How We Saved Christmas With Little Traditions

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It’s the week of Christmas, and I cannot believe it is already nearly here. Christmas has always been one of my favorite times of the year, although now, as a mom, it feels so much different than it did when I was a kid! I can remember being so excited on the last day of school before the break, running out the school doors, ready for all the magic the 2 weeks off would bring!

My kids did just the same thing; they were totally amped up during their parties, ready to tear out of the school as the bell rang. I approached today completely exhausted! Don’t get me wrong, I still love Christmas, but the mom me had to plan 2 class parties, work on multiple PTA committees, spend many many afternoons keeping two little people on track with school, homework and activities all semester, had to stay on top of everything at home, work the side hustles, mom the furry family members, and keep up with my family obligations. I am equally ready for a nap & for the magic Christmas brings!

Ready for Christmas!!!

The great thing about Christmas in our home is that if we just stick to our little traditions, the season pretty much plans itself. I don’t have to think about where we have to be, or coordinate 1000 things because it pretty much takes care of itself. I of course still have to buy the gifts, wrap everything, help make food, and plan a few things here and there but the extensive planning that I feel summertime requires isn’t necessary right now.

Living for the small, quiet moments.

Our Christmas break wasn’t always easy. The first few years we spent together usually ended in my tears. Tears out of exhaustion from trying to squeeze in too much. Tears of frustrations from unsolicited advice or unmet expectations. Tears from not having enough time for just us.  I’m the Queen of Saying Yes. If you ask me to show up at something or help with something, I’ll make it happen, to the detriment of my personal health! Finally, we had to put our foot down. The priority during the holiday season needed to be on the family under our own roof. Our focus needed to be on what was best for our children and for us, and then we could add in the expectations of our family and friends. Once I let go of trying to make everyone else happy, our holidays finally became the relaxing time of togetherness that they’re supposed to be! So how do we do it???

Pick One Extended Family Tradition for Each Side

Early on, we realized we were going to have to cut way back on the extended family traditions both for our own sanity, but also to keep it fair.

My family has always kept the holidays pretty laid back and easy. My dad is an airline pilot which means he rarely was home on Christmas, so we grew up celebrating on different days. We did always get together with my mom’s parents (Mama & Pops) on Christmas Eve, went to church together, and Pops always read “The Night Before Christmas” to us, but that was really it. Mom’s policy always was that she was not going to take her children out of their home on Christmas but anyone was welcome to spend the holiday with us in our home. Christmas day was always spent in our pajamas.

Day after Thanksgiving at Matt's Grandma's House
Day After Thanksgiving at Gammer’s House

Matt’s family, on the other hand, is a family that gathers together, a lot! When both sets of grandparents were still living, they would gather with his mom’s family, then dad’s family, then all together multiple times throughout the holiday season.  In some years they would have lunch at one aunt’s house, then dinner (with all the same people) at another family member’s home. Both sets of grandparents lived in the same town, so going from home to home wasn’t overly difficult for them, and was just something they did so never thought twice about it.  As Matt’s parents & aunts & uncles homes worked into the equation (when the grandparents had passed, or become too tired to host everyone), the spread made it a little more difficult to reach each home in one day, everything was pot luck which meant lots of cooking, and there were gift exchanges we didn’t have the money for during the recession.  It was EXHAUSTING for me, and as some family tensions began to cause Matt more and more stress, it became exhausting for him as well.

Very pregnant and very tired mama!

The year we decided enough was enough was the year Landry turned 3. He was old enough to kind of understand Santa and was also prone to some pretty epic meltdowns when he was overstimulated. I was also pregnant with Luke and was doing good to keep up with my kid in our own environment. We approached our families in a very loving way and shared that we had decided that we would each choose one tradition that was the most important to us with each family, commit to making that each year, then work what we could in throughout the season but no other events were guaranteed. Additionally, we would host an open door brunch at our home on Christmas morning. We had the only grandchild for both sides so if anyone wanted to see him on Christmas, they were more than welcome to come by, but we would not be trying to get him dressed and out the door on Christmas. We explained this would be our intention for each year going forward as that’s what would work best for our little family.

Enjoying a quiet moment at Gammer’s before the whole family arrives.

Matt picked the day after Thanksgiving at his grandmother’s (Gammer) house. Gammer had always hosted the whole family on the day after Thanksgiving, making enchiladas, and then the grandkids would decorate her home for Christmas. For Matt, that day signified the start of Christmas, and one of his favorite days of the year. It’s a day he can hang out with his aunts and cousins, and the day he will always remember his Gammer at her happiest!

The Night Before Christmas
The Night Before Christmas

I picked Christmas Eve with my family. My Pops was over 90, so I knew we didn’t have many Christmases left with him, and it was extremely important to me that my children experience him reading “The Night Before Christmas” to them, as I did, and remember that amazing man with that beautiful memory. Now that he is gone, I’m so glad my boys had that little bit of time with him to remember him by. Luke may not, but Landry was old enough to remember him reading, and be able to tell his brother about it.

