four candles in a circle and one in the middle. We use real flame candles, but you can LED versions too and reduce your fire hazard risk.
Step 2, decide what you’ll do when you light each candle each day (the first week you light one candle, then the second week two etc). We have a very simple prayer book with easy to read and memorize Christmas prayers. We say one each night as we light the candle. This year we might add a more sophisticated prayer or thought for the day, maybe a Bible passage, but we haven’t decided yet. This part is totally up to you.
There are the traditional prayers and Scriptural passages that are normally prayed each day, but take this part slowly and enjoy lighting the candle, setting an intention for the next day as a family, having the little ones blow out the candle (carefully) and enjoying the 10 seconds of quiet the lit candle provides. Hypnotizes them every time.
Step 3, pick an Advent Calendar or two (we try to do one for each child) and enjoy a treat after prayer time. My kids are into building sets, so the LEGO Advent calendars were a great way to add to their collection and celebrate Advent. You can also take 24 paper bags (and keep them in a basket, hang them from a garland). Hide something in each one (a sweet treat, a small Christmas book found at a thrift store, hair accessories, stationery items if your kids like that stuff–erasers, pencils, post-it pads, fun Christmas socks, ornaments, craft kits etc). You can even invest in a wooden Advent calendar where you could put little notes inside instead of chocolates. Growing up, I had the traditional chocolate Advent calendar, and I thought it was great. The sky is the limit with this one, so have fun and get elaborate or keep it really simple with a ready made chocolate calendar. Either way, the point is that we remember this time as one of sweet anticipation.
2) Christmas book bin/Christmas Movie Bin
I have a bin of books in the kitchen that has Seasonal books in it. One of the things my children look forward to the most is the rotation of the books in that bin. The beginning of Advent marks the beginning of Christmas books at our house and although our collection has grown, it has taken ten years. We started with two books and it was just enough with a toddler. They love repetition anyway.
Thrift stores are a good place to find Seasonal books of this sort, and I always shop the after-Christmas sales for discounted Nativity books and the like. Now we’re adding two new additions to our bin, a movie bin and longer-length novel. The longer novels are a novelty and were requested by my ten year old, so we started with Dickens’ ………
The movie collection grew from a bargain bin of DVDs nobody wanted anymore. If you have a streaming service you might not need this, but I still like the physical act of riffling through the box to find which movie to watch. Whether or not you go digital, I would recommend taking a little notebook out and using it to keep track of what you watched that year. It’s a great way to memory keep. What were the top 3 books of 2018, what top 3 movies did we love watching again and again. You’ll forget if you don’t write it down, trust me. I’m working on a printable you can use, let me know if yo’d like one.
3) Ornament Making Day/Afternoon
This one is pretty simple. I pick one craft project and we either assemble the pieces to make the ornament set ourselves, or I buy a kit or two and we work on them. This can be as simple as stringing popcorn to put on the tree as a garland, great for manual dexterity and a lot of fun, but needles might not be the right thing for a toddler. For the younger set, ornaments with stickers were a hit with my crew.
Sometimes they come in kits, other times I’ve used simple shapes made out of cardboard. We used a collection of stickers with a theme or a matching colors so no matter what they stuck on it would look decent on the tree. We’ve also painted cardboard shapes that I’ve cut out of plain boxes and cereal boxes (where you can either leave the colorful side as it is…it actually looks nice, or cover it with craft paper).
I still have a box of glass ornaments (bought on liquidation years ago) that I’n waiting to take out and paint. With toddlers, you need to pick and choose your projects, so keep that in mind. Don’t forget to write on the back of the ornaments, or in a corner, the date and who decorated it.
The idea behind this tradition of ours is that eventually, I’ll be able to put up a couple of ornaments from each year the kids were small and enjoy the years all together as an ensemble on the tree. For those of you that like matchy/very decorative trees, this mish-mash might not be for you. With a little for-thought, however, you might be able to stick a color scheme where all the homemade ornaments end up matching your store bought collection.
If you’re not sentimental at all, you could toss them after the holidays. The main point is that you spend some time together on a craft project that forces you to slow down, figure something out together and enjoy seeing a concrete result from your afternoon of laughter and maybe a little tears (kids get frustrated when the paint won’t mix just right). Either way, the memory-making is what we’re after.
Let me know if you’d like more specific projects that I could map out for.
