is simply magical. It's so fun to be the mother and watch it happen. We don't have a lot of family around, so mostly it's just us. Here are some of our traditions:
* We try to keep Christmas fairly simple and focused on the Savior. We usually sponsor a Sub-for-Santa family and go shopping together to pick out gifts the children would like. It is so sweet to see my children thinking about what a stranger might like.
* We keep our gift buying simple. We get several presents for the whole family (this year's gift? A counter-top ice cream maker), and then find two main presents for each child, one from Santa and one from Mom and Dad. The kids also get small things like books and socks and clothes. I don't worry too much about keeping the amount we spend the same per child, since their needs and interests are so different. I always try to find at least one gift that is hands-on. I remember one Christmas as a child being so disappointed because everyone else was playing with toys or putting together some cool Lego set while I sat there with nothing to do (of course I got plenty of great gifts that year, like books and clothes and things, but there wasn't the same excitement). So even though my daughter Lillian is a huge bookworm, I try to still give her a puzzle or an art project or something that will fill up some time on Christmas Day itself.
* To help us with our shopping, around Halloween, we have the kids make a list of things they want, and we try to get them at least one thing on the list. This year's lists cracked me up. Lillian wants a watch, a digital camera, Nancy Drew computer games and boring stuff like that. Michael wants Star Wars or Indiana Jones lego sets, plus dress-ups (specifically Indiana Jones, Star Wars, Knights, and Pirates). Joey wants a "gold locashion book," a 6" megaladon tooth, and a bag of sand with real gold in it so he can pan for gold. Oh, and a book on what to feed "hornd" toads, a package of "hornd" toad food, and a reptile cage. Think he's trying to tell me something? Sarah told me today she wants a baby, the real kind that grow in mommy's tummy. I hope that's not some sort of premonition!
* We usually decorate for Christmas the day after Thanksgiving. We collect nativities and buy a new one each year. It inspires reverence to see the way different artists and different cultures have portrayed the miracle of Christ's birth, and the older kids like to pick up the Mary in each set to see what year that nativity joined our family (I write the years on the bottom).
* Around Thanksgiving time, we draw names among the older kids (ages 3 and up). Each child spends their own money, usually about $10, to give a gift to one of their siblings. I love watching them plan and think and pore over ads to get their sibling the perfect gift.
* Each Monday night during our Family Home Evening, we try to do something Christmas-oriented, like making gingerbread houses, driving around to look at lights, reading the Book of Luke, and watching our favorite Christmas movies, such as The Best Christmas Pageant Ever (that's got some of the best lines in the world: "you mean they tied him up and put him in a feedbox? Where was the child welfare?" "What were the wadded up clothes? You read about it -- they wrapped him up in wadded up clothes!" "I'm not going to be a shepherd. Gladys Herdman hits too hard!" "My mom doesn't have any white sheets. Can I wear a sheet with balloons on it?")
* Our Christmas Eve dinner for the last five or more years has been spent at our favorite Chinese restaurant. I love eating family style, and the kids understand the funny Christmas Story implications of our meal (in case you've never seen the movie, the neighbor's dogs eat all the turkey at Ralphie's house, so they end up at the only restaurant open on Christmas Day, a Chinese one). One year, we even ordered roast duck. It was gross, so we decided to forgo it in the future.
* On Christmas Eve, we have a simple gathering with our immediate family. We act out the Christmas Story and talk about Christ's life. Last year, Lillian (on her own initiative) spent much of Christmas Eve day searching out the perfect outfits for everyone's costumes, such as Allison as a wise man holding a beautiful geode to give to the Christ Child:
* After the nativity story, each child gets to open one present. Sometimes, the present is new pajamas to wear that night.
* After the program, we send everyone to bed. Sometimes, they gather for a party in each other's rooms, playing games for a while before excitedly trying to sleep so Santa can arrive.
* Once a child knows the truth about Santa, they get to take turns being Santa's helper. Last year was Lillian's first year to help. She was so thrilled and excited to set out the presents for each of her siblings with us, and a bit disappointed when we told her Santa didn't bring presents to kids who don't believe anymore (we were kidding! After she went to bed, we brought out her presents from Santa.)
* I almost always make butterscotch rolls and set them out to rise that night (my recipe uses frozen rolls and is very simple. You can find it here).
* Santa brings one main present for each child and fills the stockings, usually with oranges, peanuts, chocolate coins, candy, and a movie or a book.
* Christmas morning dawns bright and early, sometimes with a child or two running into our room at 2 a.m., announcing, "It's morning time!" After we put said child back to bed, we finally do get up around 6 a.m. and head for the stairs. We line the kids up youngest to oldest and the rush for the toys begins.
* Santa doesn't wrap his presents, so right away, everyone has something exciting to look at. While the kids are looking at their presents, I start the rolls cooking in the oven.
* After looking at their presents from Santa and emptying their stockings, we go to the kitchen for a yummy breakfast. I get out the rolls and DH usually makes sausages, bacon, eggs, and pancakes.
* After breakfast, we go back to the living room to open the rest of the gifts one at a time. The kids can't wait for their sibling to open the special gift they picked out just for them, and since both of our extended families draw names, too, there are usually a few surprises in there, even for mom and dad.
I hope your Christmas season is wonderful too!