The choice was met with love and understanding from my parents and went over like a turd in a punch bowl with Matt’s, but we’d made our decision and they could choose to embrace it or not! We have since spent 6 holiday seasons with this rule, and it has really gone a long way to help ease our holiday stress!

Christmas Morning Brunch

Our Christmas Morning Brunch is my favorite Christmas tradition now! We start cooking early (I mean, let’s face it, we’re already up), and always make Paula Deen’s French Toast Casserole, Mimosas, and have a few other treats out.  Whoever is coming usually bring something too!

Christmas brunch
How is this our best, most recent picture of Christmas Brunch?????

We open our doors to all of our family and friends who want a place to go on Christmas Morning. It’s our way of saying “We know we didn’t make all the things you wanted us to make, so let us cook some food, and come have fun with the kids.”

My mom always comes (and dad if he isn’t flying) because Mimi has to see what Santa brought her boys! My brother would come before he moved away, and of course, they picked up our Pops to bring him. My best friend Bonnye, and her kiddos have also made this part of their Christmas tradition, as her husband is a police officer and is normally working. Luke is always stoked to have his BFF here and to play together in their jammies! Another one of my close friends, Jenny, will come by sometimes on her way to visit her family on this side of town. Occasionally Matt’s family stops by too, although not in recent years.

Christmas Morning Brunch

My only rule is that we get to watch the Disney Christmas Parade before we switch to the Christmas Story Marathon! We snack on breakfast food all day until the grown-ups can no longer keep their eyes open, then everyone says goodbye, and we typically spend the rest of the day building whatever Lego set Santa brought.

It’s low-key, easy, filled with love, and absolutely the best way to spend Christmas Day (in my opinion).

Visiting Santa and Christmas on Main Street

Our town is known as the Christmas Capital of Texas! Once Christmas preparations are underway, it really transforms into something out of a Hallmark movie. Our Main Street is truly something out of an old movie, with a gazebo and old shops, ice cream, a French bakery, and a Farmers Market, all centered around the train depot, so when Christmas comes to town it is absolutely stunning!

Whoville

All season long, there are events on Main Street and we love to go down and take advantage of them. The Gazebo becomes Whoville from How the Grinch Stole Christmas, and it has a HUGE Christmas Tree! We love to walk across the street to get cocoa from the bakery then wander around the area.

Photo Credit: Caroline Price Photography

About a block down the street is an adorable set up by the historic cabin that is a bunch of decorated trees and carriages, perfectly staged for your Christmas photos. Photographers line up to use this set up to capture the ideal pictures for their clients. We have used this backdrop several times for our Christmas card!

The Real Santa!

Up the road, at our Train Depot, is Santa’s Workshop, and our favorite place to go visit Santa! The Polar Express runs throughout the season daily and around the station is a toy shop, merry-go-round, pony rides, Christmas Tree farm, and even chances to meet reindeer! This has been the Santa for years that the kids truly feel is the real guy! They know the ones in the mall are his helpers, the but guy that comes to Main Street is Santa himself!

One Big Christmas Outing

There are so many great Christmas events that go on in our area, but they can all be really pricey. We love a good holiday outing though, so each year we pick on ticketed even to attend.

This year we attended Ice at the Gaylord Texan. The Gaylord is a resort in our area that transforms into a Winter Wonderland at Christmas. It has a huge Ice sculpture display that you tour through, snow tubing, ice slides, and so many more activities. We’ve been to Ice several times over the years for various themes, and I really think this year was my favorite so far!

Enchant Christmas
Emchant Christmas

Last year we attended a different event called Enchant. It was a beautiful Christmas lights display with several light mazes, ice skating, food trucks, and a Christmas market. I loved this event! My parents joined us, a rare public outing for my dad, and I think we all enjoyed trying different foods from the trucks, and checking out what the market had to offer. After a few stops at the wine truck, I made some pretty interesting impulse decisions including some German honey that I constantly forget about, then get really excited every time Matt pulls it out of the pantry. It’s the gift that keeps on giving! Haha!

Polar Express
Taking a ride on the Polar Express

Our town also is home to the Polar Express. As part of our Main Street festivities, you can buy tickets and ride aboard the Polar Express to the North Pole and back! While on the train, you’ll get hot cocoa and a visit from the Man himself, Santa! We used to go to this when the boys were smaller, and they loved trains. It really is a fun, cute event.

Casa Manana
First play at Casa Manana

Ft Worth has a wonderful Children’s Theater called Casa Manana, and two years ago we took the boys see their first play at it called “Santa Claus: a New Musical.”

Log Cabin Village School House

It was a really fun day for them, and we even made a trip to an old Log Cabin Village part of the experience.

Christmas Lights and Cocoa

A few years ago, we started another fun tradition in our home.  The last Friday before Christmas (usually our last day of school before the break), we have an early dinner, get in our pajamas (we really like jammies around here), make some hot cocoa, then drive around looking at Christmas Lights!

There are a lot of homes around us that go ALL OUT and we love driving around and finding them.  I’ve started looking up addresses, so I’ll come up with a loop that we make around the area, and we’ll just start to drive! We turn up the Christmas tunes on the radio, and we all vote on our favorite home.