4) Holiday Scents
Even easier than the ornaments, my friends. When the days are grey and the sunlight disppears, put on a pot of water, bring it to a boil with some citrus peels, a couple of cinnamon sticks and a clove or two. Some ginger would work nicely too. Let it simmer for a while and let the scent fill your kitchen. This is especially attractive after supper as a deodorizes too. Once you can really smell it in the room, you can also take it off the stove and move the warm liquid with its contents to a more central are and let the warm scents envelop you. I’ve been known to throw in a few pine needles for good measure as well, so don’t be shy. Mix up your own version of what Christmas should smell like and fill your home with aromatherapy. It does wonders. Trust me,
5) Switch out the Stationery
We are stationery buffs at our house, so we LOVE seasonal pencils and paper pads. When we get ready for Christmas, I switch out the regular pencils at the homework station for Christmas themed ones. IT does wonders for our mood at homework time and reminds us that there are great things to look forward to in the coming weeks.
When it comes to afterschool mayhem, I can guarantee that this helps us make the time spent studying a little more festive and puts the homework itself into a grandeur plan.
6) Bonus: Christmas Album Flip Through
I love memory keeping, so I have albums of all types here and there all over the house. The weeks leadin gup to Christmas always brings out my sentimental side, so we got into the habit of flipping through old pictures from Christmas’ past. It has become one of our traditions. Since we already have the physical albums, this requires no prep, except taking them out, and no cost. If you’re into digital scrapbooks, try having them ‘play’ on your TV while you’re going about your daily activities at home. They can become the backdrop to your days as Christmas approaches.
FOr the children, these album flip throughs are a great way forme to see what they’re thinking about. The pictures act as wonderful prompts andyou’d be surprised to hear what they say.
Be sure to edit things a little if you have a particularly upsetting Christmas you don’t want to be remided of, but other than that let the pictures remind you of how far you’ve come and let our mind wander. Where do you want to go? What do you want your Christmas memories to be about in a few years time. MAke the memories this year and be deliberate about it. as you flip through the pictures, I also like using that time as a sort of life-review. Right after Christmas is the NEw YEar and there’s nothing like January to get us motivated. When I’ve spent December contemplating the past alittle, it makres planning for the new year so much easier. I know what I liked, what I didn’t, what I want to do, what I don’t, who I want to see, who I’d rather avoid. It becomes clear.
Christmas made Easy
Esentially, what I wanted you to see is that all you need to do is pick 5, or even 3 traditions that you’d like to make a part of your Christmas Season. Try some out and see how they work with your family. If it doesn’t work out, you can always try again another year, or switch up what didn’t work in the way you executed the activity. If the too simple prayers made it boring, next year get more complicated. If the Advent Calendar was too elaborate, pick a simpler one next year etc.
Although flexibility is important, traditions and rituals are built because they’re repeated, so make a commitment to at least one activity. Try it out for a couple of years at least and let your interpretation of it change over time. For example, try the Christmas Album flip through, by making a digital slide show. Don’t make it fancy if you don’t have time, just do a search for all your Dec. pictures over the past few years and let them randomly scroll through on your screen of choice. I like the actually physical albums, but I also find making them relaxing. Don’t do what you think you should do with your tradition of choice, do what is easiest for you. That’s what makes the tradition a true reflection of your family. Our family is low tech, so it wouldn’t make sense to all of a sudden take out a projector and watch a home made movie. If you love the latest gadgets, use them as part of your Christmas rituals. Make this time fun for the adults too!!
Christmas Fun for the Adults
I can’t tell you how much fun I have seeking out the perfect Advent calendars for the kids. Gift-giving is my thing; I love coming up with unique ways to show people that I love them through bought or homemade gits. So, part of the prep for this is FUN for ME! That’s what you need to keep in mind. If you like decorating, make the decorating day a whole festive party. Enjoy it! I don’t, so it’s not part of our traditions. I put up what I can, and as long as we have a tree by the 24th, I’m happy. In this aspect of things, I’m really relaxed and I don’t really have a set group of things I like to do. I just decorate the tree, sometimes when the kids are already asleep. This part of Christmas is less important to us as a family. Do what makes YOU happy and the stress will take care of itself.
Don’t think of de-stessing, think of adding more joy. Adding more of what you love to do as part of your everyday. Make your passions part of your Christmas prep, and it won’t be stressful, it’ll be something you look forward to.
If you’d like more posts about this topic, like details on how I get my Christmas shopping done in July or what creative ways you can build your own Advent calendar countdown, let me know in the comments below.
What ways do you prepare for the Christmas Sesaon? What stressors are really keeping you from enjoying this special time?