So if you've read my blog for any length of time, you know that I am often conflicted and cynical about the Christmas season. And, yes, I'm going to write about Christmas in May -- partly out of the goodness of my heart and partly in order to record for myself what's worked and what hasn't. (Because I guarantee you that I will forget and start listening to the committee in my head in November. Seriously, look at my December archive for any year and you'll find angst. Major angst.)
In six years, I've celebrated seven Christmases with small children. Not a Christmas has gone by where there wasn't a sick child or adult or a crying infant. I've spent the few days before Christmas in doctor's offices and pharmacies, up all night rocking sick children, toting a nebulizer around and even nursing a sick husband one Christmas Eve.
I've learned over the years that holidays and young children don't mix the way they seem to on television. Every time I saw a commercial with clean, well-dressed children without runny noses hanging an ornament or helping mom bake cookies, I wanted to throw something at the television. I instead settled on snorting audibly. The kids loved that. (And it occurs to me just now that's where my 6 year old may have gotten his recent snorting habit.)
This year was remarkably different. I've figured out what works and what doesn't from gift buying to cookie baking to holiday-related outings and simple religious traditions.
1. The problem: Baking Christmas cookies and other treats with small children around. Without losing your mind.
The solution? I commit to making a few treats that I've perfected over the
cocoa crinkles. These are super easy with lots of kid-friendly steps. They roll the dough into balls and then roll it in the confectioners sugar. While the cookies are baking, they unwrap the Hershey Kisses (and get to eat some). Once cooked, they press the candy cane kisses into the cookies. They look oh so fancy and making them with the kids doesn't make me want to gouge my eyes out. Sugared almonds are another favorite, they make great gifts and I make them in my crock pot. One 3 lb bag of almonds at Sam's Club costs about $10 and yields about 9 cups of these babies. Yes, really. And for a bonus: the crunchy leftover cinnamon sugar that doesn't stick to the almonds is used in other goodies, such as cinnamon breads or oatmeal.
2. The problem: Getting kids to pick out presents for others in the family.
The solution: This year, I got smart. I bought little gifts here and there over a few months before the holidays. I bought most of the items used but in great condition at a local thrift shop. Some things were even brand new. On Christmas Eve I set up a "store" in our bedroom (because expecting them to keep a secret for more than 24 hours is unrealistic!). I gave them each a shopping bag and they picked out something for their siblings and father. They helped wrap and put the gifts under the tree. They were so excited about the process and I didn't have to take them to a department store, pay too much and deal with traffic, parking, and whiny kids. Even in May, they remember what they got from each other. This idea is a keeper, at least for now.
3. The problem: How to create a meaningful celebration that balances religious and secular tradition.
The solution? Keep it simple. It wasn't until just last month that Danny began to understand our "three gifts" tradition. The way I see it, you're not getting more gifts than Jesus got. You're just not. And, yes, He did get gold, but you're not getting anything nearly that ritzy, 'kay? Now when Fiona starts dictating her Christmas list, Danny quickly reminds her of the three gifts rule. I also bought a simple, ceramic nativity that holds advent candles. The kids love lighting the candles each night and look forward to lighting a new candle each week.
4. The problem: It seems that parties and outings are expected.
The solution? They're really not expected. Parties and outings sap rather than enhance my Christmas spirit. I'm your typical introvert and so is most of my family. Santa at the mall? Hell no. Parties? What's that saying about a bull in a china shop? We drive around looking at Christmas lights. This tradition started when they were younger and we desperately needed some space. Belted into car seats was the best we could get. One year, we even came across a guy playing Santa in his front yard. Don't worry, it's not as creepy as it sounds. This past year, we started a new tradition. We went to Boone to visit my brother and his wife and pick out a Christmas tree. The kids got to see Santa and take a hayride on the top of a mountain. It was best weekend trip we've ever had with them.
It's different for everyone, of course, but if you're struggling with how to mix Christmas and young children without breaking out in hives, keeping it simple is the way to go. They won't remember if you don't have a dozen different cookies, but they will remember the simple things. I certainly do. If any of our version of keeping it simple was helpful, you're welcome.