Aside from just being fun, this is another one of those plans that remind us of what Christmas is about, and actually, help us to not be overcommitted to other events! This family member and the office, and these 5 friends are all throwing parties that night? Sorry, it’s Christmas Lights Night!  That’s not to say we can’t be flexible, but it does help us to keep our boundaries and our sanity intact. Usually one of the boys falls asleep before we get home as an added bonus!

Pick a Way to Give Back

It’s easy to get wrapped up in presents and commitments during the holidays, and to completely lose track of the reason for the season! When God sent us his only Son, it was a gift to us made from the deepest, and purest love and a gift that was a true sacrifice. If my kids get nothing else out of the Bible lessons they learn, I want them to learn this one! But how do you show a child what sacrifice means over the holidays?

A lot of times it comes in the simple act of giving. We take old toys to GRACE and adopt angles off the Angel Tree. We talk in great lengths about how lucky we are that mom and dad can give them so much, and how there are so many other families in the world that are not so lucky. Last year, we adopted a family in Puerto Rico that was affected by the hurricane and spent the time leading up to Christmas filling a box for them. We talked about how their little girl didn’t even ask for toys because all she wanted was for the hole in her roof to be fixed and for some new clothes to replace those she lost. We sent her some toys anyway! We gave a little bit of our money from the same place of love that Christmas was given to us.

Classy Cats
Volunteering at Classy Cats

One of my favorites was the year we volunteered at the cat shelter! We had been fostering a few kittens for a shelter that year, but over the holiday we were not fostering anymore. We had taken in our little Remy, who was not expected to live, but who was (and still is) going strong. Due to his special needs, we agreed with the shelter it was best not to foster anymore and change up his environment. But we missed the kittens, so we spent an entire afternoon volunteering with the kittens by feeding them, cleaning cages, playing with them, and best of all, snuggling with them! That year we gave our time.

You cannot help but feel Christmassy once you have given something to others in need! And when you do step back into some family chaos or craziness, you do so with a grateful heart that at least you’re able to spend time with all of these crazy people who love you.

Christmas Stories

Reading is a big deal in our home. I’ve always been a big reader, and both boys are becoming more and more avid readers each day. For several years in a row, we practiced the tradition of a new Christmas book each day. One year my mother-in-law bought all the books, and a few years myself and my mom did. Then we became overwhelmed with Christmas books! They went from having their own basket to their own shelf in our home! LOL

Elf on the Shelf
Elves arrive with Christmas Stories

We don’t open a new Christmas Story every night anymore, but we read a different one every night, and we do still get a few new ones each year. Our Elf on the Shelf always brings a couple of new ones on their first night back, and I usually order a few new ones through Usborne Books & More as I see them! I love Usborne Books & More and they always have several amazing new Christmas titles and activity books available.

Christmas Cookies

We always make our Christmas Cookies the weekend after we get out of school for the holiday break. This way the temptation to eat them for weeks at bay, and keeps them fresh for Santa! The kids get a little crazy with their decoration, but that’s what Christmas Cookies are for. I just spread parchment paper all over the table and let them go wild! Clean up is easy because all the paper just goes into the trash and then we vacuum up the stuff dropped on the floor.

Christmas Cookies
Making Christmas Cookies

I’m Dreaming of a White Christmas and if it’s not, We Swim!

Every now and then we get lucky in Texas, and we get a white Christmas! It doesn’t happen often, but when it does, all other plans and traditions are put on hold. We literally shut down!

Snow!

Not only do we not know how to drive in snow, but we see it so rarely that we all take the day off and go play!

TONS of Snow!

The kids favorite thing to do is get super cold (not hard to do since we don’t have snow pants) then get warm by the fire.

Warming Up

The funny thing about Texas is that if it isn’t cold enough to snow, it may just be warm enough for a swim!

When it’s warm enough to swing on Christmas Eve

Candlelight Church Service

The final tradition is that we go to the church I grew up at for their candlelight Christmas Eve service. We have tried other Christmas Eve services at other churches in the past and none of them are quite right! Once you find that one that makes you feel like Christmas, make sure you go year after year!

Silent Night, Holy Night

Christmas is different for everyone. For some, lots of complex plans work just fine. For us, it’s about keeping it simple, cozy, and at home with those we love most in the world. It’s all about the little moments, with a touch of big fun. Christmas is the time that we get to recenter our family after months of nonstop hustle and bustle. Simple and consistent helps to keep us stress-free, and also to keep our focus on what is important.

And then, if we’re really good, Santa will come with gifts for everyone!

Catching Santa
I caught Santa!

What about you? What is your favorite Christmas tradition? Is there something you had to change to make the holiday season work for your family? Let me know in the comments!

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About The Author

Junell

We may earn money or products from the companies mentioned in this post.

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1 COMMENT

  1. Janine | 25th Jan 19

    Growing up, Christmas was about being with my large extended family. Since I got married, it hasn’t always been possible to join. It’s been hard making that transition. So we’ve been working hard on having some of our own traditions so that the holiday is special even when its just the three of us.

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